The How-To of Disciple-Making: Guidance for the Scared and Confused

Two Models for Converting Scotland

There are 5 million people in Scotland. That’s a lot. Recently published statistics indicate that 7% of Scots regularly attend public worship. That’s not a lot. Even worse, only a minority of these attend a gospel church where they might have the opportunity to grow beyond a spiritual foetus into a Christ-empowered adult. So what do we do?

Compare two approaches to the predicament. One is the method of mass evangelism. Let’s say that each year to celebrate Pentecost the church organises a mass rally and invites Louis Giglio to come preach to a heaving stadium. God is faithful, the Spirit falls, and each year 3,000 men and women are added to the kingdom. At that rate how long would it take to convert the whole of Scotland? More than 1,500 years. I hope Giglio is taking his vitamin C.

Here is a different model. Now let’s say that one Christian in Scotland decides to go and spend a year making one other disciple. At the end of the first year there are just two mature and equipped disciples. The next year these two go and make two more. The math continues from 4 to 8, 8 to 16, 16 to 32, and so on. At that rate of simple multiplication, the whole of Scotland – 5 million people – could be evangelised in less than 25 years. Wow. Those are adrenalin-inducing stats.

If this is true, why aren’t churches investing more in producing disciple-makers? Or to file responsibility elsewhere, why aren’t Christians focused more on becoming disciple-makers themselves? I think the answer to this conundrum has two parts. One is that the church has yet to wake up to the power of disciple-making; they have not yet understood the simple law of multiplication. The other is that church leaders and lay Christians alike are uncertain as to how to become a disciple-maker. I want to deal with the latter insecurity by outlining three basic steps that go into the process of becoming a disciple-maker.

Step 1 – Name Your First, Practical Intention

The first step to becoming a disciple-maker to answer the question, what do I want out of life? Why am I here? Now sadly some Christians don’t have any sense of a guiding purpose at all. They wander about aimlessly like moles in the sunlight. Others have a sense of purpose, but that purpose is misdirected having been hijacked by the idols of prestige, power, money, pleasure, and comfort. A third group of Christians suffers from shallow piety. Ask them their purpose and they will give a textbook answer like ‘to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ However, follow up with a further question, ‘And how do you plan on doing this?’ and they are as mute as a stone.

Disciple-making begins when a person has the mental-clarity and gut-conviction to say, ‘The purpose of my life is to glorify God by making mature and equipped disciples of Christ. I don’t want to live for money, beauty, health or comfort. I want to fulfil the Great Commission to go and make disciples of the nations.’ Having this as one’s first, practical intention is essential for pursuing a life of disciple-making.

Step 2 – Find a Model, Not a Book

The second step is to find a model, not a book. The mistake a lot of Christians make is to think that a book can make a mature and equipped disciple. Books don’t make disciple-makers; disciple-makers clone disciple-makers.  This reminds me of advice that Malcolm Gladwell recently gave to high school graduates feeling the pressure to get into the ‘right university’. Gladwell disposed of the common myth that institutions make people. His point was that institutions don’t make people, people make people. A student can get a first class education at almost any college or university in America. The long-term difference is not made by the name of the institution, or by the books read during a course, but by the relationships built during one’s studies. One professor who takes a serious interest in a student, or a network of peers that inspire excellence, has far more long-term impact than a prestigious title or a specific course.

Something similar is true for discipleship. The best way to become a disciple-maker is to find a person who models what you want to be. The reason for this is that discipleship is a holistic activity. So much more is required than communicating information. One sees this in 2 Tim 3:10 where Paul reminds Timothy of all that Timothy has learned from him. The list includes teaching doctrine and ethics (‘teaching’), modelling a godly lifestyle (‘conduct’), demonstrating missional intentionality (‘purpose’), enacting a living relationship with God (‘faith’), and showing Christian character in the midst of the heat of suffering and persecution (‘patience, love, and endurance’). No sermon series could adequately teach this. Relationship is required. Therefore, if you want to become a disciple-maker, go and follow someone who is what you want to be.

Step 3 – share your life with a less mature disciple  

Step three is to share your life with a less mature disciple. Two things will happen if you do this. The first is that you will be able to share what you know about following Jesus with someone else. Don’t undervalue the work God has done in your life. Christians often take for granted the knowledge, habits, and character that is light for those in darkness. Remember that what is common-sense to one person – giving generously to church, taking time to read the Bible, showing patience and kindness to difficult people – is revolutionary to another.

Something else will also happen if you share your life. You will be held accountable and thus inspired to walk with Jesus more closely. What happens when you invite someone for a meal to your home? The floors are swept, and the house is put in order. The same happens through inviting someone to see your life. You are suddenly made aware of dusty habits and unswept relationships that require repentance – a condescending attitude towards one’s wife, a lack of control of one’s kids, the need to spend more regular time with God. Thus by discipling another you grow and mature yourself. Such is the economy of God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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