Excerpt from Discipleship Handbook: The Six Elements of a Discipleship Lifestyle
by Bobby Harrington and Josh Patrick
“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” 2 Timothy 2:2
Authentic discipleship repeats itself, where the disciple becomes a disciple-maker: reproducing the discipleship process.
In preparation for the launch of discipleship.org, we solicited the input of some of the most effective disciple-makers in North America. We were stunned by their uniform emphasis on one point (and it was especially punctuated by Robert Coleman and Bill Hull): discipleship is not biblical without an emphasis on multiplication. If our vision of discipleship stops with the disciple, it falls short of the example Jesus left for us. Authentic discipleship repeats itself, where the disciple becomes a disciple-maker, reproducing the discipleship process.
As Bobby and Jim Putman pointed out in the book, DiscipleShift: Five Shifts to Help Your Church Make Disciples Who Make Disciples, no one can be mature without experiencing the love of God in Christ and loving others in turn. It is hard to believe that someone is truly Christ-like if he or she does not personally seek and save the lost, since that was Jesus’ purpose for coming to the earth (Luke 19:1-11). Jesus was sent by the Father into the world for the redemption of people and he, in turn, sent his disciples into the world for the redemption of others (John 20:21). Can we truly be like Christ, who made discipleship a high priority, and not personally make disciples ourselves? His last words were very clear. He commissioned us with the commandment to “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Discipleship for People Who Are Lost
Let’s talk first about discipling lost people. We also call this Evangelism. Lost people are those who do not know or claim to know Jesus. We have both lived in areas where there are few Christians. In those areas of the world, the saved and the lost are clearly distinct. And the approach is clear, we follow Jesus by entering their world to love and serve them as Jesus loved and served people (which is to be missional). And out of safe relationships that are established through this kind of love, we tell them about and invite them to join the kingdom of God. We call this strategy show and tell.
Let’s be honest. The closest friends of most Christians are Christians. They may have a few ongoing and meaningful relationships with lost people, but probably not too many. Christians naturally connect with other Christians, so most, if not all of their best relational energy is invested in people they know or meet at church. The discipleship lifestyle means that we must follow Jesus and actually go out and find lost people (Luke 15). We must constantly encourage people to be like Jesus by intentionally connecting with non-disciples and helping them to become disciples. This is repeating the discipleship process at the most basic level. Someone taught us about Jesus. Now we want to repeat that with others. Eternal destinies lie in the balance.
In light of the Bible’s overt teaching on God’s eternal judgment, nothing is more important or urgent than giving a person the opportunity to trust and follow Jesus. As stated earlier, many will refer to this as evangelism, but it is more biblical to call it discipleship. Jesus didn’t command us to evangelize the lost. He said “go and make disciples.” The language of the Bible implies something much deeper and more substantial than a singular focus on conversion or a one-time presentation of information.
It’s hard to imagine a higher priority for a local church than reaching those who are eternally lost. It’s interesting to us that the Bible does not list numerous directives that constantly tell us reach out to lost people. We believe that this is because it is unfathomable that we would require such commands from God to do this. If we really believe that God rescued us from eternal punishment when he sent his Son to die as our sacrifice and other people do not have what we have, why should we have to be told to share that gift with others? If we sincerely love people, how could we not want to share this Good News with them? Honesty compels us to ask two hard questions:
1. Do we really believe what the Bible clearly says about the consequences of failing to trust and follow Jesus?
2. If we believe what it says, what are we doing about it?
We can easily grow cold in our fundamental conviction that God’s Word is absolutely true. The pressure from culture to be tolerant and non-judgmental often leads churches to have fuzzy beliefs and soft convictions.
But we must align our individual lives and square the mission of the church with the words of Jesus. We believe that Jesus really is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). No one comes to the Father except through Him. We believe that there is no other name by which people can be saved (Acts 4:12). We believe that Jesus was telling the truth when he said that hell is a real place and that most people are going there (Matthew 7:13-14, 25:46, Luke 8:11-14).
You may want to read that last sentence again and look up those passages.
This is the most urgent issue in the universe. Our hearts should break for those who are disconnected from Jesus. We should do everything we can to help as many as we can to see the goodness and light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4, 6).
Charles Spurgeon exhorted his church in England with these words:
“If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped around their knees, imploring them to stay. If hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let no one go unwarned and un-prayed for.”
