One of the perks of my job is that I get to meet with some wonderfully gifted pastors. These guys love Jesus and are regularly laying down their lives for the sake of the people they love the most, their local churches.
I wish I could share more openly about their lives, but it would not be appropriate. But I will say this: these guys love God, their wives, and their churches. It seems as though the only thing they think about is how to better care for others. It is inspiring and personally convicting to me. It is a definite perk of my job and a privilege to consult with such humble men. God has positioned me to come alongside a few of these good men in order to assist them in thinking through how to do better soul care.
To think about how to love God well and to serve others more effectively is a cool way to spend your time.
Today, I had another one of those opportunity meetings with a pastor-friend. We talked about how to do a better job discipling people. The following article is the fruit of that conversation. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed thinking with him about God and others (Matthew 22:36-40).
The Four Big Components in The Discipleship Process Are…
- A curriculum of knowledge
- A couple who is willing to be discipled
- The gospel, of course
- An individual or couple who want to be discipled by your disciple-e
These are the four big pieces that need to be in the mix if a person wants to be a discipler for the Savior. With these four components working practically in our lives, any Christian can be equipped to emulate what our Savior has asked us to do, which is to love God and to love others more effectively.
With these things in mind, let’s take a quick look at each one of them and break them down into chewable pieces.
A Curriculum of Knowledge
Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). We get this. We understand this. If you want to grow in your faith, then you need a source of knowledge that will help you to grow into maturity. Fortunately, God is a speaking God and He gave us His words so we would not be left in the dark.
The only essential, unique, sufficient, authoritative, and infallible words that we have from Him is the Bible. Therefore, the Bible becomes the foundational basis for any and all knowledge that is used to train someone. That does not mean that you can’t use other sources of knowledge.
That, in actuality, would be unwise as well as impossible. If we could not speak about God, by using other words that were not in the Bible, then our lives would be clunky and Spirit-deficient.
The Spirit of God is active in our day, just like He has been throughout church history–illuminating us to help us think more clearly about God’s words. The fruit of the Spirit’s work is incalculable.
He has assisted us in writing good books about God. The world, as we know it, has always been full of these books that have archived the thoughts of men and women who have thought about God. Even this article is another small piece of paper to be added to that pile.
A common question that I’m often asked is, “What would be a good book for our group–or this person–to go through?” I realize the intent of the question, but the question is not the right question that should be asked. For discipleship purposes, you really don’t need to be all that specific in finding just the right book.
Most of us know how to find solid, good, conservative, God-centered books. I think with the plethora of books that have been written in the United States alone, we can easily get a book disorder. We seem to be always in search of the one right book that will tell us how to do the one right thing, so we will be right with God and others.
Book-centered Christians is a problem in the church today. Prior to Gutenberg, this was not a problem. Now I admit…it is a very good problem to have–to have lots of books, but we need to be aware that a plenitude of good things can lead to solitude and self-centered thinking.
The curriculum of knowledge is merely the fountain-head of the stream, but it is not the stream. While the Bible is our sole authority and other good books give us a flow and direction, none of them can make life practical for us.
A Couple Who Is Willing to Be Discipled
The book is the tool and the person to be discipled is the point. The goal is not necessarily to create an educated man, but a practical man. Therefore, the point-of-focus should be on how to take the knowledge and contextualize or customize it to the person you are training so that it makes practical sense in their homes and other places.
Therefore, it won’t do to sit around a room staring at a book, talking about a book, in order to walk away with a lot of knowledge. There is a place for that, but that is not the purpose of discipleship.
Each Sunday night I lead a small group of believers, who are working through the Sunday sermon for that particular day. The morning’s sermon is our curriculum of knowledge that we use to get us heading in the right direction, but the sermon is not the centerpiece, the mainstay, or the thing we remember and take home with us when we are done.
The sermon, just like every other book we read, to a large degree vaporizes at the end of the day. We hardly remember it anymore. This past year, we have listened to over fifty sermons, but can hardly recall any of them.
However, if you ask the group what God has been doing in their lives this past year, they would be able to fill your ears with words for many hours on end. It is not the Bible or the books or the sermons or even my articles that they remember with clarity. It was how they practically applied the knowledge to their specific lives.
Typically, when the Savior talked about the Bible, He was applying the Bible to the lives of the people He was talking to. His main point was not so much about educating them in the OT as much as about applying the OT to their lives, so they would be able to understand it, live it, and teach it–the work of a discipler.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” – Matthew 5:27-28
Jesus was constantly applying the Bible to their lives. This was essential in His discipleship process. He wanted more than just smart Bible guys. He wanted them to know what it meant and how they were to respond to it.
I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. – John 17:15-17
Jesus wanted us to learn (knowledge) the truth and to be sanctified (application) by the truth.
- Do you have someone teaching you the truth?
- And…do you have someone teaching you how to be sanctified by the truth–how to apply the truth?
