How do Jesus followers grow? For those of us who have taken Jesus at his words and want to follow through on his final assignment – to go and make disciples around the world, it’s one of the most important questions we can ask. I’ve heard all kinds of answers, attending church, listening to sermons, Bible studies. And certainly all these are important, but I want to drill down to the level of behavior change. How can we as disciplers actually stimulate behavior change?
I’ve thought about this question a lot. My own preliminary answer is that we can help our disciples grow through four different forms of stimuli:
When we address behavior that needs changing in a disciple, we can reinforce a new behavior through encouragement and prayer. We can call disciples to a different way of behaving by challenging them, that is, confronting them with the need to change. And we can give them the kinds of opportunities that make new behavior possible. Mission trips are a prime example of that.
I remember challenging a man I was mentoring to spend more time with his teenage daughter and not to move away from her. He didn’t listen, God help him. His choice. I challenge lots of people to pray more. Today a friend challenged me to never blow my own trumpet, but just let my actions speak for me. A well-issued challenge is often the most powerful tool in a discipler’s toolbox. But whatever tool you use, it’s best used one-on-one, where the opinions of others don’t matter.
Gordon McDonald summarizes the issue well, “But mature Christians do not grow through programs or through the mesmerizing delivery of a talented speaker or worship band. Would-be saints are mentored: one-on-one or, better yet, one-on-small group (three to twelve was Jesus’ best guess). The mentoring takes place in the streets and living-places of life, not church classrooms or food courts. And it’s not necessarily done in Bible studies or the like. Mature Christians are made one by one through the influence of other Christians already mature.”
They may get the idea to change through a sermon, but to be able to make the change, they need someone to train and coach them in it. All of us act our way to new behavior. If we’re smart we’ll go looking for a mentor, learn from their mistakes, and feed off their encouragement, challenge, and prayers. And once we’ve learned a few things, out of a sense of stewardship and obedience, we’ll pass them on to others.**
*There are many ways that you can challenge a disciple. For example, 2 Timothy 3:16 lists four different ways in which disciples may be challenged and equipped to grow.
**2 Timothy 2:2 is the quintessential verse on this process.