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WHAT IS DISCIPLEMAKING?


Ken died last summer. But Jim, the friend he nurtured, lives on. Jim is a Christian today and actively pursuing his place in the kingdom of God because Ken cared enough to help him become a disciple of Christ.

Jim met Ken before either of them was a Christian. In fact, at the time, Jim was only in the seventh grade. Ken was a teacher in his school and the minister of music in his church. That year a friendship began between teacher and student which lasted into Jim's adulthood. Their story is evidence of how God uses ordinary people for extraordinary purposes.

As their friendship grew, Ken began to help Jim develop his musical abilities. He convinced Jim that he could be a soloist. He influenced Jim's musical skills and taught him how to appreciate the world of art. He took him to concerts. He shared his record collection. They discussed politics, philosophy, history and art, even religion and the Bible.

And they had fun together. During long telephone conversations, they delighted in word games of their own creation. The Ant Dictionary was born during one of these conversations. In the Ant Dictionary, you will find such words as: tyrant—an exhausted ant. Or russiant—an ant in a hurry. Their goal was to "save the ants of America."

The Bubble Column, also born over the telephone wires, was later published in HIS magazine. In the Bubble Column were such words as terribubble, defined as "what the earth looks like from outer space," and abominabubble, "an explosive device hidden in a bubble."

During these early years of their friendship, Ken and Jim were not Christians. Ken acted like a Christian, but he struggled in the privacy of his mind and heart. As he looked at his life, he came to the point where he felt that he had two choices. One was to commit suicide. The other was to commit his life to Christ. He chose to become a Christian.

It was only natural, then, for Ken to tell Jim about what Jesus was doing in his life. Over the next few months Jim became convinced that he too needed to become a Christian. With Ken's guidance, Jim committed his life to Christ.

The nature of the friendship between Ken and Jim did not really change after that, but Ken began to focus part of their time and conversation on spiritual things. Ken wanted to see Jim grow as a Christian. They continued to share life, play together and learn together. They even took a trip to Europe one summer. They studied the Bible together. They prayed. Ken passed significant books on to Jim. Within the context of their friendship, Ken, a young Christian himself, discipled Jim, an even younger Christian.

The time came for Jim to graduate from high school and go off to college. Though Ken would not have that day-to-day contact with Jim anymore, he was still involved in his nurture. He prayed for him and wrote to him regularly. He sent him off to college with these final words of advice: "Get involved with a Christian group on campus. If you are going to survive as a Christian in college, you've got to be with others who are Christians too. They will help you continue to grow."

Ken had a vision for who Jim could become. As he launched Jim into adulthood, Ken gave him moorings to secure him in the faith. Ken's care, his prayers, his advice and his friendship all helped make Jim what he is today.

Ken died last year, a victim of a terminal illness, but Jim lives on, blossoming in Christ. Jim is committed to the pursuit of godliness, and he continues to influence men and women toward faith and growth in Jesus Christ. "The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others" (2 Tim. 2:2). This is what Ken did for Jim. This is God's way of working out his plan for the world in the lives of individuals.

Influencing Others

Ken and Jim's story is unique only because Ken's early death adds poignancy to his ministry in Jim's life. Virtually all those people who are part of the kingdom today are there because their lives were touched by someone who cared. The influence of one person on another is not always as defined as Ken's influence on Jim. But do you know anyone who is a mature believer today whose life has not been touched by someone else's life? My own life has been touched by dozens of individuals whose examples and teaching prodded me on toward maturity.

There was my sister, who first told me that God loved me. There was the single woman who paid for me to go to a Christian conference when I was still in high school. There was the sophomore at college who invited me, a freshman, to a fellowship meeting. There was the friend who helped me in my first job and taught me about God's forgiveness. There was the pastor I'd never met who wrote an article that changed my way of thinking. There have been and continue to be many who influence me for Christ.

This influence is, in the broadest sense of the word, disciplemaking. Disciplemaking comes in many shapes and forms. College fellowship groups practice disciplemaking with Bible studies, conferences and large-group meetings. Churches practice disciplemaking with good teaching, fellowship opportunities and the observance of the sacraments. Writers disciple people with their books. Singers, with their music. Teachers, with their teaching.

