How do we make disciples?
Before Jesus went to heaven, he gave us The Great Mission: Go and make disciples of all nations. In human strength this is mission impossible, but with the help of holy spirit, we can succeed!
How do we do this?
Apprentice. The best and most detailed book on carpentry cannot produce a skilled craftsman alone. It takes hundreds, perhaps thousands of hours with hammer and saw working together with a master builder to make an apprentice become a skilled carpenter.
Be practical. Discipleship is all about being practical. Teachings and sermons are useful, but if we want to grow and live the full life God has planned for us, we must be more “hands-on” than just attending a weekly Christian gathering. A disciple is more than a student or a pupil.
Learn in life. To grow and develop we must all model mature believers in different areas of our lives. Everyday life is the place for learning Kingdom principles that make us grow up.
How did Jesus train his disciples?
Jesus called himself a master, and those who followed him were his disciples. While they walked around, Jesus used the things they observed to teach them lessons. When they saw a farmer who was sowing, he told them that he, the Son of man, is the one who sows the good seed that is God's word. He used the beautiful lilies to convince them that God will certainly care for them. In this training they learned to trust God, pray, preach the Good News, help people, heal the sick - Jesus trained them in so many areas of life. After Jesus left to go to heaven, the disciples trained new believers to follow Jesus in the same way.
How did the first Christians do it?
In his farewell speech to the elders in Ephesus, Paul lets us know how he had worked among them. He reminded them that he did not stop to warn everyone day and night with tears. Clearly this was not a nine-to-five job for the apostle! He was going all-in to reach his goal: To present everyone fully mature in Christ. (Colossians 1:28)
Paul was a man who was intensely involved with the people he worked with. When he writes to the Philippians, he tells them to do what they had learned, received, heard and seen him do. Paul writes to Timothy that he had followed him in doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, and afflictions. He did not see himself as a teacher who was only present duing school hours but as a spiritual father who cared deeply for his children. He did not only give them the word of God but his own life.
In Acts 18 there is an illustrating story where Apollos, an excellent speaker who knew the Scriptures well, taught about Jesus with enthusiasm. Then Priscilla and Aquila heard him and they realized that he needed to know more about baptism. What they did was a great example: They invited him to their home and explained the way of God even more carefully to him. Perhaps they ate together to create the friendly family atmosphere that made him open up.
What’s the alternative?
This type of training is work-intensive for the trainer. They must give a lot of themselves and be open about strengths and weaknesses. You cannot be the kind of leader that you only see preaching on a Sunday service, but you have to be present in people's lives with your strong sides and weak sides. This takes a lot of time and energy too. But really, there is no alternative! Christian must grow up in a spiritual family, not an institution. If we want to see mature Christians who are able to change society for the better, we have to do like Paul – be a spiritual parent who guards, raises up, encourages, corrects and warns his children.
An important part of this mentoring is being willing to correct people. While correction is not a popular word in our culture, the Bible strongly advises all believers to listen to, accept, and learn from correction. This is an essential way of learning. In fact, the author of Hebrews 12:11 tells us how essential it is for a father to correct his son, and that this process is rather painful at first but later brings us joy as we see the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Just like encouragement, godly correction is motivated by love. If we think about some of the heated talks Jesus had with people, he doesn't live up to our picture of him being the nice shepherd who never angers anyone. In fact, most of his disciples stopped following Jesus in John 6 because they were offended by his brutal honesty. The twelve disciples on the other hand, stayed with him because he had the words of eternal life.
In this type of training environment there must also be room for making mistakes. Correction is not easy to receive, but it is also difficult to give. We must dare to correct each other and train until we are able to do it in co-operation with the Holy Spirit. If we are not sensitive to the Spirit and listen to him, we risk that the message can be given in a way that is too tough, and sometimes even be totally wrong; there is a fine line between fishing and just standing on the shore looking like an idiot. It is essential that this environment is full of love, grace and humbleness, and that we add a high dose of tolerance for making mistakes. Only then can we learn from our experiences and grow together.
Fortunately, we have the best trainer on the inside, available at all times. With the help of the Holy Spirit – our own personal trainer – it is normal for all Christians to know the will of God and to know his good plans for us and our world.
The Spirit will help us to be built together as a family with a mission, and through him we can make disciples of all nations that can change society.
The apostle Paul sums this up beautifully:
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.