I sit here at my desk on a typical work day surrounded by the gads of discipleship applications brought by many of my students here at Word of Life Bible Institute. My heart’s prayer for each of them is that they be in good and productive discipleship, not like that one failed kitchen experiment when I was 16 and tried to make a roasted garlic potato salad…let’s just say my mother’s kitchen smelled like an Italian fiasco…for a week. I learned that day that cooking and baking can be a lot of fun or it can be a frustrating mess. Much of it depends on how you go about the project. Do you have an end result in mind? Are you following a recipe or just winging it and hoping it comes out edible? Are you fully prepared with all of your ingredients before you set out starting down the recipe? If all of these questions are answered at the onset of baking or cooking, your margin of success greatly widens.
These same principles apply to discipleship. Do you have an end result in mind? Are you following a specific plan of action or are you just sort of winging it and hoping your disciple comes out better in the process? Are you fully prepared to take on the task before you set out to pour into a person’s life? (NOT: are you perfect in every way, but more like…do you know what you’re doing, where you’re going, what you’re about to face, and are you prepared to face it?)
In the book of 1 Thessalonians, Paul wrote to a church where intense and successful discipleship occurred. In chapter 2, he spells out the plan of action, the “how-to’s” of success in how this vibrant discipleship relationship happened…a “recipe” of sorts for successful discipleship.
1. SET A GOAL.
Paul had a goal in his discipleship. The Goal:, “And we also thank God constantly for this: that when you received the Word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the Word of God which is at work in you believers.” Paul wanted the church in Thessalonica to see God’s Word as TRUTH, to receive God’s Word as not coming from him but from God because it WAS coming from God. When it comes to your discipleship of others, set a goal. One over-arching purpose for that person’s life through which every decision, every study, every meeting can be filtered.
2. DISCOVER THE MOTIVATION.
Motivation is a powerful tool in getting things accomplished. Without motivation things are either left undone or left poorly done. But with the proper motivation, even the most arduous task has purpose and inspires determination to accomplish the goal. For Paul’s discipleship, his motivation is seen throughout this passage. Paul wanted to appeal to his disciples with the Gospel and please God who tests the heart. It’s important to note that it was GOD who tested the heart, not Paul. It was God’s agenda off which Paul was working. We should be careful in our discipleship of others that we don’t circumvent God working in that person’s life because we are. It’s not what WE think they need to work on, it’s what God REVEALS. Granted much of this revelation is going to be seen in an attitude you pick up on or an action that clearly displeases the Lord. But the call for confrontation should be a calling of the Holy Spirit into action. This is why it is so important as disciplers to be in constant communication with the Lord, to be praying for a real sensitivity to His Spirit in those counseling sessions. He, ultimately, is the curator of that individual’s growth; we are merely the tools, the implementers, the conduits through which God makes that happen. But without God as the driving force behind the growth in that individual’s life, discipleship is but behavior modification, not heart-change.
3. HAVE PURE MOTIVES.
Before successful discipleship has even a chance of happening, the discipler’s motives must be called into question. Paul clearly proved in verses 5 and 6 that his discipleship stemmed from the purest of motives. He was focused on his goal and motivations for discipleship when he approached the church of Thessalonica. “For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed— God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ.” Paul’s approach to discipleship was humble, selfless, and never seeking out the glory from man – even those whom he disciple! Likewise, when we disciple, it should not be seen as a way to puff egos. “I have been discipled by Sarah Bubar…aren’t I better than that person or more equipped?” That should never be a thought as I set out to disciple the women God puts in my path. And if it is, you need to check yourself because discipleship isn’t about the discipler; the discipler must be selflessly motivated in their thinking and approach to discipleship if there is to be any real success in their disciple’s life.
4. DISCIPLESHIP IS MUCH LIKE PARENTING.
Let me explain what I mean by this first by stating what I don’t mean. I don’t mean you are that girl’s mom and should act as such. She has one mom – dysfunctional as she may or may not be – she doesn’t need another. She may, however, desperately need a mentor, and that mentorship may resemble parenting at times. Paul explains this in his recipe for discipleship when he talks about being like a mother and a father (vs. 7, 11). A mother is nurturing, gentle, loving, protective, preoccupied with the nourishment and care of her child. In this way, successful discipleship is no different than mothering a child. When describing the duties that resemble fatherhood, Paul lists three tasks that accompany the responsibility. “We exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God,” says verse 12. Exhort. Encourage. Charge. These are the tasks involved in successful discipleship. Exhort means “To ask earnestly, beg, plead.” Encourage means, “to console, comfort, and encourage.” Charge means, “to insist on, urge.” All of these elements are important for successful discipleship.
5. DISCIPLESHIP SHOULD BE GOSPEL-FOCUSED.
Paul’s use of the Gospel message is permeated throughout his epistles. Paul was “entrusted with the Gospel” (vs. 9) and then “preaching the Gospel,” (vs. 12). The Gospel, after all, is what consumed Paul’s life. He knew that it went beyond the salvation of their souls; the Gospel affected every area of their lives (Colossians 2:6). It is in remembering our need for the gospel of Christ every day where we will find true humility. “This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’—and I am the worst of them. But I received mercy for this reason, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate His extraordinary patience as an example to those who would believe in Him for eternal life,” (1 Timothy 1:15-16). Paul was saying, “I NEEDED the Gospel. And if Christ can save me…He can save you!” That’s a contagious kind of faith which fuels a contagious kind of discipleship.
6. THE WORD OF GOD IS PARAMOUNT TO THE SUCCESS OF DISCIPLESHIP.
No successful discipleship happens devoid of God’s Word. Paul so aptly reminds us of this when he says, “You received the Word of God…[and it] is at work in you!” (vs. 13) God’s Word alone has the power to change a life for eternity. Sure, my words may affect someone greatly, but God’s Word has the ability to change them permanently. And if you are wanting to be involved in successful discipleship, God’s Word is like flour to your cookie. Without it, discipleship falls flat and hard. God’s Word, however, breathes life and meaning and purpose into a discipleship relationship. It creates the bond between mentor and mentoree. It is the foundational building block upon which all other components are established. In short, the Word of God is paramount to the success of discipleship. There’s no way around this truth.
7. DISCIPLESHIP IS ABOUT IMITATING THE ORIGINAL SOURCE.
Francis Chan, in his book, Multiply, makes this claim: “It’s impossible to be a disciple or a follower of someone and not end up like that person.” Paul also proved this fact by saying, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ,” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Christ. however, said it first, “FOLLOW ME!” In this one phrase, the definition of discipleship can be found in one concise word: following. This begs the question: If you are involved in discipleship, and people are following you…who are YOU following? Whose agenda are you pushing? Whose commands are you obeying? To whom are you submitting yourself as a disciple? If you say Christ, and yet aren’t becoming more and more like him as you go, can that be true? This question is so humbling to ask myself, but I must if I want to play a part in successful disciple-making.
Discipleship is a major aspect of my job in the ministry to which God has called me, and I love that fact. It’s why my twitter feed is filled with “#bestjobever.” But I don’t want to wing it. I don’t want it to be about me and my agenda. I don’t want to mass produce little “Sarah Bubar’s” running around; they’ll just ruin things. I DO want to disciple successfully. I DO want it to be about God and HIS Gospel. I DO want to produce little “Christ’s” running around; our world could certainly use them! So, as I start another year of discipleship here at Word of Life Bible Instititue, I pray Paul’s words:
“Lord, may they receive the Word of God, which they hear from me, and accept it not as the word of men, but as what it really is…the WORD OF GOD, which is at work in them.”