Jesus said we’re to make disciples. In fact, it was the last thing he said. Discipling is not a spiritual gift, it’s just something you do when you follow Jesus – disciples make disciples. It’s as basic as praying and reading the Bible.
So, how do you do that? Many people begin with a Bible study. A lot of folks hang out and assume that it’s happening by osmosis. But I suggest that, rather than default to what we’ve experienced or been taught, we ought to study the way Jesus did it and try to copy him as nearly as we can. I see him taking his disciples through at least a five-step process that sets them up to be discipled. As in farming, preparation was everything.
Here are the five steps in the process:
E Earn Trust
E Exercise Authority
Pray for God to lead you to the right prospects to disciple.
“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.” Luke 6:12
Before Jesus selected the disciples he was going to invest in, he did two things. First, he hung out with them for a while. It’s not until Luke 6 that he decides who among the many people following him that he will ask to a higher level of commitment.
Second, Jesus went and prayed all night before selecting them. Imagine if you were to follow this same procedure. First hang out with a large number of people. Spend enough time with them to find out their strengths, weaknesses, and aspirations. Then spend an entire night praying about what God wants you to do. If you’re really serious about disciple-making, it could produce great fruit.
Ask your disciple to meet with you in a discipling relationship.
“When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them.” Luke 6:13
The second step of identifying your potential disciples goes hand-in-hand with the first step of prayer. Prayer is what enables you to make the right choice. At some point in the get-acquainted phase of the relationship, after praying, you feel God’s confirmation that he wants you to disciple certain candidates. If you feel confident about them, then ask your prospect to join you in a discipleship relationship. The first thing you might ask them to do is to pray and ask God to confirm this for them. Then you may want to take a month to confirm the call.
Does your disciple trust you enough to share their life with you?
“Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.'” John 6:68-69
Two factors in disciple-making require time: a) Trust can only be developed over time and b) your insight into the particulars of a disciple’s circumstances takes time. It’s important to understand this so that you are patient in the trust-building process.
Some disciples will, because of past violations of trust, be reluctant to trust you. This is not a reflection on you. It’s just something that you’ll have to pray through, allowing God to do his work over time in your disciple’s life. Often, when you’ve at last proven yourself trustworthy in your disciple’s eyes (meaning you listen well, you accept them for who they are, and you keep confidences well), they will open up and share secrets that they’ve shared with only the closest of friends.
Until you’ve given your disciple a reason to trust you, your discipling will fall short of what God wants. I once started to disciple a successful businessman who’d been recently divorced. We met periodically; I encouraged him in his faith. But we hadn’t hung out enough and I hadn’t put enough deposits in the trust bank account. He was choosy about which of my challenges he would listen to.
One day a test came. He was in love with a woman who lived some distance away. Pursuing the relationship meant moving there, leaving his teenage daughters behind. They were at a critical time in their lives and needed him around. I told him not to make the move, but he did anyway. That was the last I heard from him.
If you give your disciple reasons to trust you when their own judgment tells them to do differently, then you’ve got what you need to begin changing their behavior, and that is foundational to discipling. Before you help your disciple answer the question, “How shall we then live?” She has to answer the question for you, “Who am I to you?” If the answer is just, “a friend” or “someone I respect”, but she doesn’t give you the prerogative of correcting or rebuking her, then you are still in the initial stages of anything that might end up looking like a discipling relationship.
Decide together what you will jointly agree to do.
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24-26
Will you meet for a defined period of time? What will you try to accomplish?
Disciples must be committed to being FAST (more on that here). A discipling relationship is not all give and no take. Though you as a discipler may have more to give, your “win” is that the disciple is committed to being FAST.
You or your disciple may commit to a discipling relationship prematurely. Recognize that you may want to covenant to a short period of time that you evaluate and then re-new. Does your discipleship live up to the criteria? Was your disciple as teachable as you’d hoped he or she would be?
Will your disciple agree to do what you ask them to do?
“This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority – the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not tearing you down.” 2 Corinthians13:10
Paul didn’t want to be harsh with those he was discipling in Corinth, but he recognized that he’d been invested by God and his disciples with certain authority, and circumstances might require him to use it. This authority is a lubricant in the relationship. If it is well-established, then it makes it so much easier to ask a disciple to make a change and expect them to follow through. If the discipler has to walk around on eggshells wondering whether what she has to say will be accepted, it can waste a lot of time. The point of the disciple-making process is that spiritual growth should occur. One party in the relationship knows more about this than the other, but is dependent on the other to be receptive and respectful when they give advice.
To accelerate the discipling process, disciples may want to find ways to honor their disciplers. This shows that they respect their authority and appreciate the correction they give from time to time.
“That’s fine for Jesus,” you may say, “but we live in a jaded culture. We’ve all been burned. How do we do take these principles and apply them here and now?” Most people want
to be discipled without the pain of changing their behavior. They have
a hard time trusting, so when they’re challenged, they push back. At the same time, because
discipling involves changing and change doesn’t happen unless behavior
is challenged, disciplers have always needed a high level of trust.
That’s why it’s so important to go through the first three steps
to ensure that you have a trust relationship with your disciple. If disciples pray and ask God
for the person who will pour into them, he will show them how to take the
leap of faith in trusting that person. When you as the discipler later risks the trust by exercising authority, your disciple needs to know that God led you
together in the first place.