Disciple making involves a journey that starts with the wooing of our heart and minds by the Holy Spirit, leading a person to repentance, to the turning over of his/her life to Christ, and their growing experience as followers of Jesus.
We often focus on the “decision” and probably not enough on how to support that person in their new found walk with the Lord. Many churches or even missional communities lack a strategic, intentional, clear and comprehensive discipling process aimed at life transformation. The goal is to grow in the likeness of Christ and to participate in extending His Kingdom. God’s plan is “to bring all things in heaven and earth together under one Head, even Christ.” Eph 1:10
Discipleship isn’t about some form of perfection reserved for a class of elite Christians, but rather the everyday life practices that grow deep, mature and loving followers of Jesus as they travel the path of life. Practices like daily reading a chapter of God’s word, or looking for opportunities to share my faith each week, or making extra efforts to disciple my children or to treasure my wife are integral to discipleship. True discipleship is a shared journey with other believers, led the Holy Spirit and shaped by God’s word.
Discipleship must engage the followers of Jesus in loving God with all their heart, soul mind and strength and also with loving their neighbour as themselves ( Matt 22:37, 38). They are also passionately involved in making disciples and in the mission of Jesus to see his Kingdom extended in the lives of people, communities and nations, bringing, peace, love, justice, compassion, healing and blessings. The kingdom agenda is their agenda! Jesus said “follow me and I will make you fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). He spoke repeatedly of the kingdom of God and what it looked like, and commanded his followers to go into all the world and make disciples (Matt 28:19).
Christ’s method centered on disciple-making that involved each disciple in making other disciples, who make further disciples in all the relational streams with which they connect. As believers gather they form missional faith communities, which demonstrate the nature of his kingdom. A Disciple is always hungry to see people connect to Jesus, and is actively involved in supporting this process on a regular basis. Followers of Jesus need to be praying for and speaking to people every week, looking for opportunities to connect people to Jesus. When this occurs I find it builds my faith, as I share the joy, excitement and enthusiasm of new believers.
As soon as a person has crossed the line of faith they should be encouraged to immediately share their story with their family and friends. Teaching a new disciple how to share their story is a key part of being discipled. Following this they need to be taught the basics of the Christian faith from the Bible and how to share this with their friends. Many people are using Discovery Bible study to help people read the Bible with their friends and to ask a few questions to help apply what they read to their lives. It is obedience and life focused.
Meeting regularly with mentors and or other Christians for accountability, support, fellowship and worship is important. These Gatherings (church) include different sized groups from small to larger, which meet differing needs.
I found that meeting with 2 other godly men for accountability and encourage- ment was really helpful and challenged my Christian life. If I am going to be asked questions and held accountable it motivated me to make sure I was doing those things that result in character formation. The principles of the kingdom need to be put into practice in my life, and inviting friends to speak into our lives takes courage but results in real growth. “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses (Prov 27:6). Midsized gatherings serve needs for teaching and fellow-ship, and larger gatherings for inspiration and worship.
Further practices which I (and other Christians) have found helpful in my journey as a disciple of Jesus include, but are not limited, to the following. Probably the most important “tool” in being a disciple of Jesus is learning to listen to the Holy Spirits promptings and voice in prayer. I have noticed that the most spiritually “alive” followers of Jesus whom I have met regularly hear from God, which transforms their lives and ministry and touches others’ lives. The Apostle Paul prayed that the eyes of believers’ hearts “may be enlightened” (Eph 1:18). I yearn to hear God’s voice more clearly and be a “just say the word” follower who obeys the directives of the Holy Spirit.
Daily reading scripture and asking for the Spirit’s guidance and revelation is a core discipling practice. Personal revelation must always be subject to and fit within the frame of Scripture. It is important to saturate our minds and lives with scripture. At the same time I seek to focus on how it relates to my life and how I can obey and put it into practice. I have observed that too much knowledge- based Bible study, without a corresponding obedience focus, can lead to pride, a judgmental and critical spirit, and a lack of balance in life. I have listened to plenty of talking and even preaching by people whose marriage and home life are a mess. “If a man does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?” (1 Tim 3:5).
Bible study must emphasize not only knowledge but obedience. Frequently discipleship course are offered which usually are a series of Bible studies or lessons on particular topics from the Bible.
As a younger person I thought that being a follower of Jesus was all about “knowing the bible” and so I studied it relentlessly. As I have grown older I have come to see that it’s not just knowledge that is important but rather how it is used in our lives. I find myself often saying to believers, “The Christian faith must work in every area of our lives. If it’s not working in your marriage or at home then there is something missing”.
Personally, I’m less impressed with ones understanding of theology or some passage of scripture, if it isn’t working in one’s life such as in marriage or parenting and raising one’s kids, or impacting one’s budget or personal finances. I seek out application based teaching that relates to key areas of life such as relationships, marriage, parenting, sexuality, finance, debt and budgeting, living a healthy life spiritually, emotionally and physically. Many Christians use a journal to reflect and focus on their times with God. Recently I reviewed in my prayer journal the leadings and words God had given me over several months. It was such a rich and exciting journey to see God’s hand in our family’s life. It was also challenging as I repented for my tardiness in following God’s repeated instruction in a couple of areas.
These Christian disciplines or practices have been used over the centuries by Christians to grow deeper in their relationship with God. Richard Foster in his book Celebration of Discipline (1989) details these practices that Christians have used to grow deeper with God. These involve both individual spirituality and the disciplines of being part of a faith community with its communal aspects. Learning to love and submit to each other is part of the maturing journey of discipleship. Foster includes meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance and celebration. I have found these practices enrich my walk with God. Some are quite challenging and take practice. For example I find fasting difficult, but have noticed that answers and spiritual break-throughs have followed these times in my experience.
Finally missional living is building into life activities and rhythms involving contact with people in serving and mission. For example, our family has recently been involved in prayer- walking a neighborhood, serving at the local community house and mission trips both within Australia and overseas. There are so many practical ways to express the Kingdom of God such as compassion, justice and healing. One leader and his team have faithfully served the people in a local caravan park on the Gold Coast and touched many lives. Others feed the homeless in the CBD of Perth. Locally one family, runs a shop that sells goods produced by women rescued from sex trafficking in Thailand and Cambodia, who now have an alternative source for their livelihood.
Jesus’ training method involved taking his disciples into differing mission contexts - such as homes, with religious people, and in non-jewish settings, outdoor crowds, in prayer on the mountain, confronting demonic forces in spiritual warfare, healing and teaching people by word and by example. These are core discipling practices, but there are others. The most important focus is the mission of Jesus and his Kingdom. The Holy Spirit will guide and empower on this journey.