By Lee Brase
THE KEY IS NOT in the technique but in the heart. Who has had a great influence on your life for Christ? What qualities did this person have that enabled him to have such an influence on you?
I’ve asked hundreds of people these questions. No one has ever said he was helped because the person was so intellectual, had a dynamic personality, or was so good-looking! Neither do people mention the syllabus they studied, or the hoops they jumped through.
What they do say is that it was the person’s relationship with people and God that really mattered. “He really cared for me.” “She had such a genuine interest in me.” He believed in me.” “He had a close walk with God.” “She took time to listen to me.” “She was open and honest.”
When the disciples heard Jesus say, “Go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19), they responded, “Yes, Lord,” and did it. Today when we hear this same command, we respond, “Who, me? I’m not eloquent. I haven’t been trained. No one’s ever shown me how to do this.” However, the qualities of a disciplemaker are available to all of us. To emphasize this truth, our Lord seemed deliberately to train those who were “unschooled, ordinary men” (Acts 4:13) and leave His work in their hands.
I’ve discovered three essential qualities of a disciplemaker. God expects them of any Christian. If you have them, you can expect God to use you to help others grow.
(1) A Walk of Faith
When God appeared to Moses through the burning bush, He told him he had seen Israel’s misery and wanted Moses to go back and lead them our of Egypt. Moses’ immediate response was to question God’s judgment in selecting him (Exodus 3:11). Forty years earlier, Moses had attempted to help the Israelites and failed miserably. He’d run from Egypt with an Israelite’s question ringing in his mind: “Who made you ruler or judge over us?” (Exodus 2:14).
Most of us, like Moses, have attempted to help people along the way and failed. The second person I tried to disciple dropped me a note after several months of meeting regularly: “I want nothing to do with you or God.” I wanted to do what Moses did—run to the desert and work with sheep. It was hard to get excited about discipling the next person who needed my help.
Where do we find courage to get involved in people’s lives after we’ve failed? Or what about the courage to help that very first person?
The answer lies in God’s response to Moses. He gave the promise, “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12).
God didn’t try to encourage Moses to rely on his ability and training. He simply assured Moses of His presence. Jesus made the same promise when He commissioned the apostles to go and make disciples. None of these men had a good record of accomplishment. Yet, each risked his life to disciple people all over the world. Jesus backed up their commission to make disciples with two statements: “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me” and “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18, 20).
If Jesus Christ were here in human form and went with us to help someone, we’d go with great confidence that the person would receive what he needed. That’s exactly what He’s promised to do. Faith is the ability to believe that what God says is more real than what our eyes see. We can rely on the promise of His presence.
People who trust God make excellent disciplemakers. Knowing that only God can change lives, they become people of prayer. They see God work way beyond their natural abilities. God receives the glory only when our ministries go beyond what we could do on our own.
Believing God also frees us to believe in people. I remember a time when my spiritual growth accelerated. Why? The person helping me believed in God and believed in me. He believed God could do things with my life I never dreamed possible. I grew in accordance with his faith.
It was only natural that I should then believe God for the people I was discipling. Some years later, a man I’d discipled said he knew his solid walk with Christ had occurred because, “You believed in me.” He boiled down hundreds of hours together to that one statement.
“The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24). A discipler has faith that God will work through him to make disciples.
(2) A Heart For People
A disciplemaker must love those he wants to help. In addition, love sees people the way they are and then serves them.
A disciplemaker’s goal is to build people up in Christ. The Apostle Paul, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). It was Paul’s love, more than his knowledge and abilities, that established hundreds of Christians throughout Asia Minor and Europe. He was able to write to the Thessalonians, “As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:6-8).
Love, like faith, expresses itself in action. That’s why Paul went on to say to the Thessalonians, “Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you” (1 Thessalonians 2:9). Paul called himself a servant to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 4:1). Serving is love in action.
Several years ago, a Chinese Christian stayed with us for a month. He observed how I tried to train people using my programs. My experience and knowledge limited the training. Finally, he confronted me: “You train a man and he can only become what you are, but if you serve a man, the sky is the limit.”
