4 Observations from the Frontlines of Disciple Making
A lot of the people who frequent Renew.org are senior or lead pastors, campus pastors, or on staff at a church. I am a bit of an odd duck. While I have been ordained and have gone to seminary, I like to think of myself more than anything else as a “disciple maker.” I like to think of myself as the “boots on the ground.”
I have been spending the last couple of months praying and reexamining how I approach what God has called me to in the disciple making environment. These are my observations in which I think we could all do better to help people go from merely “church goers” to disciples of Jesus.
#1 – We need to create belonging.
The first observation is that we really need to focus on creating belonging. I want to illustrate this with both Scripture and my previous life experience. Although I do not talk about it a lot, I am a veteran. I left active duty in the Air Force as a Captain. It is difficult to explain the bond that veterans and current service members have. Anyone I served with could call me today and I would drop everything to help them. They would do the same for me.
That kind of belonging is what people are looking for in life. The church needs to create that belonging. I do not mean having the greatest welcome team (although that can be important too). But people at church need to have that sense that they are at “home.” All of us are broken people, each with different issues. What we have in common is we are all sinners who need a Savior.
Those conversations which delve into our brokenness happen after you have made the person feel like they belong.
I remember taking an evangelism class at Liberty University and I loved that class and still talk to the professor to this day. I was so pumped to go win people for Jesus. But if you look at the success rate of my efforts? If it had been a job, I would have gone out of business. I am not bashing typical evangelism efforts. Sometimes these efforts work. Altar calls can work. I have had people come up to me at church ready to be baptized. However, this culture is looking for more. It’s looking for a place to truly belong.
One problem that I have found is that the word friend has had the meaning changed over the course of my lifetime. The word has lost depth and has become superficial. We need our churches to be places of true friendship, not just friendliness.
When people encounter someone that is willing to listen to them and truly be their friend, it creates a sense of belonging that they were missing because you are willing to show them the love of Jesus. I think we could all examine our definition of the word friend and how it relates to the people in our lives.
When you start a relationship, you need to be ready to put in the work it takes to get to those God conversations.
I have had calls from jails. I have gotten long, rambling letters from people suffering from mental illness in jail. I’ve spent evenings talking with someone from an alternative lifestyle. In those situations, no readymade, quick tools are going to bring the person to Christ. It was a matter of taking the time to listen and then provide biblical guidance when issues were presented to me. The key is real community in your discipleship group. Once you have that community and relationship with someone, he or she will be much more receptive to truly becoming a disciple of Jesus.
For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matt. 12:50, CSB).
People are yearning for belonging, and when you establish that brotherly or sisterly bond with someone, the sky is the limit on the fruitfulness of that harvest.
#2 – We need to get people into the Bible.
How much knowledge someone has of the Bible can be a double-edge sword. Let me explain. On the one hand, one of the primary reasons I am told that someone does not share the gospel is they feel like they don’t know the Bible. While I understand the hesitation to share because of a knowledge level, this goes back to my first point of having built a community of belonging. You should have a mentor or disciple maker helping you along, just as you are doing for someone else. A community of belonging helping you along takes away the pressure to know it all.
When I baptize someone, I ask only one thing from them. They must share their story with someone that week. Most of the time they do it, and then another seed is planted, and they see the power of the gospel first hand. Particularly in the New Testament, very few of the heroes of faith had formal training. You know what helped them? The Holy Spirit helped them share the gospel. That power is still at work, and we need to empower our people to get out of their comfort zones and follow the Holy Spirit.
I will give you an example from my life. The first time I went inside a prison pod, I had no clue what I was doing–absolutely zero. That situation turned out to be full of the Holy Spirit. The same will happen to your people. Empower them, motivate them and, most importantly, train them to be obedient servants of Christ.
On the other hand, people are usually right when they feel like they don’t know much about the Bible.
Biblical literacy is at a critically low level in my opinion. It is estimated that only 45% of people who attend church read the Bible more than once a week. In my opinion, this is a crisis. I talk to a lot of people, and often the simplest concepts of following Jesus are just not there. The knowledge level really drops off when you start talking about the Old Testament.
What I have found to be effective is getting back to basics. Whenever I lead a group or do a one-on-one session, I always try to incorporate both NT and OT. You need to get people learning how the Bible is laid out. Also, to get people beyond surface-level, it’s been really helpful to get a hard copy of the Bible into people’s hands. We as disciple makers need to sit down and explain the layout of the Bible and start at basic comprehension. It is about empowering our people. I want the people that I disciple to be able to articulate the gospel and why we follow Jesus. Bible study is a lifelong process, and the amazing part is you always learn something new, no matter how long you’ve been at it. It starts with getting people in the Bible every single day. It needs to be like breathing. People should feel like they are missing something if they forget to read their Bible.
We need our churches to be places of true friendship, not just friendliness.
#3 – We need to have tough conversations.
As disciple makers, we need to be prepared to have tough conversations. We live in a culture that is post-Christian and post-truth. If you read the news, we are arguing about everything. The world is changing quickly and things I never thought I would deal with are happening regularly.
For example, gender identity is a huge debate right now. I have had this issue come up in disciple making relationships more than once. That is not an easy conversation to have, yet we need to be prepared to have that conversation respectfully and stick close to the Bible.
Sex is another issue that gets brought up a lot. We live in a hookup culture. Questions of sexual morality don’t just affect single people; they also affect married people. Those are tough conversations.
Yet Jesus never shied away from tough conversations and neither should we. These types of conversations are tough because we need to have them in a loving way, yet still speak the truth of the Bible. But they are worth it. I got a text today from someone in an alternative lifestyle who has lots of questions about a lot of issues. But guess what? This person just shared Jesus with someone and discussed what we have been talking about. So out of these tough conversations, God will still be working as He always is.
#4 – We need to find the disciple makers.
Finally, something fun for lead pastors. I implore you: find the people that are making disciples in your churches and throw them a party! The front lines of disciple making have been tough. I have had people fall away to addiction, or divorce, or any number of the enemy’s attacks. You know what though? I have also seen real life miracles. I saw a woman become sober and set her world on fire for God. One of my dear friends is out of prison and setting the world on fire for Christ.
Disciple making is not a 9-5 job. I don’t have office hours. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. As He has since creation, God has provided. So please pour into your disciple makers at your church and encourage them. The kingdom will continue to spread when we all take part in discipleship.