The Maturation Process For Making Disciples
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Our church is experiencing a revival. There is more excitement about discipleship and growing closer to Christ than ever before. I believe that a return to discipleship is the revival of the 21st century.” I am not introducing a new method, actually it’s an old method, 2000 years to be exact.
I had the privilege to spend time with Billy Graham a few years ago at his home in North Carolina. You can imagine how special that time was. My friend Rob Wilton and I went with Dr. Don Wilton, whom Dr. Graham calls his pastor. Many of you are familiar with Dr. Graham because of the crusades he led where 100’s of thousands responded to the gospel message. You may have even attended one of those meetings. Although he gave his life to mass crusades, he believed they would not accomplish the great commission. Don’t take my word for it. Listen to his:
One of the first verses of scripture that Dawson Trotman, founder of The Navigators, encouraged me to memorize was 2 Timothy 2:2. This is like a mathematical formula for spreading the gospel and enlarging the church. Paul taught Timothy; Timothy shared what he knew with faithful men; these faithful men would then teach others also. And so the process goes on and on. If every believer followed this pattern, the church could reach the entire world in one generation! Mass crusades, in which I believe and to which I have committed my life will never finish the great commission; but a personal discipleship ministry will.
Although Paul preached to the masses at times, he too, believed that discipleship was the plan for carrying out the great commission.
2 Timothy 2:1–2,
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
1. Dependent upon the grace of Christ
Why is the word disciple not used after the book of Acts? The last time the word disciple is used is in Acts 21:16. The word rabbi was a hebraic concept. Since the gospel was moving from Jerusalem to Judea, and Samaria and the ends of the earth, places like Ephesus, Corinth, Colossae, and Rome knew very little about the rabbi/disciple relationship. The relationship of a disciple to rabbi consisted of not just learning what the rabbi knew but doing what the rabbi did. It was learning coupled with imitation and implementation. To eliminate the need for a discourse on discipleship, Paul, and the other epistle writers, utilize a concept that was universal: the familial relationship between a parent and a child. He didn’t envision it in a paternalistic sense, but in a growing or maturing sense.
Everything you learned about treating your spouse and raising your kids, you learned from your parents. Has your wife ever said, “you are just like your dad.” Or “you speak to me exactly like your mom talks to your dad.” The patterns that were modeled in the home are foundational for how you live today. So Paul replaces the rabbi/disciple model with the parent/child relationship. This should change the way you read the New Testament now.
By understanding this, what Paul says makes sense: “you then, my child (my student, my mentee, my disciple), be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” The command “be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ” is in the present passive verb. The present form signifies something we do every day, all day. But passive tense proves that we can’t do it ourselves. The action is done to us from someone else.
How is this supposed to happen? By the grace that is in Christ Jesus. This is a foreign concept. We normally build strength by working out, running, lifting weights, or by tearing the muscle. Here is a tip that I learned years ago to build muscle: unless you tear it, it wont grow. The old adage: no pain, no gain is true. Most people who work out never tear the muscle, they only move it.
Conversely, the Christian life is very different. We do use weight, but not that kind of weight. God uses wait. Listen to: Isaiah 40:31, “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; They shall walk and not faint.” We are strengthened to make disciples through his strength, not ours. We don’t tough it out. Paul doesn’t say, “Drop down and give me 20.” He says, rely on God’s spirit. He is our supply.
How many things have you done something without asking for the spirit’s power and direction? How many times have you studied the bible without asking for God’s insight? Or taught a class? Or led a discipleship group? Or corrected your children? Or gave advice to someone? Or made a business decision?
I want to be so in tune with the Lord that I hear his voice, sense his presence, and live in his power. So if you are saying, “I can’t disciple someone else?” You are correct. In your own strength you can’t. But empowered by the holy spirit, you can.
- Dependent upon the Grace of Christ
- Investing in the people of Christ
“What you have heard from me, entrust to faithful men.”
Entrust is a command to place beside or before. Like setting out a feast on a table. It means to trust someone with something for safekeeping. This is a command. It carries the same force as the words of Jesus, “go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Who are we to entrust what we have learned? Faithful men. Paul says, “this is reserved for men whose character reflects God’s word and have a desire to grow.” I don’t have much time to spend on this, but notice he doesn’t say any men, but faithful men.
