Blog post by Barry Cooper
According to a March 2018 Barna study, – and we may presume that a similar study of Canada would be no less disappointing – a whopping 51% of US churchgoers said they’d never heard of the Great Commission – that moment in Matthew 28 where Jesus commands his disciples to “make disciples.” 25% said they knew of the Great Commission, but didn’t know what it was. 6% weren’t sure if they’d heard of it or not.
Only 17% knew what it was. And you have to wonder: how many of those 17% were actually doing it?
I suspect many of us have scared ourselves into not making disciples, or we’ve built it up into something that the Lord never intended it to be. Perhaps the best and simplest definition of discipling I’ve heard is this: “helping another person to follow Jesus”.
There are a thousand different ways we could do that, of course, and I’ll make some suggestions in a moment. But in the meantime:
1. Don’t wait till you have it all together
One of the biggest obstacles to making disciples is our own nagging feeling that we’d be a hypocrite for even trying it. We’re a mess! How can we – with all our flaws and failings and sin – presume to disciple someone else?
But as I think back to the people who discipled me best, they were the ones who were most honest about their own struggles. They allowed themselves to be vulnerable, to confide their own weakness. In doing so, they a) glorified Jesus by showing their complete dependency on him, and b) gave me permission to be honest and open about my own struggles.
Their mindset was not, “I am the guru, and you are the apprentice – oh, how much you have to learn from me, young padawan.” They were humble, recognizing that both of us were equally in need of God’s grace. It was nothing more than one beggar showing another where to find bread.
2. Don’t wait till you have all the answers
You don’t have to be a brilliant teacher or theologian to be a discipler.
While we should always be looking to grow in knowledge (Col 3:10; 2 Peter 3:18; Philippians 1:9), one of the best ways we can do that is by putting ourselves in situations where we find ourselves constantly bumping up against our limits as teachers and theologians. We build muscles not by lifting the weights which are easy for us, but by lifting some of the bigger ones.
And when you do run aground on a question you don’t know the answer to – as even the best disciplers inevitably do – that’s fine. It’s good to be made to dig, because that’s where the gold is. Either have a good Bible commentary on hand, or resolve between you to discover the answer before you next meet.
3. Don’t wait till you have time
Most of us are busy. But some of the best opportunities for discipling conversations come when we’re busy doing something else.
I learned the value of this from a brother in Washington DC. He’d invite younger men along with him as he ran essential errands – collecting dry cleaning, picking up groceries, getting the car fixed, and so on. As he did that, he was getting to know the person better, and asking questions like, “How’s life?”, “What are your biggest challenges right now?”, “What are you learning about the Lord?” “How can I be praying for you?”
It’s a seemingly mundane thing to do. But very often, because the focus is ostensibly on something else (doing the chores), the conversation can really open up. And it doesn’t require you to set aside additional time in your schedule for “discipling”.
So who could you disciple this week? As you read this, think of one person. Someone, perhaps, who is slightly younger in the faith. It might be a friend, your spouse, a family member, or someone from work or church.
Now, what could you do?
- Slowly read a book of the Bible together, and discuss it week by week, half a chapter at a time. What are the questions you each have about the passage? What are the things which hit you hardest? How can you apply what you’ve read? (Use something like Discipleship Explored if you’d like your Bible study to be a little more “guided”.)
- Read a good Christian book together and discuss each chapter as you go.
- Have someone over for lunch with you and/or your family.
- Take someone with you while you’re running errands.
- Invite someone to bring their kids over for a play date.
- Invite someone out for coffee to talk about last Sunday’s sermon.
All that’s needed is genuine care for the person you’re meeting. Get to know them better. Root your conversation in Scripture. Ask them how they’re doing spiritually, and find out how you can be praying for them.
Don’t wait. Who could you help to follow Jesus this week?
Barry Cooper | Co-Founder, Christianity Explored Ministries