Shut your mouth.
That sounds a little harsh, I know, but track with me… To make disciples who make disciples, there is great value in keeping quiet. This has been the most consistently challenging, beneficial, and practical disciple-making lesson the Holy Spirit has taught me. It is a lesson I need to be reminded of everyday.
For some of you, this may be an easy directive to follow. Many of you are like me: God has given you a passion and a calling to proclaim his Good News. And perhaps you’ve studied creative communication strategies, taken a deep dive into deep truths of his Word so that our exegetical messages take into account culture and context, and when you are in a Bible study group you always have something to say that is (in our not-so-humble opinion) insightful, inspiring, and certainly interesting.
In my decades of full-time ministry, and through my missions work on three different continents, I have been blessed to sit at the feet of some amazing men and women whom God has used to spark multi-generational disciple making movements (DMMs). These leaders came from multiple streams of evangelical backgrounds and their training varied in several areas. However, one point has been consistent throughout: talk all you want if you want to make disciples and have it stop at one generation.
To truly disciple a disciple maker, however, we must learn to shut our mouths, listen,andtrust the Holy Spirit.
Why do I, personally, have a hard time shutting my mouth? It really comes down to pride. I too often trust in my own ability to impact the person I am discipling more than I trust in the Holy Spirit’s ability to teach and guide them.
Do you trust the Holy Spirit living in you? Do you really trust that the Holy Spirit can work in a disciple, even if they’ve just started following Jesus?
If you are reading this, I’m sure you love and follow Jesus. And if Jesus were physically present with you now, you would have no problem trusting him. You would also trust him with any person you might be discipling. If this disciple were reading Scripture and seeking to understand it better, there is no doubt you would trust Jesus to reveal to them just what he needs to know.
Do you trust the Holy Spirit in the same way? Jesus said that it is better for us that he should go to be with the Father (John 16). Ponder that for a moment: Can you imagine anything better than having Jesus physically present in the here and now, right next to you? Nothing could be better than going about your ministry with Jesus alongside you, right?
- Getting stuck on a difficult Bible passage? Easy, let’s ask Jesus!
- Someone you are discipling has doubts and asks a difficult question? “Well, I don’t know,” you might say. Then, turning to Jesus, “Uh… Jesus? What do you think”?
How great would that be? And yet, Jesus himself said there is something better:
“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:7–8).
Just a few verses down, Jesus names this helper the “Spirit of truth” that will guide us into “all the truth.” What is better than having Jesus next to us? Having Jesus in us through his Spirit of truth. We must also believe this is true for our disciples if we want them to become disciple makers.
We will make disciples like Jesus when we follow Jesus’ example of trusting the Holy Spirit to guide us. Specifically, we must learn to trust that the Spirit can work even in baby believers in powerful ways. I am always astounded at how much Jesus entrusted to his disciples—all of whom he knew were still quite clueless about even important truths of the promised King and His Kingdom. Jesus knew their passionate faith and willingness to obey could make up for what they were lacking in theological depth.
Think about when Jesus sends out the twelve apostles (in Matthew 10) and later the 72 disciples (in Luke 10). Think of the crucially important task he was giving them even though they were off-track in so much of their thinking about the Messiah. They were to go to towns and villages and proclaim the prophesied arrival of the Kingdom of God! Jesus told them to make known his message and, amazingly, he trusted these young disciples to DO just as he DID. He trusted in the Spirit to lead and provide:
- Jesus depended on God’s provision and his disciples were to go out with nothing and trust God to provide. (Matthew 10:10; Luke 10:4)
- Jesus discerned who was open to the gospel and he trusted his followers to be able to, on the one hand, find people of peace open to the gospel and, on the other, recognize when those people were not present and walk on – shaking the dust off their feet along the way. (Matthew 10:12–14; Luke 10:6–11)
- Jesus even trusted the Spirit to work in these young disciples supernaturally, so much so that he laid some pretty bold expectations before them. They were to touch the untouchables, deliver the demon-possessed, heal the sick and even raise the dead! His trust was well-founded. These disciples, who were still so young in their faith-walk, came back with amazing reports of God’s faithfulness. They joyfully exclaimed, “Even the demons are subject to us in your name”! (Matthew 10:8; Luke 10:9,17)
How much do you think they learned about Christ and his Kingdom through that experience? How much more was their faith strengthened than if they had simply watched Jesus do it? Jesus expected them to put their faith into practice from the start. He sent them as sheep among wolves because He knew God would be with them. The fruit was evident, and far more people encountered the Kingdom of God than could have been accomplished by them staying together as one large group.
