Evangelism and Disciplemaking
By The Institute of Evangelism Billy Graham Center
After reading this article, you should be able to:
1. Understand the importance of disciplemaking of new converts.
2. Develop an eight-week plan for working with a new convert to establish her in her faith.
3. Learn the steps needed so that a young Christian will be equipped to share her faith and then disciple others.
4. Be aware of and avoid some of the pitfalls that frequently cause disciplemakers to stumble.
Just taking a child into a school building does not mean that she will learn anything new. Someone needs to teach students, and students should want to learn. The same is true with evangelism and discipleship. Without continued learning and growth in the faith, new believers will stagnate or fall away. Unfortunately, much evangelism today is centered on encouraging a person to make a verbal decision for Christ (an event) rather than establishing or equipping the convert (a process). However, the call to make disciples is the last command that Christ gave to His church, and it must be taken very seriously.
A. What is a Disciple?
A disciple is simply a learner, a student, or an apprentice. For the new Christian, she is one who responds to Jesus’ personal invitation: “learn from me” [Matt. 11:291.
B. What Is Disciplemaking?
Disciplemaking is the program and plan for equipping and establishing those who have accepted Jesus Christ. This is a lifelong course as the new Christian sets out to respond to Jesus’ personal invitation.
The Apostle Paul lists, among others, pastors and teachers whose primary calling is “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” Eph. 4:11-13. We know we will not be fully conformed to the image of Jesus until He comes again, but in the meantime we are on a pilgrimage to become more like Him and help others to do the same –1 John 3:21. This is what disciplemaking is all about.
II. Why Is Disciplemaking Important?
There are many reasons why discipleship is important, but four will suffice to underscore the point. First of all, the Bible teaches that from the beginning of time God intended to call a people to Himself who would follow Him, praise Him, and bring glory to Him forever. Jesus became flesh to begin a church of the Spirit that will never perish because it is preordained to be comprised of great multitudes of men and women from “every nation, tribe, people, and language” who will praise God forever (see Rev. 7:9-12).
Secondly, the command to make disciples comes from the Lord Jesus Himself. As Jesus ascended into heaven, the words of the Great Commission echoed in the ears of His disciples. The last command of Jesus to those responsible for building His church was to make disciples [Matt. 28:18-20]. Evangelism is but a part of the Great Commission. This Scripture requires us not only to witness to the unsaved, but also to teach those that are saved to obey everything He had commanded. Two thousand years later, nothing has changed. Christians are still charged with the responsibility to make disciples.
Establishing a new Christian is a very important work. Unfortunately, many converts remain as babies or immature Christians because no one took an interest in their growth. No one would think of saying to a new baby: “When you are hungry, the bottles are in the kitchen and when you are wet, the diapers are on the changing table.” If newborn babies need physical parents to feed, protect, train, and provide for their growth and well-being, it is only natural to assume that spiritual children need the same kind of care.
A third reason that Christians should be intent on making disciples emanates from the example of Jesus. Christ used people, not plans or methods, as His model. He chose twelve men and worked diligently to teach them the truths about Himself and His kingdom. Eventually, He sent them out to build the church by making disciples in the way that He had shaped them.
Furthermore, the success of the early church serves as a model. There were not many disciples when Jesus ascended into heaven – maybe 500 at the most – yet within the next thirty years, this tiny band grew to include over 200,000 people called Christians. This astounding testimony proves the effectiveness of a discipleship program based upon the model given to them by Jesus. In the book of Acts alone, there are at least thirty-two references to “follow-up” and eighteen times where encouragement is extended to new believers. If believers today multiplied at the same rate, the whole world would be kneeling at the feet of Jesus in less than one generation.
Finally, disciplemaking is important because new Christians are very vulnerable to the attacks of Satan, who will cause doubts to arise and temptations to entice. Young Christians are often easily discouraged. They have not learned to use the knowledge of the Word of God as a defense and thus are more likely to feel defeated. They do not have the spiritual resistance which comes from Scripture. Ephesians 6:13 reminds us to: “Take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist.” But a new Christian does not possess much of an armor. She has a helmet of salvation and a very small shield of faith. Follow-up helps with the process of clothing the new believer with the rest of the armor.
III. How Do We Make Disciples?
A. Establishing the New Christian in Her Faith
“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” [Col. 2:6-7]. When souls are born of the Spirit, they will either begin to grow and become more like Jesus, or they will atrophy and die. C.S. Lewis said that humans are like eggs. Either they mature and hatch or die and rot.
