We live in a world where everyone is in a hurry, and you can either make a conscious effort to go against the grain or you will be swept away with the tide. Carrie Fisher fairly summed up our societal values when she observed, “Instant gratification takes too long.”
Here are some guidelines that can help you remain on the challenging path of discipleship over the long haul.
First and most importantly, set reasonable goals. Jesus invested three years with his disciples before he commissioned them to go to the nations. Don’t expect a forty-day study or a twelve-week class to immediately produce mature disciples. Consider investing a minimum of twelve-to-eighteen months into your discipleship group.
A few years ago I was invited to join several other leaders in a cabin at the base of Signal Mountain, Tennessee, on a cold Saturday morning to formulate a strategy to disciple the men of Chattanooga. The enthusiasm in the room was palpable. The moderator posed a question: “What are we going to do now?” Without hesitation, one man shot his hand up and spoke before he was called on, “Let’s set a goal to find five hundred disciple-makers by the end of the year.” “Amens” were muttered throughout the room. To this point, I had remained quiet. But at this I sheepishly raised my hand.
“I know I’m the new guy here,” I said, “but I think we may be starting with the wrong metric in mind. Instead of setting a goal to locate five hundred disciple-makers in our city, let’s run the magnet through the sand to discover who is actually a disciple-maker first. We may only locate five men who are ready to invest their lives into the lives of others.” After that, I was invited to join a smaller group of five men with the purpose of pulling together a disciple-making strategy — one with reasonable goals.
Secondly, start a discipleship group. I know that seems obvious, but at some point you actually need to get started. You can begin investing today. If you are a man, find a group of men to disciple. If you are a woman, gather several women together. It’s challenging to take someone on a journey you have never been on yourself, but it’s not impossible. You don’t need another Bible study to get ready for this. Take the Bible you already know and study it with two or three other people weekly.
Ministry is the Pathway to Maturity
Steve Murrell, missionary, disciple-maker, and author, shared his philosophy of discipleship with me over a lunch of sushi in Nashville several years ago. Victory Manila, the church he planted, now ministers to almost 60,000 people. Eight thousand discipleship groups meet in coffee shops, offices, dormitories, parks, and homes and on the steps outside the church on Sunday mornings and throughout the week.
I asked Steve to explain his system for developing so many leaders to facilitate that large number of groups. He chuckled and replied,
We have a training system for those interested in discipling others. But it’s impossible to manage. The organic nature of group formation forces us to release control. We are sometimes forced to enlist newer Christians to disciple new believers. “How much of the New Testament have you read?” is a question we ask those interested in facilitating a group. Some tell us, “I just finished the book of Matthew.” To that we say: “Good — you can lead. This man hasn’t read any of the Bible. You are a whole book ahead of him.”
I think Steve highlights an important point. One of the reasons we are not seeing discipleship take place in churches is because church leadership may assume that it needs to execute the ministry instead of empowering others to do it. I’ll admit that I personally have a tendency to wait for believers to mature before allowing them to serve in ministry, but we need to balance our caution here with the understanding that ministry is the pathway to maturity, not vice versa.
Here is where we need to sense the need for balance. We cannot do all the work, so we need to release and empower others. At the same time, we aren’t in a rush to get this done. So slow down. Conserve your energy and plan for the future. Richard Foster has said, “Our tendency is to overestimate what we can accomplish in one year, but underestimate what we can accomplish in ten years.”
Discipleship takes time, so we need to plan on dedicating that time and waiting on the results, which can be mind-blowing when we understand the power of multiplication.* Just remember, you cannot microwave disciples. It’s a Crock-Pot recipe. And it takes time for maturity to take root. The wait is long, but the results are worth it.
– Robby Gallaty, adapted from his book Rediscovering Discipleship: Making Jesus’ Final Words Our First Work
How to Use This Book
Rediscovering Discipleship will help you make disciples. “If you want a book filled with idealistic clichés or harsh critiques without practical solutions, this is NOT the book for you,” writes fellow author and pastor Larry Osborne. “But if you want to learn how to actually produce disciples in a modern-day church setting, I encourage you to let Robert Gallaty take you on a journey back through the disciplining methods of Jesus, the early church, and the Reformers as he highlights transferable practices, principles, and methods of discipleship that still change lives today.”