The Gospel, of Course
The centerpiece of the Bible is the gospel, Jesus Christ our Redeemer. He is the focal point. If the Bible was a landscape, the gospel would be its highest peak. The OT pointed to the gospel (Christ). The NT told us about the gospel. Church history reflects back on the gospel.
We are repeatedly told to follow Christ, emulate Christ, be in Christ, exalt Christ, ad infinitum. This is the profound message of the Bible and it must be the profound message of our lives. The difficulty for us is how to connect the gospel to the mundane realities of our lives.
Notice how Paul connected the gospel to our everyday lives:
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:31-32
Let’s Follow the Sequence of Thought:
- The Bible, the source of knowledge in this case. It tells us what not to do and what to do, e.g. let go of bitterness and be kind.
- Paul is talking to people, the point-of-focus for this text. He wants them to learn how to change. He is not primarily interested in them becoming smarter by memorizing Ephesians 4:31-31, though that would be a good thing to do. He is applying the Bible very practically to real people with real lives with real problems.
- The gospel–as God in Christ forgave you. This gospel piece is what separates Paul’s morality from the rest of the world.
Paul does not want us to divorce what we do from the motive for what we do. If you divorce your practice from your motive, you could become a rote-Christian or even a Pharisee. There are plenty of people in the world who do nice things like being kind and tenderhearted.
Paul wants us to do better than just become sound moralists. He wants us to be gospel-centered. It is essential that all of your training, teaching, and instructing is connected to the centerpiece of the Bible, the gospel. Christ cannot be moved to the perimeter of our lives or the Word of God.
Start looking for “gospel connections,” not just in the Word of God, but in your personal life. Why do you do what you do? The answer must always be the gospel.
Teach this to your disciple-e so they can teach it to their disciple-e. When a bitter woman asks you why she should forgive her husband, you will be ready with an answer: “Because of the gospel, lady. Christ forgave you and you are called upon to forgive as you have been forgiven.” (See Romans 5:8; Matthew 18:23-33 for more gospel connections.)
Thus far we have looked at:
- A curriculum of knowledge that could be the Bible or could flow from the Bible, a solid book.
- Practically applying that knowledge to real people, who are living in a real world.
- Making sure your applications are rooted in Christ alone, not sound moralism.
An Individual or Couple Who Wants to Be Discipled by Your Disciple-E
The goal of discipleship is not about personal wholeness, whatever that means. I’m mean really…can we really be whole while sin remains? Personal wholeness is heaven-speak.
The goal of discipleship is about being Christ (gospel) to others. The number one reason a person comes to counseling today is to get their lives straightened out.
Never–can I say never–does anyone come to counseling to learn how to disciple others. An unintended consequence of the modern counseling movement is that it has helped to create a pack of me-centered Christians. The point of the Bible is to go and pour your life into others.
The gospel died for others. He came for others. He lived for others. Pastors seem to spend more time helping people overcome their problems than teaching people how to disciple. There is a world of difference between a life coach and a discipler. The former helps you with your problems, while the latter helps you to help others.
Paul did not counsel. He discipled.
If he helped someone, it was for the purpose of spreading the gospel to others. He was all about spreading, pushing, sharing the gospel around the world. He emulated the purposes of the Savior. Christ did not come to give us wholeness. He came to give us a message to share with others.
Too many Christians see Christianity as an opportunity to have a better marriage, better children, and better friends. While those things are good and sometimes a by-product of Christianity, those things were never meant to be the purposes of Christianity.
And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. – 2 Timothy 2:2
The best way to make your discipleship effective is to give your disciple-e someone to disciple. This makes this last element essential. If you want your disciple-e to be a humble learner, give them somebody with problems.
I occasionally give my small group members other people in the church that they can come alongside to love on and help through some kind of situational difficulty. I disciple them through this process.
And when this happens, my small group members are more attentive, more humbled, and more inquisitive about how to care for these people. They are learning by doing.
In college, you sit and learn a lot of great stuff, but you have no questions or no real place to apply all the wonderful knowledge you are acquiring. Four years later, when you hit the production floor, you have a ton of question, but it is hard to recall what you learned.
Teach a man how to fish by putting a rod and reel in his hand. I guarantee you that he will pay attention and will be asking you a lot of questions.
My son asks me all kinds of questions when we go places. If we’re sitting around the house, doing nothing, he does not know what to ask. He has no real big questions. But once we hit the road, I feel like I’m in the inquisition. He is seeing, wondering, examining and, by all means, asking.
The Savior did not sit around teaching a Bible study. He walked with his friends, giving them things to do while instructing them all along the way. And when they came back, He would do a de-brief. This is what I do with the folks I’m discipling. It’s a blast.
Here’s a Great Way for You to Disciple Others:
- A sound curriculum
- A willing learner
- A gospel motive
- A disciple-e for your disciple-e to disciple
Be like Jesus: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. – Matthew 28:19-20
Also published on Medium.