Most new Christians recognize their need for salvation, but this is only the beginning of what God wants for His children. Indeed, after their spiritual birth He wants them to grow in knowledge of Him and in obedience to what He has called them to do. In this way, God will be glorified and the believer will be transformed and filled with joy. New believers need a pattern or plan to follow.
Establishing a devotional life should be the first priority for the new Christian. She needs training to learn how to have a “quiet time” and meditate on God’s Word. She needs teaching on the Word of God and also how to study the Bible on her own. Furthermore, women who are trying to be “personally acquainted with Jesus” spend quality time in prayer each day. They praise him, tell Him about their fears, ask for help in overcoming sins, and seek His assistance in meeting the needs of the day.
A daily period of prayer and Bible reading should be complemented by regular worship in a local church. This normally happens on Sunday mornings, but also might include Sunday evenings or midweek services as well. A new convert needs to become incorporated into a local church. She needs the sound teaching, as well as a place to observe people in ministry and eventually find a place of ministry and service herself.
3. Fellowship with Other Believers
Going to church to worship God is an essential element in growing toward maturity (particularly because the focus is on God), but growth also comes from fellowship with other believers. God does not intend for His followers to walk alone. They are now a part of the church -the Body of Christ. They are to interact by sharing one another’s joys and happiness, in addition to bearing one another’s burdens during seasons of distress.
The new believer needs to become doctrinally grounded and scripturally oriented. She needs to be taught the basic theology revealed in the biblical drama of the creation, fall, redemption, and future hope.
It is important to help the young Christian learn to be a faithful witness in bringing others to know Christ. John 15:16 tell us: “You did not choose me, but I chose you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” No matter how inexperienced, God can and will use anyone as a witness. Although the recent convert may not know much doctrine, she will be able to tell others what has happened and how God’s grace has changed her life. Every Christian life is a testimony to God’s goodness and our individual stories, when guided by the Holy Spirit, can be used to bring others to faith.
6. Giving: Money and Service
Growth also springs from giving – giving of both time and money. Everything we have comes from God, and He expects us to use our talents, abilities, possessions, and money wisely. Investing in His kingdom helps us to solidify and build on our commitment. Our allegiance and identification with God’s kingdom increases in proportion to the amount that we invest of ourselves and our resources.
All Christians are in the process of becoming conformed to the image of Christ. As we surrender control of ourselves, the Holy Spirit shows us weaknesses in our character which need to be changed. For instance, we might find ourselves dealing with selfishness, pride, laziness, lack of discipline, or a critical spirit. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can and should weed out these sinful habits or tendencies and replace them with virtues that will bring glory to God and help to further His kingdom.
B. Implementation of Follow-Up
The process of follow-up is often divided into two time periods: the initial weeks where the person gets started growing in Christ, and the ongoing follow-up which helps the young believer become more deeply rooted in her faith.
The following suggestions are intended to help you get started. They do not represent the only (or necessarily) the best method to follow in all circumstances, but they should give you an idea of the goals you will want to keep in mind.
1. The Initial Period
Get together with the new Christian as soon as feasible (preferably within the first forty-eight hours) after conversion. This is the time when Satan will try to cast doubts into her mind.
a. Develop the friendship. Express a sincere personal interest in her life. If you have already established a friendship, you will just want to keep going. However, if the new convert is someone you do not know well, spend some time building your friendship. Look for areas where you share common interests and goals.
b. Clarify and confirm the commitment. Clarify and confirm her commitment to Christ. New Christians are sometimes unclear about their commitment, so begin by asking her to explain her decision to follow Christ. If she understands the basic outline of the Gospel (that she is a sinner; that she is saved through the death of Christ on the cross, and that she has now entered into a personal relationship with Christ), then go on to show her the wonderful promises of assurance of eternal life and fellowship with God found in John 3:16, 1 John 5:12-13, and John 10:27-29. When possible, let your friend read the verses for herself, and then ask her to explain God’s promise in her own words. This will help you to quickly spot any areas where she might be confused about Scripture.
