MAKING NEW DISCIPLES - REACHING OUT
TO OTHERS FOR CHRIST
B. Nurturing New Christians –
Discipleship Repeats Itself
A Moment in the Life of a Disciple
One of the last commands Jesus gave
His disciples was to go into all the world and make disciples of the
nations. Not just casual believers, but people who would count the
cost of commitment to Him who said,
"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up
his cross daily and follow me". This
would involve leaving comfort zones; “going” to people;
“baptizing them”; and “teaching them” how to
be active disciples. The call was to be “like Christ” to
the world and model His life for new disciples to imitate. You heard
Him pray for future generations who would believe in Him. But where
to start? As you look back over recent months, you think about the
way Jesus worked with the first group of disciples. For three years
you lived together under His influence and watchful eye. You ate
together, travelled together, faced supporters and detractors and
dealt with food and financial shortages as a group. Each new
experience became a teaching opportunity for the Master. You learned
things about God and His Kingdom on earth that remained mysteries to
others, because Jesus took time out to explain and contextualize
them. Some lessons were hard to learn. Others things didn’t
make sense at the time (but do so now, since His resurrection). Like
sunshine, fertile soil and rain, the seed of God’s Word spoken
by Jesus fell on “good ground” and germinated in your
heart. Being a disciple has involved significant personal
sacrifices. It has meant going through great sorrows, ostracism and
unexpected joys. You have gone to the foot of the cross and back
again. For weeks after that the group waited until the Holy Spirit
came down on the Day of Pentecost. Since then the concept of
discipleship has broken down ethnic and linguistic barriers in a way
that has been unparalleled in the history of religion. Christianity
has started to embrace tribes and regions hitherto remote from the
worship of the True God. Jesus has introduced a new reality, the
realm of the Spirit. Law and regulation could never do this. The
challenge now facing the early church is continuing His work. You
compare notes and consider the enormity of the task. He has promised
that you will all do “greater works” than Him. That
seems staggering. His standards are high. The barriers are great.
Can this band of followers teach the world His ways as effectively as
He did? Can they hold together a fledgling faith against the
backdrop of cynicism, unbelief, selfishness and religious pluralism?
Over the centuries the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth would confront
these issues on an ongoing basis. They would succeed, not because of
the power and styles of leadership or the sheer force of theological
argument, but because Jesus declared that He would built His church.
You are privileged to be part of this work of transforming nations.
It is time to start.
The Disciple’s Mission is to
make other disciples. God’s children reach out to the world
with His message of hope. This process will continue to bear fruit
as long as new believers are carefully nurtured by older disciples.
came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has
been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the
Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded
you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Biblical discipleship involves helping
new Christians to be like Christ. On the eve of his death Jesus
prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane for the first disciples and for
those who would become Christians through their witness:
prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe
in me through their message”.
Jesus interceded for you
that night. Read the
entire prayer, in John Chapter 17). That can mean people on the
other side of the world, the other side of the street, or the other
side of the office. People from every nation, every culture, every
socio-economic condition can become like Jesus.
How did Jesus make disciples?
“Jesus went up on a
mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him.
He appointed twelve—designating them apostles - that they
might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to
have authority to drive out demons. These are the twelve he
appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter; James son of
Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges,
which means Sons of Thunder; Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew,
Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas
Iscariot, who betrayed him.” (Mark 3:13-19)
Discipling is based on relationship.
called the twelve to “follow” Him and to “be with
Him”. Jesus knew that the best way to influence others by
listening, modelling (example), instructing (teaching), facilitating
fellowship, giving active support and honest feedback, keeping
confidences, setting boundaries and keeping the goal in mind. Each
of these was based on relationship.
Jesus used a similar analogy when He
called the weak, the oppressed and the fatigued around Him to take
his “yoke” and “learn” from Him. In New
Testament times, it was common for farmers to hitch oxen in pairs to
plough their fields. One of the beasts would be young, strong and
energized. The other would be slower, less strong but seasoned. The
young animal would provide the drive, the older the control and
experience. Fellow-discipleship is like that.
to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble
in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy
and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)
Jesus said, “I am calling you
friends”. Master, yes, but mentor as well.
