What makes a disciple?
Have you been paying attention to what’s been happening in Wilmore, Kentucky?
On February 8th, the chapel service at Asbury University concluded with a single student, convicted by the Holy Spirit, rising to his feet to publicly confess his sins. This simple act of obedience ushered in a profound move of the Spirit across the campus. That chapel service actually never ended. The students stayed, prayed, worshiped, confessed sin. Over two weeks later, that service still hadn’t ended. Around the clock, students continued to meet at the chapel to pray, worship and confess sin. Word spread and the community started to show up too. Then believers from around the country started to cross state lines to come to Wilmore, some driving, some flying, to witness firsthand what God was doing. Believers from around the globe jumped on planes to fly to little Wilmore and be a part of the move of God. What was happening at Asbury began to spread to other campuses around the country: Cedarville University in Ohio, Samford University in Birmingham, AL, Lee University in Cleveland, TN, Belmont University in Nashville, TN. Each of these Christian schools were experiencing the same 24/7 move of God as students prayed, worshiped and confessed sin.
A revival has broken out in the US, and it’s begun where revivals often begin. Among the youth. A generation, GEN Z, is waking up. They are hungry for a faith that is real. They are clamoring for an experience with Jesus that is more than the “business as usual” faith they see in the churches they grew up in.
Let’s not miss this moment!
I think the genuine fruit of this revival will be three-fold.
- CHANGED HEARTS!
Revived hearts will hunger for Jesus. They will spend time with Him in His Word, talk to Him in prayer, praise Him in worship and experience Him in community with other believers.
- CHANGED LIVES!
Revived hearts will forsake the cultural idols they’ve clung to and orient their lives around an authentic faith as a Christ-follower. They will pursue holiness, confess sin, walk in obedience, and own a Biblical worldview. This means they will think like Jesus, look like Jesus and act like Jesus.
- CHANGE IN OTHERS LIVES!
Revived hearts will share Jesus with others. They won’t be content to remain silent. They will be bursting at the seems to share the Good News of God’s love, grace and forgiveness with everyone they meet. They will take their faith out of the sanctuary and into the streets. Disciples will be made and multiplied.
Is this really possible? Is what’s happening in Wilmore, Cedarville, Birmingham, Cleveland and Nashville real? One thing I’m certain of. We won’t see the above fruits of revival if we just keep doing what we’ve always done. The next generation is saying that they need more. They want more.
7% of the next generation globally identify themselves as Christ-followers.
This Barna Group statistic was the focal point of a three day conversation in January among leaders gathered in Orlando from various youth ministry organizations.
While that statistic is alarming, and should cause us to ask, “Are we losing this generation?” I look at what is happening in Wilmore and elsewhere and I find great hope.
A few weeks ago, I began to unpack SEVEN REASONS why I believe we’re failing as the church, and what we must do about it. Over seven weeks, I’ll attempt to tackle these reasons one at a time.
If you missed the first two week’s of this blog series, you can find them here:
We depend upon Curriculum rather than empowering People.
When I first stepped into the President’s role with Sonlife back in 2013, I had a local ministry leader excitedly ask me over lunch, “What discipleship curriculum do you have that can help our student ministry?” My friend was looking for that “magic bullet.” There’s got to be a tested and true curriculum our there, or a program, that will guarantee that if I use it my students will become fully devoted disciples of Jesus, right?
If our Sonlife Team had $100 for every time we’re asked this question, or if we actually had the patent for the magic bullet of discipleship, we wouldn’t be raising support as missionaries.
I responded to my friend’s question with a story. I told him about Rich, the youth leader who discipled me when I was 15 years old. Rich and I met every week for over two years. Rich was an amazing guy. But after two years of meeting every week, doing Bible studies together, I can’t remember a single lesson that we studied. Not one. In fact, sometimes, I even fell asleep on Rich as he talked on and on and on. Rich could talk, and he was excited about the Bible. After a while, I began to notice Rich’s Bible. It looked like a bag of skittles had exploded inside his Bible and a rainbow emerged. He used all different colors of highlighter pens, and line after line was highlighted in different colors according to themes. Maybe he used red for God’s love, purple for the promises of God, yellow for heaven, green for growth, etc. As Rich described to me how he studied the Bible, I went out and got my own highlighter pens and began to study like Rich. I learned to study God’s Word by watching Rich. I learned to love God’s Word because of Rich. Here was my Bible as a 15 year old.
It was Rich who taught me to pray. Not short, memorized prayers like, “Dear Jesus, thank you for this food. Amen.” I actually learned how to talk to God, to have a real conversation with my heavenly Father, from Rich modeling that kind of prayer for me. And then he had me pray out loud with him. One day, Rich showed up at my house and said, “Doug, let’s go to the mall and witness!” We approached the first person we saw sitting on a bench between the stores. Rich introduced us, started a conversation, and then quickly turned it in a spiritual direction. He used a gospel tract to share the Good News. And after we left that bench to walk to the next person, Rich turned to me and said, “OK Doug, your turn!”
I learned how to study God’s Word. I learned how to pray. I learned how to share my faith. Rich modeled all of this for me. Rich practiced all of this with me. Rich encouraged all of this in me. Rich didn’t use a curriculum to disciple me. He didn’t need one. Rich’s life was the curriculum.
That day, I told my pastor friend what I’ve told so many before and since. Regardless of who you talk to on Sonlife’s Team, you’ll hear the same phrase again and again.
Disciple-making happens within the context of relationships.