If she is uncertain about the source of her salvation, go back and use James Kennedy’s questions from Evangelism Explosion: “If you were to die tonight, do you know for certain that you would go to heaven?” and “If you were to die tonight and stand before God and He were to say to you `Why should I let you into My heaven?’ what would you say to Him?” You will then want to present the steps to salvation again, stopping frequently to see if she has questions. Study chapter two of this manual so that you will feel comfortable dealing with her doubts or concerns.
c. Stress the importance of prayer and Bible study. Reiterate that she has entered into a personal relationship with Christ; He is now her friend. Within this context briefly explain the role of prayer and the reading of Scripture, and encourage her to begin praying and reading the Bible a few minutes each day.
Decide on a modest goal for prayer and Bible reading for the coming week. For instance, you might agree to pray for five minutes each day and read one chapter of the Bible.
Prayer should be thought of as a two-way conversation with God. The new believer will want to spend some time telling God how much she loves Him and also thanking Him for His gifts in her life. If she is uncertain about what to do, suggest that she try to praise and thank Him for five good things that have happened to her each day. These can be commonplace or significant occurrences. Then she will want to move on to confession and intercession for others or herself.
The Gospel of John is often an excellent place to begin in the Bible. Make sure that your friend has a modern translation that she can readily understand. Suggest that she keep a notebook where she can write down any questions she has about the text, and also record any ideas she has about applying the passage to her own life.
d. Plan for growth. Work out a plan for regular meetings during the next six to eight weeks. (The remaining sections of the chapter will help you get started.) Everyone is more comfortable when they know what to expect. At this stage, it is vitally important to set an attainable goal. You might agree that you will each spend 10-15 minutes a day on prayer and Bible reading and that you will hold each other accountable. Promise to call her daily during the first week so that she can have quick feedback with any problem or difficulty she might encounter. In succeeding weeks, you will probably want to talk with each other at least twice each week so that you can be aware of any needs or problems that might develop.
i. As her spiritual parent, you will want to pray daily for the new believer that she will grow in her faith and be strong when tempted. Also remember to pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance and wisdom when you are working with her and planning future sessions.
ii. Offer to take her to church with you if she needs a place to worship. During the next few weeks, you will want to introduce her to the importance of becoming involved in a church family.
iii. Pray aloud with the new believer so that she will become familiar with the format for prayer and also the concept of praying for others. If she feels comfortable, encourage her to pray aloud, assuring her that God is looking at the sincerity of our hearts and not the elegance of our words.
iv. Finally, encourage, encourage, encourage! It is much easier to succeed when we receive positive reinforcement. Try to find at least one reason to compliment your new friend each time you talk with her.
2. Ongoing Follow-Up-Two Weeks to Two Months
Begin with a time of informal sharing and then move on to a discussion of her quiet times during the last week. If she is struggling with consistency, try to pinpoint the problem and deal with it. For instance, if she has not set aside a regular time for her devotions, help her to do so. Answer any questions she might have. Encourage her to relate what she is learning to her daily life and continue to encourage practical application through the development of the following areas:
Introduce her to the idea of using a prayer log. Help her to learn how to record petitions and answers. Encourage her to keep her prayer log in a notebook so that she will have a permanent record of how God is working in her life.
Help her to see that we cannot always know which answer God will give us when we pray for material blessings, but we do know that He will always give us those spiritual blessings that He has promised in Scripture. For instance, in James 1:5, God promises wisdom to those who ask for it; Hebrews 2:18 assures us that there is help and understanding from God when we undergo temptation; and Romans 8:28 assures us that everything believers experience can be used for good if we surrender to the will of God. The Bible is a repository for the promises of God to believers of all generations. Help the young convert to begin to pray about the ones that will specifically help her to grow spiritually. Write one or two of these down and agree to pray for them daily.
b. Bible Study
Continue to work on your study of Scripture. See the chapter on “Evangelism and Bible Study” for ideas about doing an inductive bible study. Concentrate your energies on helping your friend to discover the importance and relevance of Bible study in her life.
c. Scripture Memory
Introduce the topic of Scripture memory and explain its importance:
1. We are commanded to memorize Scripture [Deut. 6:6-9; Prov. 7:1-3].
2. It helps us to resist temptation [Ps. 19:11; Ps. 119:1-11].
3. Christ gives us an example [Matt. 4:1-11].
4. It helps us in witnessing [Heb. 4:12; 1 Pet. 3:15; Acts 4:13].
5. It helps direct our path. It fills our minds with the Word, which helps us in making decisions and in keeping our minds pure [Ps. 119:105].