Disciple-making in the New
The Apostle Paul
used the same model:
my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”
(1 Corinthians 11:1)
have heard me teach many things that have been confirmed by many
reliable witnesses. Teach these great truths to trustworthy people
who are able to pass them on to others.” (2 Timothy 2:2)
means teaching others
others involves teaching others how to:
live the Christian life (Acts
read the Bible,
understand it and apply it in their lives, bearing in mind that each
person learns differently (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
pray for what
really matters and listen to God (Luke 11:1)
deal with temptation, discouragement, fear, sickness, and other
personal struggles (Hebrews 3:13)
with other Christians, in a local church (Acts 9:26, 27; 11:25)
develop their God-given gifts and be motivated to use them to serve
Him and others (1 Corinthians 12:1)
in the task of worldwide evangelism (Matthew 28:18-20)
personal (including financial) priorities in line with God’s
Word (2 Timothy 3:16, 17)
change and keep going when things get tough (Galatians 6 1, 2)
reach out to
others and repeat the process of discipleship (2 Timothy 2:2)
plus one that is often missing:
That teaching does not have to take
place in a church building. It can occur in your home, workplace,
over a meal, at the gym or on the gold course.
A word of warning. – avoid the
“sheep dip” approach. In Australia, there are about 160
million sheep – give or take a few million to account for
droughts. The only way to protect so many beasts against insects and
fungicides is to push them through deep troughs in bulk. Hundreds,
often thousands, of bleating, noisy, smelly sheep go through “dips”,
where they virtually swim in chemical baths designed to eradicate
disease. They all receive the same treatment. There is nothing
individual about a sheep dip. This is a far cry from the New
Testament model, where Jesus likened himself to a shepherd who knew
his sheep and called them by name (John 10 14-16, 27, 28). There is
a vast amount of teaching and training material in the Christian
world, but only individual training produces disciples.
2. Discipleship requires
Jesus chose the original twelve
disciples because He had specific things to say to them. By living
with Him they could learn to the job His way, even if he were somehow
removed from the picture (which He knew would be the case).
As a parent I come across adults who
blame society (school, television, text books, teachers, other
students) for the way their kids turn out. But, wait a minute they
are the parents after all; they have the greatest influence in their
children’s beliefs, attitudes and behaviour. It is a maxim in
life that we must start with the end in mind. Christian communities
likewise need to have a vision for the kind of disciples they are
fostering. Someone has said that “If you aim for nothing you
will hit it”.
“Mentoring” is another
word that springs to mind. Singapore’s first Prime Minister
remains in Cabinet as a titular “Minister Mentor”,
training members of the administration how to govern in line with his
original vision. Successful people in business often start out with
mentors, men or women who have “been there”, know the
way, anticipate and recognise the pitfalls, and understand
The original “Mentor” is a
mythical character in Homer’s poem “The Odyssey”.
When Odysseus, the King of Ithaca set out to fight in the Trojan War,
he entrusted responsibility for his kingdom to Mentor who, in turn,
served as the teacher and overseer of his son, Telemachus.
The mentor is a coach. He or she is
typically older and more experienced. The mentor helps and guides
another person’s personal or work development. The best kind
of mentor knows how to undertake the task at hand, but does not try
to do the job in lieu of the learner, or come across as imperious.
The greatest reward for the mentor is when the learner knows how to
do the job and he or she (the mentor) ends up “out of work”.
Hudson Taylor (1832-1905), used to say
that missionaries were like scaffolding that could serve while the
Christian community was being established but could be removed when
the job was done.
Mentoring takes time. It involves
patience, responsibility and mutual accountability, getting to know
the other person, understanding their limits, looking out for them,
being willing to give and take. Paul put it this way in a letter he
wrote to the church in Thessalonica:
were as gentle among you as a mother feeding and caring for her own
children. We loved you so much that we gave you not only God's Good
News but our own lives, too.
treated each of you as a father treats his own children. We pleaded
with you, encouraged you, and urged you to live your lives in a way
that God would consider worthy. For he called you into his Kingdom
to share his glory.
“And we will never stop
thanking God that when we preached his message to you, you didn't
think of the words we spoke as being just our own. You accepted what
we said as the very word of God - which, of course, it was. And this
word continues to work in you who believe.” (1 Thessalonians
2:7, 8, 11-13)
3. Discipleship is growth, not just
When we are Christians, the Holy
Spirit comes along side of us, instructing, guiding, promoting,
nudging and teaching us. This raises an important question: if the
Holy Spirit is with us, and in us, why do we need other Christians at
all? Wouldn’t it be less complicated if faith could be a
strictly personal affair and we didn’t have to get involved
with others. Some religions are like that. Follow the Master; adopt
the teaching; let it soak in on a private basis. However, that’s
not the New Testament way.
The Christian life is more than a
private apprenticeship. It is more than developing skills and
achieving competencies. It is also about character and personality:
imitating the person of Jesus and becoming like Him.
Discipleship involves following Jesus.
He is Master. Without Him religion, conversion, faith, obedience,
teaching, discipline, suffering, meditation, pilgrimage, ethics and
values are worth nothing. (All they do is reflect social values and
organizational expectations; they have no eternal meaning. In a
post-modern world, where there are no absolutes, they have no
intrinsic value.) Moreover, Christianity is also horizontally
relational, to the rest of the community of God’s people.
