DISCIPLE: The need for discipleship & practical tips to get started
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
- Matthew 28:18-20 (emphasis mine)
“How many people got saved last week at the youth summer camp?”
This is a question commonly asked by church goers and staff in the weeks returning from a week full of supposed spiritual growth and gospel presentations. So often, youth pastors and small group leaders who went are quick to rattle off a number based on hands raised in an emotional moment of worship. Yet, I believe that the answer to the question should be, “We’ll see by next year at this time.” Because to give one’s life to Christ is not an emotional one-time decision or a free ticket to heaven—it’s a daily surrender to follow Him and actually live one’s life for Him (see my blog Cheap Grace for more on this). Yet, so often in the church, we get so excited about numbers and making sure students are “saved,” we forget about our responsibility to pour into them immediately and indefinitely after that decision they made, teaching them what it looks like to follow Christ in obedience.
Our goal in the church should never be to make complacent converts but disciples who make disciples.
A disciple is someone who is learning to follow Christ in obedience. Therefore, discipleship is teaching others to follow Christ as you are continually following Christ yourself. There is a crucial need for discipleship in every single age group in the church today because so many have settled for a shallow, Sunday-only Christianity in place of a rich, deep community of Christ-followers daily seeking to admonish, love, edify, and counsel one another.
Students, especially, are in a deep need for these one-on-one relationships with people older than them, as they are hearing a million different voices through media telling them who they need to be, how they should live their lives, and what they should believe. The voices they hear from social media, friends, and the internet, cannot be cancelled out by hearing one sermon at youth group each week that stands in stark contrast to what the world is telling them—they need someone showing them a better way to live, modeling for them what it means to not conform to this world. Discipleship is “doing life” with someone—it’s inviting them into your life so they can see how you follow Jesus—messiness and all.
A common misconception is that we have to be a perfect Christ follower before we can disciple someone. That is a lie from the enemy to keep you from doing it—because the truth is, we’re never going to be perfect Christ followers. A disciple-maker is someone who still struggles from time to time but is constantly surrendered to Christ and striving to obey Him in all that he or she does. If you are truly saved, you are qualified to be a disciple-maker and not only qualified, but you are called to be a disciple-maker. The last command Jesus left his disciples with in Matthew 28 (note: that applies to us because we are his disciples too) was to make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching them. Discipleship is a multiplication process where we teach people to follow Christ so they can teach others.
Now, I hope you’ve caught the vision and grasped the importance of discipleship, but you may be wondering how in the world do you get started discipling someone? Here’s a guide to do that:
Seek out someone: If you are already a leader in ministry of any capacity, you probably already have people around you and under you who would love to learn from you and meet with you to grow in their faith. If you’re a student small group leader like I am, think through your small group for someone who would possibly desire for someone to pour into them. If you’re not in a leadership role right now, talk to your pastor or the youth pastor at your church and simply ask if there is anyone of the same gender they know of who could benefit from discipleship and meeting up every week or two. If they’re like most pastors, they can probably rattle off a list of people to you, as, like I said, most churches are in desperate need of people to train up younger Christ-followers.
Sit down with them: Once you have someone in mind, ask them if they would like to get a meal or coffee with you sometime. At this point, do not formally ask them if you can disciple them. Use this time as almost a “trial run” to see if you think you’re a good fit to pour into them and see how well you two connect. Also, if they are in middle or high school, make sure their parents know what is going on and that you just want to pour into them.
Make it regular: If you two mesh well, ask if they would like to start meeting more regularly and go through a book or Bible study together. Your “regularly” can be weekly, bi-weekly, or even once a month if that is all your schedule has to offer, but be consistent no matter what in checking up on them through texting and/or calling every now and then. I’ve seen discipleship look like inviting them to go to the grocery store with you and your toddler because you don’t have time to formally sit down that week over coffee, but you can talk in the car and walking around the store. That is life-on-life discipleship, and can teach them just as much about following Christ as sitting down and studying together.
Study together: If they say yes, decide on what to study together based on where they are in their faith. If they’re a new believer, reading through the book of John together is a great option. My very favorite resource for discipleship is Multiply by Francis Chan and David Platt. It has 24 chapters with questions to answer throughout each to guide discussion each time you meet up, so if you meet up every other week, it will take about a year to go through. Remember, discipleship is more than just weekly/bi-weekly meetings—it’s teaching them a lifestyle of following Christ, so whenever you can, go out of your way to support them by going to their activities, and let them come into your life too, maybe by having them over for dinner with your family.
Multiply the process: By the end of a year, they should be actively growing in their faith, and they will have a good foundation of the gospel and the Bible where they can disciple others. Be challenging them to seek out believers who are younger and newer than they are, who they would be able to pour into. After they’ve built a firm foundation in their faith, you can continue to meet up with them, but maybe once every month or two to see how they’re doing. And then, you can find a new younger believer to start discipling all over again!
If you have any questions about discipleship or specific situations you would like advice on, don’t ever hesitate to reach out using the contact form at the bottom of the page or by clicking here!