Discipling New Converts Like Jesus
Four dynamics that change disciple’s lives
My early attempts at disciplemaking were not very successful. As a young Christian, I wanted my life to count for something. I had been challenged by the idea of investing my life in a few people and was eager to begin. I realized that if I focused on one person at a time, helping him grow to the point where he could help another, I could effectively multiply my efforts. I thought I understood how the process was supposed to work. I found my first “disciple” and got started.
“Let’s have a quiet time together.”
“Let’s go out and share our faith together.”
“Let’s study the Bible together.”
The first man I discipled met with me for a while but soon found other things he preferred to do. Oh well, I thought. I’ll find someone else. But subsequent efforts met with similar failure.
Eventually, I began to realize why my efforts had produced so little fruit. I was applying methods without understanding the dynamics.
What are dynamics? My dictionary tells me they are “principles that bring about progress.”
Dynamics are what make something work. Learning the mechanics of how something is done may be fairly straightforward. But as I discovered, the mechanics of discipling are not effective unless powered by the dynamics.
My early experiences remind me of the unfortunate Egyptians who tried to imitate Moses’ “method” of crossing the Red Sea without appreciating the “dynamic” of faith that made it possible. “By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned” (Heb. 11:29). Same method, but very different results.
What are the dynamics that make for effectiveness in disciplemaking? I decided to answer that question by looking closely at the work of the great Disciplemaker. I observed that Jesus’ ministry of disciplemaking was driven by four primary dynamics: truth, love, relevance, and faith.
Jesus sought to reveal truth to those He taught. He told many parables, using common images ordinary people could relate to. He taught them about the values of the kingdom He had come to establish. When He saw falsehood or hypocrisy, He confronted it. He told us who He was and talked much about His Father. It is no surprise that Jesus was most commonly addressed as “Teacher.”
Jesus’ mission to save a lost world depended upon teaching a few followers the truth and helping them to understand, believe, and apply what He taught. Though He taught multitudes of people in His public ministry, Jesus focused most of His teaching on the disciples, especially as His last days approached. At the end of His ministry, Jesus prayed that the truth of His teaching would continue to transform His disciples: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (Jn. 17:17).
What about us? If disciples are made by communicating truth, the truth needs to be in our hearts first of all. There is no point in having a life-on-life ministry if the truth of God’s Word does not “dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16). The effectiveness of our disciplemaking will be proportionate to the place God’s Word has in our lives.
I am so grateful to the man who discipled me, Lee Brase. When I was a young believer, Lee told me, “I want the Word of God in me to be like water in a saturated sponge touch the sponge and out comes the water!” I spent hours with him in the Bible, looking at the truth that had the power to change my life. If I asked questions, Lee faithfully turned to the Scriptures. I listened to his teaching at meetings and conferences. I also listened, sometimes reluctantly, to the verses he used to point out deficiencies in my life.
“Love builds up,” said the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 8:1). Do you want to build disciples? Only love can impact a life deeply enough to create lasting change. When we love someone, we communicate how much we value him, which opens the door to minister to his deepest needs.
Jesus loved like no one else. The gospels are full of stories of how He demonstrated His love for the disciples. On one occasion, He showed His concern for their welfare by trying to get away for a break after a very busy time. He demonstrated His love for Simon and confidence in him by renaming him Peter, which means “rock.” At the graveside of His friend Lazarus, onlookers said, “See how he loved him!” (Jn. 11:36) as Jesus stood weeping.
My favorite story of Jesus’ love is the last supper. The story begins with the statement, “Having loved his own … he now showed them the full extent of his love” (Jn. 13:1). As His darkest hours approached, Jesus wanted to be with His friends. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Lk. 22:15). What had begun as a teacher-pupil relationship with each disciple had gone much deeper. He washed their feet, expressing humble, loving service. Some of His last words to them at this meal pointed to the ultimate expression of His love, His death on the cross. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13).