Set a goal. Most people start off with a verse a week. There are several good programs available to help you with this, or you may choose the verses yourself. In any case, select verses that will either reinforce her commitment or help her to see the promises and attributes of the Christian life more clearly.
d. The Local Church
Discuss the nature and importance of baptism and identification with a local church. It is in this setting that we usually find God’s provision for fellowship and teaching.
Each Christian has a story to tell of God’s working in her life. Your friend may not know much theology, but she should be able to relate how God has cleansed her from sin and saved her for Himself. Chapter Two of this manual contains the guidelines for developing a testimony. As soon as you are able, you will want to help the new convert to put together a two- or three-minute testimony that will clearly relate the message of the Gospel to her friends and family. God frequently uses these first weeks in a special way. New Christians often express an enthusiasm for Christianity that is contagious. Their exuberance and obvious joy in their new relationship with Jesus will cause people who are close to them to stop and take notice. This will give them a unique opportunity to witness to family and friends. Remind the new believer that many will also watch to see if this is just “a passing stage” or a real life change. The new believer will want to work on the consistency of her actions and words.
f. Lifestyle and Christian Witness
After covering the basics, work on areas that are of special concern or difficulty. For instance, the new convert may struggle with bitterness and resentment, or she may have trouble managing her time wisely. Christians are called to be holy and to live a life that consistently reflects the one led by Jesus. To that end, each of us should be striving to conform our actions increasingly to those of Jesus. Help the young believer to see that this is a lifelong privilege and blessing. There are many resources available to help you meet these needs. (See the list of selected resources at Appendix C.)
It is very easy for new Christians to slip back into old habits and sins, or to never develop the spiritual disciplines that will result in healthy growth. Mutual accountability will result in a blessing for her life as well as yours. When you get together, hold each other responsible for maintaining quiet times, Scripture memory, prayer times, and also sharing prayer requests and answered prayers. Avoid overwhelming her, but stress the importance of establishing good habits. This kind of reciprocity will encourage her to begin to take responsibility for helping other Christians and will provide a natural transition to the next steps in disciplemaking.
A. Equip the Growing Christian to Minister to Others
The definition of equipping is “the process of preparing a growing disciple for service.” To put it another way, equipping is the process of training the disciple for ministry to others. The ultimate goal is not just inward, but also that her relationship with God will result in service to others. Once a Christian is established in her spiritual life, you should teach her how to work with someone younger in the faith.
The best plan for doing the work of disciplemaking is found in the life of Jesus, and the Gospels are replete with stories of His interaction and training of the twelve. Robert E. Coleman’s important book, The Master Plan of Evangelism, l provides an extremely helpful summary and explanation of the methods used by Jesus. Christ devoted most of His time to discipling twelve men with whom He worked closely for three years. Then He commissioned them to go forth and repeat the process that He had taken them through, and the church spread from Jerusalem to Judea, to Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the world. The plan of Jesus, as presented by Coleman, is simple, clear, and useful to follow. It can be easily repeated using the following steps.
Select one or two people. Most Christians cannot devote their full time to discipleship and will fail if they try to work with twelve people. Even Jesus narrowed His focus. He made no attempt to disciple the large crowds that followed Him, and although He selected twelve Apostles, He concentrated the most attention on just three. Women with a family, job, or both have a limited amount of time and energy. Consider working with one woman or a small group of five or six, but recognize that a group will limit the amount of time that can be spent with each. Pilgrims in Progress by Jim and Carol Pleuddemann (Harold Shaw Press, 1991) will prove useful for those who choose to work with a group rather than an individual.
Begin by prayerfully asking God to give you someone who is a true believer and is willing to learn. It is very important to work with willing learners rather than those who have to be dragged into the discipleship lifestyle.
Jesus spent three years working with His men. School was always in session. Time was the key element. He gave of His time by truly associating with them in a quantitative and qualitative fashion.
Jesus understood (as should we) that He was working with individuals and not machines, and took into account their unique needs. He recognized that He was investing in the future of the church and was content to start with a small group in whom He could build a firm foundation. The worldwide church of today has proven the wisdom of His methods.
Jesus required obedience. Though kind, loving, and fair, He called them to costly discipleship – the way of the cross. It took them time to understand it and He was patient with them, but there was no compromise in the commitment expected from them. Personal agendas and goals had to be set aside. Christ’s purpose for their lives became their highest calling.
The same holds today. Disciples must learn to walk with Jesus. Our commitment must always be to Christ and never to another human. When working with a disciple, we must always point her attention to Jesus and never to ourselves.
