In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus tells us that as we go through life we are to make disciples who obey what He has commanded. In fact I believe that the purpose or mission statement for every Christian should be something like this: I am a follower of Jesus who uses the rhythms of life to share Him with others, thereby modeling what they should do as they follow Jesus.
The standard definition of disciple is one who follows. I find it fascinating that this is the term used by Twitter and Pinterest to identify those who receive your comments. We talk about “following” someone on Facebook. Since discipleship means following, these people are our disciples.
As you can see, discipleship is not a Christian construct. It was not in the first century and it is not in the 21st century. In fact, I believe that all relationships are discipleship opportunities. Therefore, discipleship begins at “hello” as we each are sizing up the other, trying to determine if this is someone whom we would like to “follow”.
We do this all of the time in life as we follow people to learn from them. We call this being an “apprentice”, a “trainee”, an “intern”, etc. All of us have disciples. The question is not will we develop disciples, but what kind of disciples will we develop? Will they follow us as we follow Jesus, or will they go down some other path because they understand that is the focus of our lives?
As each of us looks back to our own discipleship journey most of us would have to admit that we began learning about Jesus and His claims on our life long before we asked Him to be our Savior. Those of us fortunate enough to have grown up in a Christian home probably would indicate that process began when we were born. But most everyone would recognize that there is a process from hearing about Jesus to accepting Him through which all of us go. I would suggest that this is part of the discipleship process. In other words, discipleship begins when we first hear, not when we make a decision. Salvation is on that discipleship continuum not at its beginning.
Over the course of the last few decades our standard has been that we share Jesus, when the person makes a profession of faith we invite them to join in a study which we understand will help them “learn” about being a Christian. But discipleship is not a formal class which someone goes through, but a life that someone follows. Paul asks in 1 Corinthians 11:1 that those reading the letter be his disciple like he is a disciple of Jesus. Paul establishes a pattern for us to follow. In other words, we should seek people to follow us as we follow Jesus, showing them Jesus in us.
We need to move from additional to intentional. I would suggest the following path. (1) Pray. Ask God to direct you to those He has prepared and ask Him to help you know/discern what to say and when. (2) Recognize that every relationship, formal or informal, is a discipleship relationship whether we realize it or not. (3) Become more intentional about the messages (verbal, written, body, etc.) we communicate with those around us. Use the natural rhythms of life – Listening – Celebrating – Eating – Recreating – as opportunities to build relationships. (4) Use those messages and relationships to draw people to Jesus. Showing them how Jesus is at work in our lives and how He wants to be with them. (5) Be ready to formalize the discipleship relationship as those with whom we are working respond to the claims of Christ on their lives. And (6) above all be obedient to your Savior so others can follow that obedience in their own lives.
Remember “people do not care how much you know, until they know how much you care”. “You can teach what you know, but you can only reproduce what you are”. Finally, “a mind will reach a mind, but only a heart will reach a heart”.