To be a discipler is simple, but it may not be easy. It is time-consuming and requires some basic knowledge about God and His Word, and a piece of you.
In a previous article, I described how Jesus approached His inner circle of disciples like this:
“There was a particular group of people with whom He was more intimate. His Disciples were privy to His thoughts behind His actions. He took special care to help them understand who He was and what He was about. He cared for them and tended them like a shepherd. He answered their sometimes thoughtless questions. He taught them and tried to prepare them for what was to come.”
Let’s take a look at each of these a little more closely.
He shared more intimately with them: In order to disciple anyone, you first must have some sort of close relationship with them. This requires a level of vulnerability from both of you. You have to be willing to share parts of yourself that may not make you look like the great spiritual leader you pretend to be. In humility, opening yourself up to another follower of Christ could be just what they need in order to see that it’s not perfection we are after but persistence in the battle and sincerity in our commitment to follow Christ.
They were privy to His thoughts behind His actions: In discipleship, we drill down to the nitty-gritty. We examine the Scriptures to get the ‘backstory’ and the context for why Christ acted and spoke the way He did. Being in a discipling relationship with someone requires an ability (with the Holy Spirit’s help) to distill Christ’s words into digestible pieces for the young believer. The disciple-er must be patient while new concepts are absorbed by the disciple-ee.
He took special care to help them understand who He was and what He was about: Jesus often had to explain the parables He spoke to the crowds to His disciples. They could be just as dull and thick-headed as we can be. He would carefully and systematically break each parable down into its component parts and show them precisely what He meant and what they were to glean from that teaching. As disciplers of young believers, we too must be prepared to teach, to break down into smaller pieces, and “give a reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).
He cared for them and tended them like a shepherd: Shepherds have a very hard job. They deal with stinky, distracted, and wayward animals who can’t think for themselves. There has to be some level of caring and interest in their flock to put up with what they do. This holds true with being a discipler. Our flock can be messy, wayward, and unthinking when it comes to their new life in Christ. Our privilege is to gently lead them to the green pastures and bring them to the still waters where they can drink safely. Their lives may be chaotic and filled with unnecessary drama caused by their previous choices and desires. Our job is to walk beside them and gently nudging them toward truth and in the right direction. It is also our job to help them make better decisions as their souls are restored in the hands of the great Shepherd, who is now leading them and empowering them. (Psalm 23)
He answered their incessant, sometimes thoughtless questions: If you’ve ever had a conversation with a three-year-old, you know how incessant and persistent some of their questions can be. They can be very simple, or they can require a PH. D. in astrophysics to answer. So, it is with new followers of Christ. Their enthusiasm and energy can be exhausting. They have questions that we don’t have the answers to – but we know where to go for the answers. We don’t have to be a degreed theologian or subject matter expert; we just have to be a disciple of Christ ourselves. Being a discipler can be as beneficial to you as it is to your disciple-ee. You can experience the joy anew each time they discover a truth that brings them joy. You can weep with them over your own sin as they are confronted with scripture that convicts and leads to repentance. In reality, you are on this journey with them, sometimes up front and leading the way, but more often than not, it is side by side. You are holding each other up; you are pointing each other to the Word of Life. You are a helper, and thereby you are helped.
He taught them and tried to prepare them for what was to come: One of the practical beauties of God’s Word is that it covers every contingency. It takes us from the immediate and short-term to the bigger picture and eternity. While Jesus was with His disciples, He always had His goal in mind: the cross. He lived each day in the knowledge that He had come to die. But even beyond that, He knew what was waiting for Him on the other side of His death. “For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). The goal of discipleship is to grow and prepare the next generation of disciple makers. Our role is to steep them in God’s Word and, as they grow and mature in their understanding and reception of it, to prepare them to lead others. It is like some spiritual pyramid scheme where the numbers grow exponentially with each new disciple. We are preparing the next generation of disciplers who will take on the next and the next and the next – into eternity.
Being a discipler is simple, but it will require a piece of you. It will require your time, vulnerability, and genuine interest, and it will require you to stay on your knees in prayer. You cannot do this on your own. The challenges are as individual as you and your disciple are. But the rewards are equally bountiful. You will need your Great Shepherd to walk with you each and every step of the way. Go in faith, with grace and humility, and make disciples!