Think about the Great Commission. We all say that’s what our ministries are trying to accomplish. But really think about it.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”Matthew 28:19 MEV
When Jesus told them to “go and make disciples,” was He telling them to create a curriculum, or start a program, or enroll people in a class? No! Jesus was telling His disciples to do with others what He had done with them. They each, as individuals, were being commissioned, empowered, to make disciples.
It’s one of the reasons why I rarely use the word “discipleship.” When we think of discipleship, we tend to think of curriculum, programs, classes or even technology. So hear me clearly.
Curriculum doesn’t make disciples.
Technology doesn’t make disciples.
Programs don’t make disciples.
Classes don’t make disciples.
Read those statements again. Out loud.
Here’s what we need to remember. Everything we do as a ministry should be oriented around this simple fact.
DISCIPLES MAKE DISCIPLES
A disciple-maker might use curriculum, technology, programs or classes to assist them in making disciples, but ultimately they know God will use their life as a Christ-follower to disciple others.
I shared this example with my friend that day over lunch. One of the most transformational studies I’ve ever done was Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby. Because of that study’s impact on me, as I’ve discipled people through the years, I’ve encouraged them to do that study. Then I’ve processed it with them. In fact, when I started the School Of Youth Ministry in Haiti back in 2008, I searched and searched until I found Experiencing God in French so the young leaders I was training there could be impacted like I was. More than just a curriculum, I was sharing my life with them.
I asked my friend that day, “What has God used in your life to transform your faith as a Christ-follower? Whatever that is, incorporate that with those you’re discipling. Because ultimately, it’s your life that is going to have the greatest impact on them.” As a discipler, you’re saying to them, like the Apostle Paul, “Follow me, as I follow Christ!”
Disciple-making happens in the context of relationships. It involves a relational investment of time, energy and emotion. Paul modeled this for us.
“So we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.”1 Thessalonians 2:8
“You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into His kingdom and glory.”1 Thessalonians 2:10-12
RELATIONAL DISCIPLE-MAKING REQUIRES SHARING THE GOSPEL
The Apostle Paul reminded the Thessalonians that he had shared the gospel with them. His discipling efforts were anchored to the gospel. They were oriented around an intentional study of the truth of God’s Word. Paul wanted them to engage with, understand, and apply the truth of the gospel to their lives.
If the people in our ministries are going to be disciple-makers, their primary curriculum for discipling others should be God’s Word. First and foremost, a disciple-maker is personally engaged with, applying, and transformed by their own personal study of God’s Word. They model this passion for God’s Word with those they’re discipling, and like Rich did with me, they encourage their disciple to get into God’s Word for themself.
RELATIONAL DISCIPLE-MAKING REQUIRES SHARING YOUR LIFE
The Apostle Paul didn’t just share the gospel of God. He shared his very life. He poured out from himself and he poured into them. What does it mean to share your life. The only way DIATRIBO (read last week’s blog) happens is by spending time with and building relationship with the ones you’re discipling. When you disciple someone, you’re asking them to invite you into their life, and you’re inviting them into your life. You’re spending time in one another’s worlds as you help them flesh out what it looks like to follow Jesus in their everyday life. You’re incarnating the gospel for them.
I have a friend who incorporated the girls she was discipling into the natural rhythms of her life. If she was cleaning the house, or folding clothes, or making dinner, she’d invite them over and involve them in whatever she was doing. They’d talk about life and Jesus casually as she was doing her thing at home. I have another friend who actually started a side landscaping business to “employ” students in his ministry on Friday afternoons and Saturdays. As they drive from one house to the next, discipling conversations happened naturally. He believed his best disciple-making happened through his landscaping business.
RELATIONAL DISCIPLE-MAKING REQUIRES MODELING JESUS
The Apostle Paul said they were “witnesses of how holy, righteous and blameless” he lived while he was among them. Paul didn’t just talk about Jesus. He lived like Jesus. He demonstrated what it looked like to follow Jesus in the marketplace as he provided for himself as a tentmaker. He faced persecution and accusations with grace and strength. Suffering for Jesus and patiently enduring through attack after attack.
We model by what we say. More than that though, we model by how we live. We need to invite those we’re discipling into our lives so they can see how we live up close. What does it look like to follow Jesus in your family, in your friendships, in your work and in your free time?
RELATIONAL DISCIPLE-MAKING REQUIRES SPIRITUAL PARENTING
The Apostle Paul dealt with his disciples as “a father deals with his own children.” Children need to know that they are loved and accepted by their parents unconditionally. At the same time, they need to be championed, challenged and corrected. Paul “encouraged, comforted and urged” his disciples to follow Jesus. Sometimes, it’s a loving reminder or a gentle nudge. At other times, it’s a kick in the pants or a firm push. Disciple-making will require us to patiently, relentlessly, courageously challenge others to follow Christ as we do.
- Who are you discipling in a relational way like Paul describes? If no one, ask God to give you one person you can begin to pour into. You must model what you’re asking others to do.
- Ask your key leaders who they are discipling in a relational way like Paul describes. Invite each of them onto this relational disciple-making journey with you.
- Evaluate all the ministries, activities and programs of your church. Where do you see relational disciple-making happening? How can you both champion and create space for relational disciple-making in every ministry, activity and program?
- Beat the drum! Cast the vision. Let those you lead hear you say over and over and over again, “Disciple-making happens in the context of relationships.” Let the chatter be that your ministry is a place where “Everybody Makes Disciples.” More than just a dream, or even an expectation, make disciple-making the norm.
If we do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always got. That’s not good enough. The next generation is hungry for more.