Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20, NLT)
You have favorite people, I’m sure, and so do I. One of mine is Denise Buck. Together with her husband, Pastor Geoff, Denise has positively impacted my life and our church. Tirelessly, she works to build up the lives of others, but she also works hard to continually deepen her abilities, all with the goal of growing closer to God and better for others.
Recently, I asked Denise to share on the subject of discipleship with our church staff. While many theorize, Denise has actually done discipleship. Countless women have learned of Christ through her life and teachings and time, so I wanted to hear her thoughts on how to interact with someone who wants to grow in Christ.
Here are the principles I gleaned from her teaching:
1. You have to be a disciple
As in Genesis, everything reproduces after its own kind. You cannot make someone something you aren’t yourself. If we are to “teach these new disciples to obey all the commands,” we must learn the commands and do them ourselves. Like Ezra who set his heart to learn, then do, and then teach the law of God, so must we become hearers and doers of the word. We must become lifelong learners who read Scripture, pray through the commands of Christ, and apply the word of God to our lives. Have others you are learning from, and show the person you are teaching how you hear the voice of the Lord. Show them how others — flesh and blood, real people, but also books and podcasts and articles — are currently helping you grow. Also, show them how God shapes you directly through his word. “If you are predisposed to obedience,” Denise said, “God himself will disciple you.”
2. It would be best if you initiated the discipleship relationship
Jesus went to the mountaintop, prayed, and invited a select group to follow him. He loved the masses but saw how he could best love the larger group by loving a smaller one. He did not mind pouring himself into a select few, because not everyone should be approached for discipleship. He, however, initiated the relationship. He invited them to follow him. He offered to make them into fishers of men. If we sit around and wait for others to approach us, we might find ourselves waiting for many years. Christ’s servants are often too timid. You don’t have to get all breathy and emo and dramatically say, “I want to disciple you.” Creepy. However, to spend time with someone, to grab coffee or breakfast to talk about life, not creepy.
3. You must have a heart of service
We are called to equip saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). Christ asks us to serve one another. He went to their towns, their homes, and their shores to make disciples of his group. Denise is a great example of this servant-heart. She tells women to bring their baby, to meet her at a playground so their toddlers can play while they meet. Wherever, whenever, however, she will meet with the women she is trying to reach. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, so we must serve those we want to impact. Help people connect with ministry. Get them into places where God can use them.
4. Always include the cross
Without the cross, Christianity doesn’t work. At the cross, an exchange took place. It still takes place. Shame is traded in for honor. Guilt is traded in for innocence. Debt is traded in for forgiveness. Aimlessness is traded in for purpose. We must always point the people we are teaching to Christ and his answer for their lives. Crossless discipleship is not discipleship. The people you serve will never find peace apart from Christ and his message. Bring them to the cross. However, to do so, you must understand the cross and its implications more than you already do. Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians…let them be your friends, words you ruminate over again and again in discovery of the grace imparted to you from the glorious cross of Christ. Then, you will have something to say.
People perish for a lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6). The time will come in every discipleship relationship where your words must be frank. Directly, you must teach and instruct the person God has put into your life. In every mentoring relationship I’ve ever been in, a moment of truth comes where we can no longer talk about peripheral matters. The gloves must come off. A direct and unequivocal statement must be mouthed. Teaching and direction must be given. Jesus was willing to teach his disciples, and life with them gave him ample opportunities to steer their lives. When those moments came, Jesus did not miss. He spoke.
6. Lean on the Spirit whenever you meet
The Holy Spirit will help us in our weaknesses (John 14:16). Each time we gather with someone we are mentoring, we must ask the Father to guide us by his Spirit. We need his help and aid. Readily, he gives it. Often, the first issues discussed are not the real issues, something more profound lurks beneath. The Spirit wants to get to the core matters. There is a kingdom and movement God wants to bring everyone into, but we are often distracted by the thorns and thistles of life. The Spirit will help you identify that which chokes out and harms the work and word of God in someone’s life.
Real Christianity is one which pours into the lives of others, which can be a painful and tiresome task. Let us drink of God's grace, daily, to find the empowerment and strength we need for the task.