Follow this logic: a disciple is a student. Contextually, he or she is a student of scripture since we don’t have Jesus present with us. The bible sets before us Jesus as the supreme example of discipleship and the goal of the holy spirit is to mold us into the image of Jesus.
So, if our textbook is the bible, our teacher is the spirit, and our example is Jesus, how can we disciple someone into the image of Christ without them first being a disciple?
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t meet with people over coffee, lunch, or dinner for the purpose of sharing the gospel. What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t confuse discipleship with evangelism. You can disciple an unbeliever is moral goodness or pragmatic principles. You can’t disciple them into the image of Christ because the first step of biblical discipleship begins with knowing Christ. I have been in a group with a person whom I thought was a believer and 6 weeks into our meetings, they got saved.
Let me bring it closer to home. You wouldn’t say, “I’m discipling my hindu neighbor who has an altar in his home devoted to his 8 personal gods.” No. You would say, however, “I am witnessing or sharing the gospel with my neighbor, with the hopes of him becoming a disciple of Christ.”
Let me summarize: discipleship involves an object and an objective. The object is Jesus. The objective is to be “conformed into the image of Christ(Rom. 8:29). Until the holy spirit regenerates a person, he or she is hardened to the things of God, unable to take even one sanctifying step toward God.
Let me remind you of our lives prior to regeneration:
Ephesians 2:1–4, “and you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
The sinner …
- is dead in sin,
- actively practices disobedience,
- is seduced by the world,
- is enslaved by satan, &
- is the object of god’s wrath.
1 Cor. 2:14, “but a natural man does not accept the things of the spirit of god, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
2 Cor. 4:3–4, “and even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the God of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
You could rephrase Paul’s command this way: “entrust to born-again believers the truths of the Christian life that you heard from me.”
Allow me make another point: don’t elevate the process above the purpose. It’s easy for us to raise the banner of discipleship in our church and miss the point of why we’re doing what we’re doing. The goal is not discipleship. The goal is to be like Christ. The process to get there is discipleship. Is the weekly group meeting the only aspect of disciplemaking? No. But it’s an essential one. Since we can’t meet everyday, all day like Jesus did with his men, we should at least meet weekly for fellowship, accountability, transparency, intimacy, and edification.
- Dependent upon the grace of Christ
- Investing in the people of Christ
- Repeating the pattern of Christ
Most people stop at this point in the process. There is a difference between small groups, sunday school, and discipleship. The discipleship group is not complete until the mentee becomes a mentor.
As clear as this verse is, I believe it has paralyzed many believers from making disciples. Because when I say discipleship, you think: “one person meeting with another person.” And most people, particularly men, meeting with another person, face to face, eyeball to eyeball once a week to share one’s life is the last thing they want to do.
The question is: did Paul disciple in a small group or 1 on 1? The answer is yes to both. I believe you can disciple both in a d-group of 3 to 5 and one-on-one at the same time. Let me show why I believe you cannot use this verse as a proof text for 1 on 1 discipleship. In fact, I think it proves the opposite.
The key word (often overlooked) in 2 Timothy 2:2 is witnesses. This greek word martus can be transliterated into english as martyr. According to Strong’s greek, it can describe someone who has “information or knowledge of something and hence, one who can give information, bring to light, or confirm something.”
The same word is used in Acts 1:8, “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” The word witnesses can be replaced with the word believer or disciple. Read the verse again, making this substitution. “but you will receive power when the holy spirit has come upon you, and you will be my disciples in jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
What does this have to do with 2 Timothy 2:2?
For years, I interpreted the word witnesses as bystanders validating Paul’s message, but Timothy didn’t need anyone to authenticate Paul’s message. At this point, he had known Paul for 15 years. Maybe Paul brings to mind the truths taught in their discipleship group? “what you have heard from me in the presence of many disciples entrust what you have learned to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
Could Paul be talking about his discipleship group in Ephesus with Timothy?
You may be saying, “what about the word many? Doesn’t that signify a large number?” Yes, but that number is unknown. The word many can be counted, while the word much cannot be counted. Technically, many can signify a group as small as 6 people. Regardless, this passage should not be used as proof text for one-on-one discipleship. In fact, it can be used otherwise.