Discipleship for Cultural Christians
We now live and work together in a context where cultural Christianity (described earlier) is the norm and biblical discipleship is the exception. In a sense, this is an underlying reality in much of the America, where every year over 75-80% of people report in surveys that they are Christians and even active church attenders look just like the non-church attenders around them in terms of behavior. It is a scandal.
It is a particular scandal in the Bible belt. When almost everyone is a so-called Christian, it can be toxic. A kind of social-club Christianity sets in and people are a part of church for all the wrong reasons. Church leaders and Biblical disciples must be tough minded and commit themselves to faithfulness.
We believe clarity on what it means to be saved is critical in how we go about making disciples and the stands we take. We have concluded that most people who would meet the cultural Christian description (described earlier), those who are religiously oriented, but not actively living under the Lordship of Jesus, are either lost or in danger of being lost. We are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) and genuine faith shows itself in faithful living (Ephesians 2:10). Cultural Christians do not demonstrate faithful faith. We have found both David Platt and Robert Picerelli, who come at it from two distinct theological frameworks, to be helpful guides on this issue.
Discipleship for the Saved
Now let’s talk about discipling saved people. Far too many people have been saved and then abandoned. Somehow it is just assumed that they will be discipled by getting involved in a church or that it will just automatically happen somehow. It doesn’t work that way. Jesus and the apostles showed us that disciples are made by other disciples. So it is vitally important to raise up disciplemakers who equip and disciple the saved, so that they become mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28). We must replicate disciples.
Too many people think that it’s the minister or a pastor or the elders who make disciples. They’re concerned that they don’t know what to do or that they will make mistakes. This is where biblical teaching on the ministry of all believers and the coaching role of leaders is so important (Ephesians 4:11-13; Romans 8:3-8). Every disciple has the capability and responsibility to make disciples. We are all ambassadors, lights in the world, and ministers of reconciliation. Understood this way, it’s the role of every disciple of Jesus to be ministers and to make disciples, and the role of every minister, pastor, and elder to train, equip, and coach every disciple to become disciplemakers.
The acid test of a disciple-maker is not that he or she is making disciples, but are making disciples who have gone on to be disciple-makers. We learned the following formula from our friends David and Jon Ferguson. They describe the ideal mindset of a disciplemaker and what it means to be committed to repeating the discipleship process. We disciple people with a focus that we are training them to move on and disciple people themselves.
• I do. You watch. We talk.
• I do. You help. We talk.
• You do. I help. We talk.
• You do. I watch. We talk.
• You do. Someone else watches. I do. Someone else watches.
A mature disciple-maker can point to several people that he has discipled and that are now discipling others. At the beginning, we were their disciples, but now they are our co-laborers. We may release people from being actively discipled by us, yes, but we never release them from relationship.
Multiplying the Disciple Making Cycle
When I (Josh) met Scott in the Spring of 2003, it was obvious that he didn’t trust or follow Jesus. His wife coerced him to an Easter worship gathering. He was a new face in the crowd, so I approached him and asked some general questions about his background. He described himself as “non-religious” and “skeptical” about the claims Jesus made about himself. I told him that I appreciated his candor and would like to hear more of his story. He didn’t reject the idea of another conversation, so I invited him to lunch. We had lunch nearly every week for 6 months. We mainly talked about sports, marriage, and our careers…. and sometimes we talked about Jesus.
His curiosity peaked when The Passion of The Christ was released in theaters. After we saw the movie together, we unpacked the experience over a cup of coffee. After his third sip, he whipped out a 5-page list of questions that were provoked by the movie. I answered the ones I knew. I said, “I don’t know,” to the ones I did not. A few days later, I was led to intensify my prayers for him and his eternal destiny. In those prayers, I discerned God prompting me to invite Scott to join a small group of guys who met for encouragement and Bible study each week. Much to my surprise, he was quite open to such an invitation. This weekly immersion in authentic Christian fellowship ended up drawing Scott like a moth to a flame to the beauty and supremacy of Jesus. We didn’t try to answer all of his questions. We had unanswered questions of our own! We just loved him, confessed our struggles, and walked with each other with no agenda. Over the course of about 6 months, Scott began to share our conviction that Jesus died for our sins and was raised to free us from death.
Eight years and two churches later, Scott called me out of the blue just to catch up. He informed me that he had formed a discipleship group for men. He called it a “Jesus group.” He said that he was “paying it forward.” I immediately went silent and I felt a tear fall down my cheek, and this puzzled him. All I could say was, “Thank you, Jesus.”
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