By Brian Jennings
If I peek my head around the corner at my coworker Dave, I’d better not make a sarcastic comment. I’d be within range of his water gun, which sits loaded and ready in his desk drawer. Beware of Dave Dunson’s water gun. He doesn’t miss.
God created Dave to care for people in crisis and to equip others to do the same. He’s worked hard to grow his skill set, and his volunteering with the Tulsa Police and Fire Chaplaincy has given him many opportunities to care for folks in crisis. He actually finds himself energized after caring for a person in crisis. I, on the other hand, need to assume the fetal position for a few hours. I’ve learned a lot from Dave, especially in hospitals and living rooms. He listens well and then asks or says the perfect thing every time. As he does his thing, I think, Man, that was a good thing to say. . . . Ah, I see what he’s doing there. . . . Wow, great question, Dave; that’s really going to help.
Once we return to his car, I pepper him with questions. He explains why he said what he did. He teaches me. And next time I know he’ll take a step back and let me take the lead. You can call this teaching, training, or coaching. I prefer discipleship.
I like simple definitions. The word discipleship strikes some as daunting, but it’s really quite simple. Our church defines it this way: “Discipleship is helping someone know God or grow in God.”
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19, 20). Jesus’ command includes the beginning work of discipleship (going), the transformational moment (baptizing), and the continual equipping (teaching). Discipleship is an ongoing process.
If you’re looking for an example of discipleship, make friends with Acts 18. Priscilla and Aquila heard Apollos, a brilliant, eloquent follower of Jesus. His knowledge of the Scriptures drew the attention of even the sharpest of Jewish leaders. But he had one flaw: he did not yet understand the baptism of Jesus, which was for both the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
It’s crucial to see what Priscilla and Aquila didn’t do. They didn’t berate or embarrass him. Either response could have been devastating. They also didn’t just ignore the problem and hope he figured it out. Instead they invited him to their home to “explain the way of God more adequately to him.” Beautiful! Their gentle, instructional investment in the life of Apollos would empower him to reach people whom Priscilla and Aquila could not reach. Their influence was multiplied.
Priscilla and Aquila demonstrated three components of effective discipleship:
Discipleship Is Relational
Books and online sermons can disciple you some, but only some. Blogs don’t give hugs. Online sermons don’t celebrate your victories or correct your missteps. Lectures rarely create lasting memories. And a book can’t step back and say, “OK buddy, you take the lead on visiting with this person in the hospital.” The Bible, church history, and personal experience teach us that effective discipleship comes wrapped in relationships.
The problem with relational discipleship is that it’s so inconvenient. People are inconvenient. Arranging schedules is inconvenient. Needing to repeat material is inconvenient.
I recently had lunch with someone far ahead of me in life experience and faith. I’ve known and trusted him for a long time. I said, “I need someone like you to challenge me, encourage me, push me, and help me spiritually grow. Will you?” He agreed, but he added a caveat. He demanded, “You’re never allowed to wonder if you’re inconveniencing me.”
Discipleship is relational.
Discipleship Is Instructional
I imagine once the dinner was complete, Priscilla and Aquila said, “Our brother, can we talk about doctrine for a bit? We have great news you need to know and teach.” And then they instructed him. Their relational approach paved the way for the instruction. Apollos was a brilliant guy, so we can conclude that Priscilla and Aquila could sit at the table with a theological heavyweight. They served more than spiritual milk in their home.
Maybe you feel like a biblical lightweight. Truth be told, we all should feel at least a tinge of that. So don’t fret it. God comes to you in grace and then prompts you to move forward. Maybe your lack of knowledge prevents you from discipling intellectuals or overly inquisitive kids. You can choose to give up, or you can begin growing. Just like a malnourished child gains health from daily servings of nutritional food, over time you can become spiritually healthy enough to feed others.
Discipleship is instructional.
Discipleship Is Intentional
Everything Priscilla and Aquila did was intentional. They had a clear purpose. They listened intently, they invited, they instructed, and they even wrote a letter in order to prepare the church in Achaia for Apollos’s arrival (Acts 18:27). Discipleship doesn’t happen by accident.
The most effective discipleship efforts I’ve led were pinpoint intentional. Whether it was studying about Jesus with a skeptical student, teaching two friends how to spiritually lead their families, or leading a preaching mentorship, intentional discipleship has served me much better than vague “let’s get together once a week” arrangements.
I’ve found that clearly defining the purpose and time frame for a season of discipleship has proved most effective. This may not be the case with everyone, but this allows me to heavily invest for a season, give great effort, and then celebrate its completion. Not setting an end date has led my discipleship efforts to fizzle or lose focus. I prefer to end on a high note and then encourage them to disciple others. And if they ask, I’m very open to renewing our discipleship efforts.
Discipleship is intentional.
Sometimes our best discipleship efforts will yield little or no fruit. While we can’t change a soul, we can pray our hearts out, learn from Scripture, and persistently labor in the kingdom. Whether we see results quickly or not, our efforts will not be in vain.
The last verses of Acts 18 say that Apollos was a great help to the believers and “vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah” (v. 28). The relational, instructional, intentional discipleship received by Apollos was used by God to save souls. The payoff can’t be measured.
Effective discipleship multiplies the influence of God in our lives. Every Christian ought to be on the receiving and giving ends of discipleship. And as we obey the Great Commission, we’ll see God do the amazing things that only he can do.
Brian Jennings preaches, leads, and writes in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
• Do you need to ask someone to disciple you? Whom can you ask?
• Is there someone naturally placed in your life whom you ought to intentionally disciple? How could you help them know God or grow in their walk with God?
• What can you do to grow in your ability to spiritually instruct someone else? Is inconvenience preventing you from discipling someone else?