The most convincing evidence is the form of the words. Paul uses plural nouns as the formula for making disciples: “What you’ve heard from me in the presence of many witnesses (plural), entrust to faithful men (plural) who will teach others (plural)” (emphasis added). Paul understood the importance of multiplying his efforts. Paul, like Jesus, believed in diversifying his investment. Couple this with the fact that we never find Jesus discipling anyone in an ongoing 1 on 1 context. Yes he spoke to the woman at the well and nicodemus, but his ministry was given to the 12 and to 3.
Joel Rosenberg made a statement in his book The Invested Life:
“What if for three years Jesus had discipled only Judas? Despite his best efforts, Jesus would have wound up with no one to carry on his legacy and his message when he returned to the father. Jesus didn’t invest in just one man. He invested in a group of men from a wide range of backgrounds, including fishermen, a tax collector, and a zealot (a political revolutionary).”
Robby, do you ever do 1 on 1? Yes. Out of the d-group not in place of the d-group. I meet with the group every week, but break away with individuals for coffee, lunch or dinner for times of encouragement, edification, and counseling.
Here are 6 quick reasons to meet in a group:
- 1 on 1 can be a ping pong match.
- It can become a Counseling session
- You lose Group accountability
- Its difficult to reproduce
- Jesus Discipled in a Group
- Multiplication is Exponentially faster than Addition
I want to give you 2 scenarios to prove my point: an evangelist with an addition strategy and a disciplemaker with a multiplication strategy.
The evangelist hits the streets every day with the goal of sharing the gospel with as many people as needed to see God save one person. In contrast, the disciple-maker walks 2 people through a year of intensive discipleship. The slow-moving discipleship process creeps forward with only 4 people being impacted in 2 years, compared to 730 converts through the solitary work of a busy evangelist. However, this radically changes with the passing of time.
After 8 years: 2920 vs. 256
After 16 years 6,000 vs. 65,536 people
Every person on the planet would be reached multiple times over after 30 years. It is a ministry shift from a strategy of addition, where the clergy performs the ministerial duties, to one of multiplication, where believers are expected and equipped to personally participate in the great commission. If pastors could get this, it would change the way they do ministry.
Dr. Herschel Hobbs (SBC president in the 1960’s) said it well: “the work of evangelism is never complete until the one evangelized becomes an evangelizer.” Why am I belaboring the point? I don’t want to eliminate every excuse that would hinder you from meeting in a d-group.
The purpose of discipleship is to pay forward what you’ve learned in the past. The gospel came to you because it was heading for someone else. If someone invested in you, listen up: the greatest gift you can give to that person is to pass on what you’ve learned to someone else. Here is reality: you may never fully realize the true impact of your ministry while you’re alive.
Moses invested in Joshua. Although God gave Moses the vision, the mission, and the plan, he never set foot in the promised land flowing with milk and honey. He never experienced a victory. Only complaining from the people, starvation from lack of food, and thirst from no water. However, Joshua, the one who came after him, entered the land and annihilated the enemy. He tasted and experienced all the Lord had promised.
Elijah was used mightily by God. He called down fire from heaven, experienced a miraculous multiplication of food with a widow and her son, and prayed for rain to stop and start over a 3 year period. But God announced that he would give a double portion to the man who would come after him. The Bible says, Elisha performed twice as many miracles as Elijah.
Jesus invested in 12 men. He led a full time non-profit ministry for 3 years. And yet at the end of His life, Jesus said in John 14:12, “truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the father.” Greater doesn’t imply more significant in scale or wonder. It means greater in scope and reach. Jesus’ ministry was intentionally restricted to Israel for 3 years. The 12 would take the message to the ends of the earth.
Moses invested his life in others
Elijah invested his life in others
Jesus invested His life in twelve
And the ministry multiplied after they were gone.
I often wonder how different my life would be if it wasn’t for men like David Platt, Tim Lafleur, and others? I wonder how different your life could be if you would enter into a discipling relationship with a few other people? You never know. You may be discipling the next F. B. Meyer or Billy Graham or Charles Spurgeon.
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