This liberated me from thinking of discipling as getting people through programs and methods. I began thinking of how to serve each person to help him become more mature in Christ. The person, not my program, became the focus. Those who want to co-labor with Christ in others’ lives are not to “lord it over them” (Matthew 20:25), but to serve them.
Every human being has needs and birdens. They-re necessary for growth. We help people grow when we “carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). Doing this takes a servant’s heart.
We have a beautiful picture of serving in Jesus’ life. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). His invitation came at the end of a very difficult day. Jesus had just had to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles had been performed because the people didn’t repent (Matthew 11:20). People who questioned His motives called Him “a glutton and a drunkard” (Matthew 11:19). And John the Baptist had just sent some of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:2).
Jesus had had enough disappointments that day to make most of us withdraw, sulk, and cry. However, He invited others to bring their cares and burdens to Him.
Love gives us the capacity to serve others even when our burdens are heavy. It enables us to put our cares aside for the moment and give ourselves to someone else. Without love, we’ll never truly disciple others. They’ll have to fit into our schedule and needs—and they won’t, and shouldn’t have to.
(3) A Life Patterned After Jesus
A disciple follows Jesus Christ with the intent of becoming like Him. This implies two things: That he focuses on Christ and that he’s a learner.
A Focus on Jesus: Imagine what would have happened if Jesus had called to Peter and Andrew, “Leave your boat and nets and come join my Bible study class” and three years later had said, “Go into all the world and promote my three-year discipleship program.” No one would give his or her lives for a class or a program. These things aren’t worthy of our lives. But Jesus Christ is. Everything in life finds meaning when we properly relate to Him. He leads, we follow. We know we’re disciples when we allow Jesus Christ to order our lives—family, finances, career, pleasures, friendships, possessions, etc.
J.I. Packer was once asked what he saw as the greatest need in the Church in the Western world. His response was that we must get back to the centrality of Jesus Christ. Paul said to the Corinthians, “But I’m afraid that…your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). One of the major reasons many Christians avoid discipling others is that they have lost that pure devotion to Christ. They give themselves to activities, classes, and programs, and that’s all they have to offer others.
One of the best disciplemakers I know was raised as a flower farmer. Because of the needs on the farm, Dirk had to drop out of high school. However, his mind was alert and his heart set on Christ. This drove him to the Bible. He memorized a verse every day and then meditated on it while working. Such a heart for the Lord was contagious. Before long, university students sought him out for help in their lives. It was the Person of Christ in his life that attracted others.
A Teachable Spirit: The disciplemaker is a learner. He is open to change. For him, the entire world is a classroom. He not only teaches the one he’s discipling, but also learns from him. The wisest man on earth said, “Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to take warning” (Ecclesiastes 4:13).
The disciplemaker studies people and seeks to become skillful in helping them. Paul said he discipled the Corinthians “as an expert builder” (1 Corinthians 3:10). He became that by observing them so well that he knew just what they needed.
Bob and Dave have a ministry together that reaches into several states. They are both well educated, mature men. They know enough about the Lord, His Word, and ministry techniques to put most of us to shame. Yet, as I have traveled with them, I have seen them constantly put themselves in the position of learners rather than the ones with the answers. As a result, they always have people around them asking questions.
Three facts stand out for us as Christ’s people:
The Lord wants us to make disciples. He commissioned us to do it when He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
Plenty of people need to be discipled. “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37).
Any of us can disciple others if we believe God, love people, and follow Christ with the intent of becoming like Him.
Don’t wait until you feel capable. The heart of the disciplemaker is his character, not his skills. Step out in faith, invest your life in someone else, and pick up the skills as go along.
Questions For Reflection:
Who has had a great influence on you? What were some of the qualities of people who you found inspiring as you were formulating your spiritual path?
Who is someone you tried to influence but failed? As you look back, why do you think you failed?
One Brazilian disciplemaker was asked what he felt was the key to the success of many generations of disciples in his country. After thinking for a few days he replied, “I give you a new commandment – to loveone another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.Everyonewill know by this that you are my disciples – if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Why do you think he thought this was key?
Article Information: “Who Me? Make Disciples?” Discipleship Journal 60, November/December, 1990, p. 40.
About the Author: Lee and his wife Marilyn, live in Portland, Oregon, where they’re partners in The Navigators’ Prayer Ministry.