I am grateful that I was followed up by someone who loved me. The person who led me to Christ gave me a booklet and sent me on my way. But Lee showed a loving involvement in my life. I still vividly remember a little incident that opened my eyes to his love. Together with some friends, we were visiting a small village near where I lived in Holland. I suggested we get some ice cream and had intended to pay, but Lee said, “Let me get it. I want to.” It seems a small thing, but it demonstrated that he wasn’t involved with me just to teach me something, but that he actually valued me as a person.
Have you ever heard a good sermon yet were unable to recall a single detail a few days later?
Sometimes this happens because the teaching isn’t relevant to your life at that moment. You can’t make the connection between what was said and the reality of your experience. The Word of God is powerful, but if it doesn’t land in the soil of your heart, there is no benefit.
Jesus’ teaching and training focused on the things He and His disciples experienced together. He taught specific lessons just as the disciples needed to hear them. Consider the training of the twelve in evangelism. When it was time for them to go out two by two, He gave specific instructions regarding what they were to say and do (see Mk. 6:6-13). They were immediately able to apply what He taught, thereby sealing the teaching into their hearts.
We see other examples of this throughout Jesus’ ministry. I’m sure the disciples never forgot how Jesus responded when they tried to send some children away, thinking Jesus had no time for them. His rebuke was a powerful lesson on the value of every individual. When the disciples argued about who was the greatest, Jesus spoke to them about the different value system in God’s kingdom, where the servant is the top man.
One time when Lee was at my home, he was forced to listen to a long and heated conversation I was having with my father. We were arguing about the best way to get from our house to Lee’s house in Amsterdam. Later Lee asked me, “Do you think it really made much difference which route we took?” I had to admit that it probably didn’t matter. At the time, I was learning about what it meant to honor my parents and the importance of being open to the opinions of others. Lee recognized this as a teaching moment and took the opportunity to ask me a question that revealed an area of weakness in my life. I paid attention because the circumstances had shown my need to change. The scriptures Lee later shared with me could take root because they were planted in real life.
Finally, we must not forget the central role of faith in the discipling process. Apart from faith, we will make little difference in the lives of those to whom we minister. Jesus taught that dependence upon Him was essential to producing any fruit in ministry: “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).
One way we express our dependence upon God is through prayer. John 17 gives us an intimate look at how Jesus prayed for His followers. He prayed for our protection from the evil one, for our sanctification, and that we would be one in unity. At the end of His prayer, Jesus commended His followers to the Father’s care and His ongoing work in their lives through the Holy Spirit.
Like Jesus, we must pray in faith for those we disciple, and we must depend upon God’s Spirit to guide us as we minister. One time, I was struggling with my relationship with someone I was meeting regularly. He seemed to barely tolerate my coming to see him. During my visits to his home, I had observed that he had real needs in the way he was relating to his daughter. Yet I feared he wasn’t open to hearing my perspective.
In desperation I turned to God, “What do you want me to do, Lord?” God answered my prayer by bringing a passage of Scripture to mind: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal. 5:6). I realized that God was telling me to trust Him with my disciplemaking. I responded by praying for my friend and asking for God’s guidance in our relationship.
During one of my next visits, I felt I should say something to him about what I was seeing in his life. This seemed risky. But I moved ahead in faith, remembering what the Lord had impressed on my heart regarding trusting Him. As I spoke to my friend, it was like watching ice melt. He was very responsive to what I had to share.
Though my faith was only a mustard seed, God certainly moved a mountain that day, and our relationship moved forward. I was amazed to see that as God worked in my heart and encouraged me to trust Him, He also worked deeply in my friend’s heart as we talked about the difficult issues in his life.
As I try to disciple through dynamics rather than methods, I have found a few key questions that help me keep these dynamics in mind. What relevant truth do I need to share? How can I express love to the person I’m discipling? What are the circumstances of his life at the moment? What do I need to pray for him in faith?
As we help others grow, we will inevitably make mistakes and face times of discouragement. But when we focus on these four dynamics of disciplemaking, we can trust that God will work through us to accomplish His purposes.
The above article, “Discipling Like Jesus,” is written by Derrin Sledge.
The article was excerpted from: www.navpress.com web site. June 2012
The material is most likely copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.