Jesus sometimes had a short, impactful encounter with someone and then sent them on saying, “go and sin no more.” Even some who wanted to stay with Jesus, he sent away. One example is in Mark 5 and Luke 8. The Gerasene demoniac, so fresh from being radically delivered from a legion of demonic forces, begged to go with Jesus. In our Western Christian culture, we would invite this former demoniac into an extensive time of healing and Bible study while protecting him from the big bad world outside that had so thoroughly abused him. We would certainly not give him any significant responsibilities at church until we had seen a prolonged history of healthy habits being created. Jesus, however, commissioned him to go reach his own people in Decapolis. Some of these people had just rejected Jesus and asked him to leave! Was this commissioning successful? So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed. (Mark 5:20)
After the resurrection and before the ascension, Jesus imparts his peace to the disciples while making it clear that they are to do as he did, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”. (John 20:21) He also commissioned his followers to go and make disciples by baptizing and teaching obedience. Jesus made it clear that they were NOT to do this on their own. Though he told them to go, he told them to first wait. Wait for what? Wait for the Spirit! Then, Jesus foresaw, they would be empowered to make disciples as Jesus did. (Acts 1: 4, 8)
These disciples followed Jesus’ model and trusted His Spirit in sometimes surprising ways:
- In Acts 8, Philip, John and Peter went through various Samaritan villages and saw great fruit. They then moved on, entrusting the Spirit to continue the training of these new disciples. One encounter was very quick. Philip had no choice but to leave the Ethiopian eunuch with the small but significant teaching that led to the eunuch’s baptism. Philip was “carried away” to another place and the eunuch was left with the Spirit living inside of him. Was it enough? The eunuch went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:39).
- In Acts 10, we see the gentile Cornelius and his entire household become Christ-followers. Everyone knew this was incredibly significant. Gentiles had accepted the good news and God had accepted them! With something so significant and “out of the box,” we would expect Peter to be certain they would “get it right.” Right? Surely, he would stick around to impart the knowledge they needed. Instead, he had no doubt that these non-Jews had received the same Spirit that they had. Peter and his coworkers simply stayed there for “some days” – not “some months” or even “some weeks.” Just a few days! Why? He trusted that Cornelius and his household had what they needed: “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us”. (Acts 15:8)
In the latter half of the book of Acts, the commissioned Paul and those with him followed this same model of truly trusting the Holy Spirit. Paul would stay or leave a place under the direction of the Spirit, independent of the success of his church plants in any particular area. He seldom stayed in one place more than a few months and yet the churches survive, thrive and even multiply under the continued guidance of the Spirit. Yes, Paul would often leave other leaders in these places. But these “leaders”, like Timothy, were also quite young in the faith. In 2 Timothy 2:2, we see Paul encouraging Timothy to make disciple-making disciples – four generations! All of Paul’s letters to these churches and young disciples reinforce the importance of a dependance on the Holy Spirit and trust in the Spirit’s guidance (good examples of this are found in Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 2 and 12, and Galatians 5).
Here we are 2,000 years later. Are we following the model Jesus gave us as we make disciples? Are we trusting in the Holy Spirit? Are we listening more than talking? Are we training our disciples to do the same?
All of the disciple making movements that I have encountered around the world have leaders who really, really trust the Holy Spirit’s ability to teach and guide even baby-believers. Do these young disciples get off track sometimes? Of course. Do they stumble and fall? Yes, indeed. When a child learns to walk, you expect some falls along the way. When a baby stumbles, we don’t suddenly distrust in their ability to eventually walk. We would never just put them in a wheelchair and say, “I tell you what. You just let me push you where you need to go. It will be better for you that way”. Of course not. We help them up and encourage them to try again! Half of the New Testament was written to help admonish young followers of Jesus who were struggling to obey the Spirit’s lead.