How do people learn? According to one
estimate, 90% of Christian teaching occurs in literate (ie written)
form. However, UNESCO data indicate two thirds of the world are oral
communicators, in terms of the ways they learn and acquire knowledge.
Hundreds of millions of people cannot read or write effectively. A
pastor friend of mine is involved in outreach to Estonians and
Russians who are deaf – and is expanding his interest to
embrace the deaf of China. We need to be sensitive to the individual
needs and situations of those we are seeking to help grow in
Going to church and participating in
programs do not, of themselves, make disciples. These are important
activities, but they do not generate change or growth. In fact, they
can lull people into the false belief that lots of head knowledge and
activity are enough to produce maturity. Growth doesn’t just
happen. It is not produced by passing on facts, like tribal lore,
family traditions being transmitted from one generation to another or
a corpus of knowledge building up in the scientific community.
Information is important (to obviate error) however it can also get
in the way. Baptism or church membership alone don’t make a
believer a disciple. Monasteries may be apt refuges for profound
religious thinkers, but few people fit that category. Discipleship
is not an acquired taste like chili or durians. It is a lifestyle of
commitment and change.
4. Discipleship means carefully
Before I married I bought five acres
(2 hectares) of land on the edge of the city. I was going to be a
part-time farmer – until I saw that cultivating a parcel this
size without machinery was quite beyond me. After marrying, my wife
and I struggled to grow fruit trees behind the house. We gave some
of them with so much water they drowned. Keen to learn from our
mistake, we left others so long they perished for lack of moisture;
by the time help arrived it was too late. Next, I went to a shop and
bought the most powerful fertilizer I could find. I heaped it up
around the trunks of the trees and waited; the fertilizer burnt the
trees and they died faster than their predecessors. We fried, froze,
desiccated, poisoned and otherwise maltreated our botanical friends
it is a wonder anything survived. So much for budding farmers.
I have likewise found we can flood new
Christians with activity and knowledge; let them wither for lack of
nourishment and instruction; crush them with zeal; burn them with
legalism; and poison them by wrong input from our attitudes. Jesus
cultivated every relationship, carefully and individually, on their
basis of peoples’ needs.
Let’s look at this cultivation
model from another perspective.
I have a good friend, Harry, who is
one of the most effective pastors and missionaries I know. He has a
big heart for God and people. The reason Harry gets closely involved
with new Christians (and urges others to do likewise) is because he
understands the law of cultivation. He knows there would be a public
outcry if newborn babies in hospitals across the land were left to
fend for themselves or be abandoned, undernourished, dying in vast
numbers due to neglect. He laments that many churches neglect
newborn Christians. Infants only grow with attention and loving
care. The same applies in the Christian life.
5. Discipleship means supporting
us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is
faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward
love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some
are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all
the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)
Nurturing disciples is not about being
spiritually superior or telling people what to do (even though there
are leadership structures appointed by Christ in the church to
provide guidance, cf Hebrews 13 17). It is about running the race
with them. You don’t have to be a Super-Christian to be a good
discipler of men and women. The Bible describes the Christian life
as a race, with a finishing line and a prize. Jesus has gone before
us. Since He knows the way, He goes with us. The rest of the
Christian community is available to work with us. We are never
alone, but part of a world-wide network of the People of God.
Wanyoike. Henry is a Kenyan marathon runner. What makes him
different from other Kenyan marathon champions is that he is
completely blind. In April 1995 Henry suffered a stroke and lost his
sight (but not his vision! There is a world of difference). His
dreams of being an athlete, that he had nurtured since childhood,
initially appeared to have gone forever.
Some years later
his doctor discovered that Henry had been a promising runner. With
encouragement from his family and friends he developed an effective
technique of running in unison with a guide connected to his wrist by
a short rope; giving both runners freedom of movement but allowing
them to maintain contact. Henry went on to win a place in the Kenyan
Paralympics team. He ended up at the Sydney Paralympics in 2000,
where he won the first gold medal, for an African, for the 5,000
metre run. Henry holds the world record for the 5,000 and 10,000
metre events for a blind runner. He gained gold medals for both
distances in the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. After finishing the 10km
race in 30 minutes in the 2003 Nairobi Marathon, Henry was approached
by the Standard Chartered Bank and appointed as their Goodwill
Ambassador for the "Seeing is Believing" Global Campaign to
work with industry to help restore peoples’ sight.
How does Henry
do it? First, by being a good runner and practicing regularly.
Second by running with a companion. Without that friend he could not
do it. He we would be lost in his dark world. A solo performance
would end in disaster. Running together, they smash world records.