4. Impartation and Demonstration
His discipleship program called the disciples to give up everything, but it was no more than He gave to them. Jesus did not train His disciples through words alone. On the contrary, His instruction often took the form of demonstration. Jesus did not just command them to serve others; He washed their feet. He did not merely tell them to pray; He showed them how. Jesus imparted all the Father had given Him [John 15:5], including His joy [John 15:11], and even the keys to His
Kingdom [Matt. 16:19; Luke 12:32]. And when He called them to give everything by taking up the cross, He demonstrated at Golgotha what He asked of them. Truth is best communicated when it is presented simultaneously by example and precept.
It is important to delegate responsibilities to those you disciple. Jesus allowed His followers to put into practice what He had taught and demonstrated. The Savior understood that people learn best by doing. Having been a carpenter before He took on the task of discipling twelve men, He knew from experience that an apprentice needs more than demonstrations; the learner must try the task himself. Therefore, Jesus gradually delegated responsibilities to them. He sent them for food, allowed them to baptize, and eventually sent them out two-by-two to heal the sick and preach the good news of the Kingdom of God.
Most young Christians are both eager and timid about getting involved in ministry. They usually fear that they are not “spiritual enough,” but nearly all are eager to get actively involved in a tangible way. Your role as the discipler is to help them get started. Try to find an activity that suits their talents. For instance, those gifted in the area of education may choose to work with Sunday school or other educational groups; good listeners who interact well with people are ideal to visit shut-ins or the elderly. If possible, go with them the first time and show them how to do the job. After watching you, most will feel comfortable about becoming more actively involved.
Always the master craftsman who knew how to direct the apprentices, Jesus not only delegated, He offered supervision. He oversaw what He delegated, and He called them together to review their effectiveness with the tasks He assigned to them [Mark 6:30; Luke 9:10]. Rejoicing that even the demons submitted to them, the disciples sometimes celebrated with their Master [Luke 10:17]. In other instances, the disciples failed to achieve the desired results and Jesus had to reshape the areas where they were weak and therefore failing. For instance, following their successful preaching trip, the perplexed disciples questioned Jesus about their inability to cast out a demon from a little boy (see Mark 9:17-29; Matt. 17:1420; Luke 9:37-43). Pointing out the need for greater faith and prayer, Jesus sought to help them grow in their spiritual maturity and understanding.
Selection, association, consecration, impartation, demonstration, delegation, and supervision all pointed to Christ’s pre-planned goal – reproduction. After His crucifixion, resurrection, and forty-day ministry preceding the ascension, Jesus turned over to the disciples the task of going out and making still more disciples.
B. The Way to Reach the World.
No one reaches full spiritual maturity until they die or Christ returns for them. Discipleship, then, is an ongoing process, even for those who have had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ for decades. The accompanying illustration dramatically underscores the power of discipleship.
Some time ago, there was a display at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. It featured a checkerboard with 1 grain of wheat on the first square, 2 on the second, 4 on the third, then 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, and so on. Somewhere down the board, there were so many grains of wheat on the square that some were spilling over into neighboring squares – so here the demonstration stopped. Above the checkerboard display was a question, “At this rate of doubling every square, how much grain would you have on the checkerboard by the time you reached the 64th square?”
To find the answer to this riddle, you punched a button on the console in front of you, and the answer flashed on a little screen above the board: “Enough to cover the entire subcontinent of India 50 feet deep.”
To look at this same principle in terms of evangelism and discipleship, if you won one person to faith in Christ and spent six months establishing her in the faith and equipping her to witness, at the end of six months there would just be two of you. But if both of you won other persons and trained them in the same manner for six months, at the end of a year you would have four. If this process of multiplication were to continue without stopping, in a little over 16 years you would have won the entire world to faith in Christ. This obviously assumes that there is no weak link in the chain, an assumption that we can never make when people are involved. But think of the potential of this approach! Instead of one person doing all the work of evangelism, the process of discipling systematically increases the number of laborers and results in an even greater harvest.
C. Practical Guidelines
A few points of caution need to be examined for those who, with God’s help, are going to be obedient to the call to make disciples.
1. God Is the Source of Growth.
God wants every believer to grow toward maturity [Col. 1:28]. Colossians 2:6-7 speaks of the need to be rooted and grounded in the faith. The Christian, like a plant, needs a healthy root system if she is to grow and reproduce. No one should ever try and disciple someone else without remembering that the whole process is dependent on God’s direction and guidance. God is the source for spiritual growth [1 Cor. 3:6; John 15]. Furthermore, the Christian who attempts to usurp God’s role and work in her own strength will fail.