One area we often trust ourselves in more than the Holy Spirit is when we lead a disciple in a Bible study. When I was first exposed to disciple-making movements and the training from their leaders, this was one of the more challenging areas for me to follow. Again, I was blessed to be exposed to many different streams of “DMM” training and tools. Without fail, though, they employed a similar method when it came to getting into God’s Word with a disciple. This tool is commonly called a “Discovery Bible Study” (DBS). These varied methods had one crucially important trait: disciples are given the freedom to discover truths from God’s word, trusting the Spirit to teach them what they need to “discover”.
This is a significant departure from typical Bible studies in Western Christian culture. A traditional Bible study is more top-down. The teacher imparts information to the student. Yes, God’s Word is utilized but it is the teacher who tells the student what they should believe about any particular passage. A good teacher will employ questions and even discussions but only as a tool to get to a preconceived parcel of knowledge that the teacher wants the student to receive. This is not wrong in and of itself, but it does propagate a dependance upon an “expert”. Without that so-called expert, the disciple is paralyzed by lack of confidence. The teacher seems to have all the answers, so the disciple becomes dependent on that teacher. Too often, religious experts insert themselves into a place where the Spirit would be much more effective.
Discovery Bible Studies, on the other hand, ask simple questions and then allow the Spirit to do his work. The students feel a sense of ownership because this new understanding came from the Spirit living within them. This also shows them that they too can share God’s word with others. These new disciples know that they do not have to carry the burden of having all the right answers in order to make disciples. They trust the Spirit to help their new disciples discover the truth just as the Spirit helped them. This empowers even brand-new disciples to know Jesus, follow Him and teach others to do the same.
My experience in using the DBS method has humbled me. I have witnessed how much better a teacher the Spirit is than I am. I ask simple questions like, “What does this Bible passage teach you about God or Jesus”? And then I hear the Spirit tell me, again, “Shut your mouth”.
Sometimes it is so hard to obey!
“But,” my heart cries out to the Spirit, “I have such an amazing insight into this verse that I just KNOW they will be blessed by”!
“Just be quiet”.
“But what about the cultural context and other related bible passages”? I stubbornly argue, “What I know about this is very relevant and I think they need to know this”.
The Spirit patiently and firmly convicts my heart again, “Stay silent, even if the silence feels awkward. Let them think. Let me work. Just wait”.
I do. I wait. I let these young disciples discover a truth from JUST God’s word with JUST the Holy Spirit to guide them. What happens?
Time and time again, their answers blow my mind. It is often something I would have never thought to say but exactly what they needed to know and understand. I am even more amazed by their answers to another common “DBS” question, “How can I obey what I’ve learned from this passage”? Their answers are typically much more radical and far bolder than I would have been comfortable expecting of them. Are they always spot on? No. Sometimes they throw in something off the mark. A follow-up question like, “Now where in this verse did you see that”? usually gets them back on track.
Because they “discovered it” themselves, it sticks. The Spirit places it deep in their heart and they believe it. They obey it. Not only that, but they inherently understand that anyone can take God’s Word and learn what they need from it. They see that the Word is alive and active and convicting and relevant and worth spending time with.
This is what happens when I choose to trust the Holy Spirit with a simple Bible Study time. Don’t misunderstand. The Spirit will lead us to teach deep truths at times, but our default should be to first allow the Spirit to do his work. That means being quiet far more than we are accustomed to.
One final note regarding Bible Study – simple truth with simple obedience is powerful. We love to complicate things and keep truth abstract. However, when we trust in the Spirit, we must be willing to keep truth simple and practical. One of my favorite quotes is from the Danish theologian Søren Kierkegaard:
The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.
Of course, our need to trust the Holy Spirit transcends just Bible Studies. The need to be more Spirit-dependent saturates every aspect of making disciples who make disciples:
- Prayer and Fasting (all disciple-making movements start with prayer movements).
- Moving from knowledge-based discipleship to Spirit-led obedience-based discipleship.
- Discerning where God is at work, who he is working on, and joining him in that work.
- Knowing when a disciple is ready to step out on their own. (It is sooner than you think when you trust the Holy Spirit).
- The list goes on.
Want to be a good disciple-maker? Trust in the Holy Spirit. Want to make disciples who make disciples? Trust that the Holy Spirit will work in those you disciple.
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