The world in general and the people of God specifically have learned much from the global pandemic over the past year.
Though the United States is emerging from the crisis through mass vaccinations (thank you President Trump for Operation Warp Speed), many nations remain in crisis. In Mongolia, the failure of the Russian and Chinese vaccines has led to new lockdowns and Soviet-like controls on the people. There are many deep-seated problems in numerous nations.
What has the Church learned from this “pause” in world history? Yes, God has pruned us, re-prioritized our focus, released new technologies and emphases, and taught us to persevere.
But the biggest lesson is the call to discipleship. It must be our clarion priority–for a lifetime. Here’s how.
The Priority of Discipleship–for a Lifetime
There are no more important words of Jesus in Scripture than the stirring call of the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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.”
The focus of this command is the simple yet profound words to make disciples of all nations. This is the primary task Jesus left His followers. The phrase may apply to discipling whole nations in the ways of God. But it’s main point is challenging every believer to multiply the life and message of Jesus by individually making and multiplying disciples.
So how do we “make disciples?”
I was raised in a church that did not emphasize discipleship. I was “confirmed,” went to Sunday School, tried to be a “good boy,” but, as a teenager, turned away. When I gave my life fully to Christ at fifteen, a hunger sprang up to go deeper with God and follow him fully.
But where to start?
The Church is asking the same question today. We are losing the Western World due to a lack of discipleship (the devil is doing a better job at secular mentoring). The pandemic has exposed the need to re-boot our focus on disciple-making.
There are numerous ways to “make disciples” though various groups and movements sometimes imply that one way is the “best.” I define disciple-making as shaping a life to know, love, and serve God and train them to do the same.
I believe there are three primary methods for disciple-making that also relate to the seasons of life and the members of the Godhead.
Let’s call it the Discipleship Trinity.
Live & Learn: Jesus and the youthful years.
The method Jesus used on earth was to live with his disciples, let them watch his example of life and ministry, and then empower them to follow his example. Because Jesus was in his early thirties and most of his followers were young (and probably didn’t have families), they were able to live together 24-7 and learn from the Master.
There is no more powerful method than twenty-four-hour impartation.
When I was in my late teens and twenties, I enjoyed a “live in” Bible school in New Zealand and numerous outreach opportunities that sprang from it. Then I joined Youth With A Mission who pioneered a five month “Discipleship Training School” where we lived, ate, learned, and served together in sharing our faith. YWAM still uses the “Live & Learn” model of disciple-making in scores of nations around the world. So do other groups.
This model is doable when you are young because of lack of responsibilities, youth energy and physical stamina. That’s why Christian camps lead many kids to Christ and follow-up programs launch them into ministry. Half-way houses also work well–primarily in the younger years.
We should encourage every young person/adult to experience “live & learn” discipleship before the age of twenty-one to establish their walk in God and multiply it to others. They could be started in every church or be a shared discipleship program in a city. We learn best when we eat, sleep, and live it.
Fellowship & Service: The Holy Spirit’s gifts and the middle years.
Most people begin to get married, have children, and work vocationally in their twenties and beyond. Having a spouse and kids and being faithful to support and provide for them alters our ability to “live and learn” that we might have experienced earlier. And sometimes these responsibilities take us away from active disciple-making (except at home).
Small groups or home churches that meet regularly supply the next best structure for discipleship during this season. Once a week we can “live and learn” together, share our lives, invite our friends, receive training, and even do weekend or summer projects together bring to and mature people in Christ.
Our family was a part of a small group for our “middle years.” One special season included a YWAM ministry called King’s Kids which held weekends of fellowship, teaching and outreach and even sent out teams to other nations during summer vacation time. In some ways, King’s Kids was a combination of “live & learn” (on weekends and summertime) and “fellowship and service” with multi-generation small group growth year-round.
Small groups are the engine of personal life-change in most church contexts. They bring the balm of fellowship to a difficult world, teach and train us to share our faith, and provide outreach opportunities in our neighborhoods and world that are more difficult to do alone.
Every church should wisely use small groups to make disciples–especially involving families. They should be dynamically led by the gifts of the Holy Spirit and experience “body life” to the fullest–always focused on making new disciples and multiplying the message of Christ. We all can’t counsel or be good at one-on-one equipping (those are spiritual gifts). But we all can participate in small group ministry and share in the joy of “team” success.
Mentoring & Championing: The Father and our maturing years.
I am now in my later years. My wife and I care for two elderly mothers–one around-the-clock in our home and the other one mile away (daily visits). We can no longer travel and sleep on the floor as we did in our youth, nor can we participate in small groups (presently) due to our responsibilities. (Many older people who are not caregivers also find it difficult to get out at night.)
But I have forty students a quarter that I can mentor and champion at Faith International University and many others through various YWAM projects. Every Tuesday night I meet with a businessman friend. Every Wednesday evening, I SKYPE a spiritual leader in Mongolia (who is discipling Youth For Christ leaders throughout East Asia). I intentionally engage in many other personal relationships.
I’m learning to share my story, pass on what I’ve learned over a lifetime, and more than anything, be an encourager–a champion!–of others. I didn’t excel enough at this in my earlier years. I want to make up for it now by listening to, inspiring, and bringing encouragement to those discipling others. It’s really the primary role of a father–learned from our Heavenly Father.
Discipleship has many tools, seasons, and even examples in the Triune God. Our intentional goal must be to use all these methods to disciple the willing to disciple others.
For a lifetime–for the glory of God.