But behind each public form of disciplemaking are individual people. And that's what this book is about. Friends discipling friends. People reaching out to neighbors, to family, perhaps even to strangers to proclaim Christ. With the apostle Paul, the modern-day disciplemaker says, "We want to be able to present each one to God, perfect because of what Christ has done for each of them" (Col. 1:28b, Living Bible).

Disciplemaking, then, is the process of helping someone establish a relationship with Jesus and instructing that friend in the life of faith. In this book, we will focus primarily on the one-to-one form of disciplemaking. More specifically, we will focus on disciplemaking that is intentional, individualized and inspired.

Disciplemaking Is Intentional

Disciplemaking is intentional in that when we make disciples, we are following the example of Jesus in reaching out to people, taking initiative toward individuals who might become his disciples. Not all disciplemakers set out with the conscious intent of influencing potential disciples. But to be most effective, disciplemaking involves more than rubbing shoulders with friends—it is intentionally and actively helping them live on the growing edge of their faith.

Disciplemaking Is Individualized

Disciplemaking is individualized because no two people learn, change or grow in exactly the same way. Jesus sees us as unique individuals. He invites us, not to a philosophy or a program, but to a unique relationship with himself.

Effective disciplemaking is suited to that uniqueness. It does not come with a prefabricated formula. The process of disciplemaking is inductive; it develops and grows as we learn our friends' needs and interests.

Disciplemaking Is Inspired

And finally, disciplemaking is inspired. We cannot be effective disciplemakers if the Spirit of God is not at work in our lives and in the lives of those we disciple. We dare not approach discipling relationships without the confidence that the Holy Spirit lives in us so that our examples will be his example.

Disciplemaking is difficult. And it is rewarding. But the reward is that of the soldier fighting a battle, the athlete running the race or the farmer working hard to harvest a crop (2 Tim. 2:3-6). If we are not inspired to be disciplemakers, we will not be able to do the job.

But when it is the Holy Spirit who inspires us, we can not only do the job, but do it with a zest and satisfaction that surpass any human effort. Disciplemakers use gifts God has given them. Paul Little, a man gifted by God with abilities in evangelism, wrote that he had met many Christian college students who lamented that their faith did not mean a thing to them. "My faith is like Pepsi that's lost its fizz." When we are using the unique gifts God has given us, whatever the gifts are, we do indeed fizz like a newly opened bottle of Pepsi. Not everyone is gifted in relational ways. Not everyone has the ability to do one-on-one disciplemaking. But we all do have gifts that will help people grow as disciples, and when we use those gifts, the rewards are deep and satisfying.

The apostle Paul wrote that he worked with energy which God gave to him (Col. 1:29). David wrote that responding to the Word of God had the effect of "reviving the soul" and "giving joy to the heart" (Psalm 19:7-8). Jesus promised abundant life (John 10:10). What a privilege to receive from God energy and joy to do the work he asks us to do. For all of us, this work includes making disciples. For many of us, this will be through one-on-one relationships. We can expect that as we respond to God in obedience, he will indeed give us a "great reward" (Psalm 19:11).

Putting It All Together

1. Before you read this chapter, what were your ideas about discipleship?

How is the author's perspective different or the same as your own?

2. Think back over your life and recall two people who have most influenced you.

As you reflect on your relationship with those people, answer the following questions:

Why were you attracted to them?

How did they become significant in your life? What do you appreciate most about them?

3. Examine the relationship between Jim and Ken. List the ways Ken influenced Jim.

Compare this list with the way your two friends influenced you. What similarities and differences do you find?

What conclusions can you draw?

4. In this chapter the author describes taking initiative and being intentional in reaching out to a specific person to help that person grow in Jesus. Are you a person who is willing to take initiative? Why or why not?

What prevents you from taking initiative sometimes?

5. Can you imagine yourself being an influencing person in someone else's life? Why or why not?

6. What do you want to learn about disciplemaking?

7. Pick either a soldier, athlete or farmer. In what ways do you think disciplemaking is similar or unlike that occupation?

8. Divide Col. 1:28-29 into three sections. Rewrite each section in your own words.

—Disciplemaker's Handbook