2. Count the Cost.
Count the cost before beginning. Quitting midstream will not only cause embarrassment to the discipler, but irreparable pain to the disciple who will feel abandoned.
Young disciples, like small children, need much care and attention. They get into difficulties, make messy mistakes, and take one step back for every two forward. The discipler should realize that this process will demand a commitment of time, energy, emotional strength, and spiritual involvement. The rewards, however, of seeing a young Christian grow to the point of being able to reproduce and become a vital, active part of the Kingdom ministry more than outweigh the costs.
3. Beware of the Overly-Dependent.
Every woman who sets out to make disciples should be on her guard against the parasitical person who wants to drain her time and energy (making her useless for effective Kingdom work). For example:
Several years ago Michelle agreed to work with Lynn, another young mother. Lynn claimed to be a Christian, but explained that no one had ever helped her to grow. Furthermore, Lynn came from an abusive home which compounded her problems. Touched by her story, Michelle enthusiastically agreed to Lynn’s appeal for help. Yet signs of trouble soon appeared. No matter what Michelle counseled or suggested, Lynn always rebelled. She showed no real signs of spiritual interest. What she craved and then demanded were inordinate amounts of Michelle’s time. When Michelle tried to tactfully withdraw, Lynn used guilt to manipulate her. Michelle sought the counsel of some spiritually mature women in her church and they, too, reached out only to be drawn into the destructive cycle.
Lynn’s sinful, self-centered behavior patterns never changed. When confronted, she would tearfully weep and ask for forgiveness, but she soon fell back into her old ways. Eventually Michelle came to dread the sound of the phone or doorbell, because she felt helplessly trapped by the other woman. Michelle expected some regressive behavior, but this was different. Eventually she confronted Lynn and told her that there would be no more involvement unless she was serious about surrendering her life to Jesus. Michelle then laid out several specifics that she expected of Lynn if they were to continue. After Lynn thought for a few minutes, she decided that she really didn’t want what Michelle was offering. Although saddened, Michelle was now free to work with women who really desired spiritual growth and maturity.
This story is far more typical than some realize. That is why it is vitally important to pray for the discernment to know when a woman really has no intention of surrendering her life in obedience to Christ.
4. Examine Your Motives.
Christian women should never encourage disciples to cling to them, but should help them to become dependent upon the Lord Jesus. Disciplers need to regularly examine their motives. Younger Christians frequently admire and compliment the more mature woman’s spiritual discipline, but this kind of flattery can be deceptive. Motives and egos need to be carefully guarded. The task of the discipler is to point others to Jesus that they might learn of Him, love Him, and eventually make Him known to others.
5. Disciple Those of the Same Sex Only.
Those who liberate lives from the clutches of the evil one should expect him to strike back. Frequently he tries to draw naive, well-meaning Christians into a relationship with a person of the opposite sex. Do not be deceived on this point. Except in unusual circumstances where there are no alternatives, it is best for women to disciple women and men to disciple men. Intimate involvement of the kind described in the Master’s plan is not designed for parties of the opposite sex. Jesus, after all, discipled twelve men. Women were included in the larger group of regular followers, but they were not part of the intimate circle (even though some like Martha, Mary, and Mary Magdalene were close friends). Never did Jesus discriminate against women. The opposite is true. Many sources and stories reveal His equal regard for men and women. Yet He was also extremely careful to avoid any appearance of immorality. The wise learn from Him. Many Christian leaders fall into sinful temptation and relationships every year because of carelessness in this area.
6. Expect Some to Fail Away.
Counterfeit or apostate disciples appear in every generation and locality. Even Jesus lost one of His twelve. Although disappointing, no one should be devastated if a disciple chooses to backslide into sin. Many people come to the Lord as long as the going is fashionable and easy. Once the trials of life (let alone persecutions) arise, they flee from the action. Usually this is not the fault of the discipler, who should not blame herself and wallow in guilt. This is merely one more way the enemy seeks to immobilize Christian warriors.