Who gets the credit? Henry, of course. The friend is there to help,
not draw attention to himself. He is a volunteer. It takes grace to
do that. The theme song in the Standard Chartered Bank advertisement
that features Henry is John Newton’s classic “Amazing
Grace”. It takes grace to work with others for their benefit
instead of ours.
means guiding those who stray
another implies being in a position to guide them through hard and
I am reminded of
one occasion when I was driving through Turkey with my family. We
thought we knew where we were going, so we decided to take a
short-cut through a certain city. Easier said than done when you are
not familiar with the terrain and don’t speak Turkish. We
ended up in a marketplace. It was Saturday morning and it seemed
that every grower in the district was unloading his or her crates of
fruit, vegetables and flowers and every craftsman was setting up
stalls with carpets and handicrafts. Inching our way along, we came
to a halt in a narrow street, wedged between two trucks, with
wheelbarrows and a mountain of produce in front of our car. Behind
us, the drivers of other trucks were impatiently sounding their
horns. I hopped out of the vehicle and explained in my best hand
signs that we were hopelessly lost. The crowd was impatient; people
gesticulated rudely. I genuinely believe we brought the market to a
halt. It was very embarrassing. All eyes were on the car of
foreigners out of their depth in a strange city.
Finally, out of
nowhere came a man on a motor bike who asked where we wanted to go.
Amid the chaos I explained out plight. He directed the trucks behind
us to back up out of the way, helped grocers with barrows of goods to
move them to one side and guided us as we gingerly reversed out of
the chaos. The next thing he did was to signal that we should follow
him. We did so, through side streets and alleyways, around tight
corners and oncoming traffic. After what seemed an age, we realized
he had brought us to junction with the road we were originally
seeking. What a hero. We nearly kissed him. With a cheery wave he
was gone. He didn’t ask for thanks or a medal. He was just
being a kind-hearted neighbour.
I recount this story because it
reminds me of the help that Christians should be prepared to give to
younger disciples who get caught up in the maze and feel trapped by
circumstances. If we know the way out, it is our role to show the
7. Discipleship is
For some Christians, following Jesus
comes with a big price tag. I have a friend who became a Christian
in Baghdad during the murderous regime of the former Iraqi dictator
Saddam Hussein. It was no easy task for his new Christian friends to
prove they were not antagonistic Muslims masquerading as Christians
simply to trick him. Gradually the level of trust built up. He knew
people who were being executed by the Iraqi authorities, on the basis
of false accusations levelled against them by baleful neighbours.
In many countries, conversion to
Christianity is against the law. Imagine mentoring new Christians in
such environments. When you consider the fog of the war in Iraq, the
frightening statistics, the thousands killed and tens of thousands
injured, the billions of dollars thrown away on the prosecution of a
conflict that was largely constructed on lies and fault assumptions,
never forget that even such theatres of human tragedy there are
Christian men and women attempting to live as “buddies”
to new believers and encourage their growth in faith.
Re-made in the right image?
“Disciples making disciples”
only works if we follow Jesus. The last thing the world needs is
clones of us imitating our foibles. This is where extremist
movements that operate out of an “enforcer mentality”
come adrift. They stress compliance, submission and
hyper-shepherding by exclusive leaderships, blind obedience and
“covenant relationships” with narrow teaching structures.
There is danger in believing we must be disciples of individuals in
order to be followers of Christ. This is how error creeps into the
Discipleship involves accountability,
character development, networking and close relationships with Jesus
and His people, but not authoritarian control, spiritual abuse or
notions that lack of compliance with leadership is eggregious
rebellion against God, as some teach (citing passages such as 1
Samuel 15:23 and 1 Samuel 24:6, 10; 26:9, 11). These are not
normative in Christian living.
That’s how great Christian
congregations lapse into denominational myopia and stagnation. When
people follow us because of our magnetic personalities, hobby horses,
peer pressure or great music, or because we are meeting their
physical, financial and emotional needs, this is not discipleship.
In fact, it can end up bordering on unhealthy dependence or
infatuation. Mega churches can be enormously effective in reaching
the world with the Christian message, but if they are predicated on a
charismatic leadership alone those who criticize them for mass
psychology may be close to the mark. I am an advocate of mass
evangelism and convention meetings, because they can harness massive
human and financial resources, prayer support, musical and
organizational talent and attention as no small congregation or
individual can do, but they do not automatically contribute
disciples. This takes planning.
Responding to the challenge
Open your heart to all that God wants
to do through your life. Learn to be responsive to the things He
wants to achieve in the lives of others; not because you are strong,
depending on your own wisdom; or because you have good organization
skills, systems, structures and programs, but because He is God and
the Holy Spirit is in you. The Father heart of God wants to reach out
through the likes of you to the billions who are without Christ and
to bring them into active and ongoing relationship with Him.