I was 33 years old when I realized I did not know how to make disciples. One of Jesus’s most important commands and I did not really know how to obey it. I was trying to obey it, but I was not. I had been following Jesus for 28 years. I had grown up in the church, lead people to the Lord, preached sometimes, lead Bible studies, and even been sent overseas with one of the largest mission organizations… and yet, I did not know how to make disciples.
I had been raised by Godly parents, who discipled me over the 18 or so years I lived in their home. I had some idea how to disciple my children, but if it was a 25 year old man who just believed than I was clueless. Go to church. Read your Bible. That was really all I knew to tell someone. I guess I just hoped they would somehow figure it all out.
Around the time I was 33 God started putting people in my life who continued to bring up this idea of making disciples. Enough of them came around I finally started to pay attention. Then I started to understand and apply it in my life. I slowly started learning how, and as I did all of those other things I learned along the way clicked into place.
In my early twenties, one of my chaplains had been a Navigator (the disciple-making organization not the military position), and so he talked a lot about discipleship. However, for various reasons it did not click with me at the time. I did not see the power of disciple making. He was starting out with the basics of faith and I was pretty board. Unfortunately, at the same time I did really need more training, but not on the basics of following Jesus because my parents had done a good job of teaching me that as I grew up.
After the military, I went back to college to finish my degree. Here I helped out with several college ministries. I was working for God, but I would not say it was especially effective. Our BCM (Baptist Campus Ministry) talked some about disciple-making, but either it was not a big emphasis or I just did not get it. (Just to be clear, I am not saying it was not taught at any point in time in my life. Maybe it was. Maybe it was not. Either way, I did not take it in.) In our churches college ministry we went and talked to another BCM that was doing some really good stuff. It was a great visit, but what I caught was the method of doing Bible studies. This did help, but it still was not complete. I believe this was because I did not have an intentionality with disciple-making to put together with it. I also met for a while with a guy to disciple me, and he was nice but we did not really click. I thought about asking a few other people to disciple me, but I just never got around to it.
My next big jump came when I went overseas with a big Mission organization. They had great training and I really learned a lot. However, I still missed disciple-making. I am sure they asked me about making disciples and I am sure I told them I did, but looking back I know my concept of discipleship at the time was much different than what Jesus modeled. I think they did not catch it in my screening because so many people have a big misconception about what making disciples is really like.
Maybe because we were having to learn a whole new way of doing church in the places we would be sent, what I picked up from them at the time was the methods. If the church just used the right method then churches would grow and multiply. Our goal at the time was CPM (Church Planting Movements). Looking back, I think the only real CPMs were actually a result of intentional disciple-making. As disciples were intentionally made churches formed and knew how to form other churches. What was really happening was a Disciple Making Movement.
How I missed it I am not sure, but miss it I did. I spent a lot of time telling people about Jesus or giving them materials to point them toward Jesus, but all of the actual discipleship I did was accidental. The biggest influences I had on locals were with a friend who traveled with me often and on my language tutor. More is caught than taught, right?
When I came back to the States I thought I would be able to take what I had learned and the methods we had learned overseas and really be fruitful. It was not the case. I think what I learned in the States this time was while the method can have some influence on the fruitfulness of a church, by itself, it is not enough.
When Jesus called us back overseas is when it really started to click for me. This time we were sent out by our church instead of an organization. With this situation we had less specific guidance on what to do. We started out with roughly the same plan we had had the previous time, but as time went on God just kept bringing discipleship back into our lives… this time I listened and this time it clicked.
Now, I am 38. I am about 5 years down the road of making disciples and I am about a million times farther along than I was at 33, but I still have a ways to go. I still make mistakes, still get distracted, and still find myself scratching my head sometimes in disciple-making situations. However, I am still moving forward and I am excited about the future God has planned.
If you would like to join me on this journey of learning to make disciples I would welcome the company. I will share with you the things I have learned and the things I am learning. I will tell you some stories. I will tell you some mistakes. Through thick or thin I hope to encourage you to also come and make disciples as well. It is Jesus’s command. I spent too many years not obeying it. Do not make the same mistake. 🙂