7. Tough Love is Required.
Related to the issue of backsliding, on the other hand, is the need for tough love. Following Christ’s pathway for making disciples requires that they be held accountable, and sometimes a firm kick is required. Even the earnest seeker who genuinely wants to grow in her knowledge and love of Christ will need to be held accountable. If she slides back on her daily prayer time, Bible study, worship attendance, and obedience in areas that are not open to debate, then discipline becomes necessary. This painful task is made somewhat easier by establishing ground rules before entering into a discipling relationship. If, for instance, daily devotional time will be required for membership in a discipleship group, then make it clear that anyone who habitually fails in this area will be asked to withdraw.
8. Do Not Set Impossible Standards.
Although tough love is essential for the slothful or errant disciple, do not err on the other side and demand more than a young Christian can deliver. Never set a standard that a new believer cannot realistically sustain. Mature Christians may find it easy – even enjoyable – to spend an hour or even two in early morning devotions, but this amount of time will overwhelm the new Christian (who will probably find five minutes of prayer and a brief period of Bible and devotional reading to be sufficient). Demanding or expecting too much too soon will discourage and disillusion the new believer. It is far better to start small and let them experience success. The Holy Spirit treats each soul individually, and He never exactly duplicates the pattern found in any other life. Get the disciple started on a pattern of spiritual discipline, and the Holy Spirit will soon increase her desire for more. Remember, too, that Jesus began slowly with His disciples. He took three years before He felt ready to turn them loose to reproduce.
9. Do Not Be Jealous of Other Input.
No one should assume that she is the only person who will disciple a young believer. Most people learn from more than one person at a time. After investing huge quantities of time in the disciple, it is tempting to feel jealous when she begins to meet with someone else (or to extol the virtues and wisdom of another Christian). Rather than feeling resentment, the wise woman rejoices in God’s provision for this young one. Some disciples need prolonged contact with one woman, while others move in and out of several lives. It may be that the disciple will only remain for a period of weeks or months before moving on to another woman. This is often part of God’s plan and should not cause distress. Whether the discipler plays a major or minor role in someone else’s journey is not important. Leading others to a closer relationship with Christ should always be the consuming passion.
10. Learn from Others.
It is vital to remember that no one knows everything. Even the person who has faithfully followed Jesus for seventy-five or eighty years can learn more about the Master and sometimes the young teach the old. No one in the Women’s Bible Study group at a local church will ever forget what they learned the day the newest Christian in the group excitedly shared “the most wonderful verse” that she had “just discovered.” Everyone was teary-eyed as seasoned Christians found fresh meaning in John 3:16, and attention was directed back to the great love of the Father for His children.
11. Know When You Lack the Proper Expertise.
Finally, everyone needs to humble themselves and admit there are people and situations which are more than they can handle. Some psychological or emotional problems require professional help. In such circumstances, it is imperative to bring in qualified Christian counselors.
Young Christians who go through a particular problem (such as the death of a loved one or marital problems) will often find it more helpful to be discipled by an older woman who has faced and conquered similar difficulties. Everyone must remember that the Body of Christ is made up of many parts. Each member has had different experiences and each one possesses special gifts. It is God’s will that all share in the work of reaching the lost and making disciples. There are no “lone rangers” in the Kingdom. The effort should involve the community, not just individuals, because ultimately it is a task aimed to bring glory to Jesus Christ – and this glory will never be stolen by anyone.
Helping a new believer to become established in the faith is one of the most exciting tasks that a Christian can undertake. It is similar to the thrill experienced by gardeners as they watch spring bulbs appear in previously frozen ground. Green shoots signal the beginning, but no one wants the process to end there. The gardener knows that the plant still needs care if a perfect flower is going to unfold. Furthermore, each plant is different, and so is the type of care it will require. Some need sun and lots of water; others thrive in shade. The same is true of new Christians, and there are many options available for discipleship. The suggested resources in Appendix C are provided as a starting point. Christian bookstores contain a wealth of current materials and suggestions. Pastors and Christian Education Directors can also help disciplers and new believers to find materials that will meet many different needs or goals.
The wonderful thing about discipleship is that it is only complete when we enter heaven. Spiritual growth is a lifelong process – no one has “arrived.” This is a comfort, because we realize that we do not have to have all the answers. It is also a challenge, because we are involved in a lifelong spiritual adventure that should daily draw us nearer to God. The next step is up to you. Will you take seriously the command of Christ to “go and make disciples”?
Article “Evangelism and Disciplemaking” excerpted from “Women & Evangelism”. Developed by the Institute of Evangelism Billy Graham Center.
“This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”