Defining Disciple-making with no loopholes
College students want to change the world – they think wild ideas, ask wild questions and are prepared to take wild risks. While the world offers mediocre plans for this dream, in Matthew 28 Jesus laid out His master strategy: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” So how do we get college students to make Jesus’ last command their first priority? We, too, obey this command. We make disciples.
In our college ministry we define discipleship like this: One person investing in another person to help them become a lifelong, obedient follower of Jesus who in turn does the same. At first glance, it’s a simple definition…and we like that. But I mostly like it because there are no loopholes. Here’s what we’re really saying when we call our students to discipleship in these terms:
One person investing in another person
Unapologetically, the goal here is a life-on-life, get-in-your-business, be-your-biggest-fan-and-also-kick-you-in-the-pants-when-you-need-it relationship. Students disciple each other by living life together; they cannot make it on the revelations of a pastor once a week. Effective discipleship requires students to recognize the dreams of another, instead of only pursuing dreams of their own. We fight the self-centered attitude by encouraging them to give their life away in discipleship.
A French writer was once quoted:
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
One thing we consistently say as a staff is that we want our students to make it for the long-haul with God, not just have a great 4 years with God during college. After initiating with someone for discipleship, I start with Time with God. I know that if I can teach them to spend time with God consistently, they will make it for the long-haul. Even if I don’t teach them anything else, they will know how to worship, pray, obey the Bible and hear God’s voice…and that will be enough. I want to consistently put them in situations to encounter God, to see God, to recognize God…because when they’ve tasted of Him, they’ll want Him even more. When they graduate, get married, raise children – they’ll still be burning for Jesus and His purposes on the earth. They’ll long for the endless immensity of the sea, and do whatever it takes to get out on the water.
This is the element, in my opinion, that separates the masses. In discipleship, we commit to obedience. We don’t just talk about how much we love God and want to change the world, we practically love Him by obeying Him. In obeying Him, we change the world – there is no other way. Students in discipleship hold one another accountable to obedience on a consistent basis. As they read the Word together, they apply it to their lives and determine specifically how each one will obey what they’ve read. They pray for one another to be filled with the Holy Spirit, for the grace, which is the power of God, to obey, and they ask the hard questions in the follow up. Disciples embrace challenge from each other, and are committed to obedience no matter the cost. They don’t make excuses for themselves or for others, but there’s always a grace to try again, and a celebration at every small victory!
Follower of Jesus
I like to think of discipleship as one big family tree. At the top is Jesus, who made 12 disciples, each of whom also made disciples, who made disciples, who made disciples and so on until they reached the person who discipled me. I draw that person, then myself, then my disciples within this giant family tree. In no way am I making a disciple of myself, which is why Jesus is the top of the tree. Discipleship started with Jesus and always goes back to Jesus – our goal is to follow Him and only Him. And I am not a middle-man between my disciple and God. When they have a question or an issue and want my advice, I train myself to first ask, “What has God said about it?” We ask God together and discuss it with the others in our discipleship group. Everything we do flows from who Jesus is and what He has taught in the Word.
Does the Same
The truth is that a disciple isn’t really a disciple until he or she is making disciples. From the start, a student who is considering discipleship knows that they are expected not only to receive an investment from another person, but to also invest, in turn, into someone else. This is how our family tree grows. Again, when I am drawing out this tree to introduce a student to the idea of discipleship, I draw them under me as one of my disciples. Then I leave a space underneath. At the bottom of the page, I draw lots of people to represent “The World” and reference Matthew 24:14 – “And this gospel will be preached throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” I make sure that they understand that the blank space beneath them is their responsibility. If we want Jesus to come back, we must make disciples in that gap, until the whole world hears the good news of the Gospel. Reproducing the life of Jesus in others is not optional as a disciple, but is the direct result of learning to follow Jesus ourselves.
Not only does this illustration help me cast a massive vision for my disciple, but it also reminds me why discipleship is worth it. When I am investing in someone, I do not know the specific plans God has for them…maybe one day they’ll move to India to plant a church in an unreached people group. Or maybe they’ll disciple someone, who will disciple someone, who will disciple someone who will plant that church. This is why when I go into every discipleship meeting, whether in my living room or at a local coffee shop, I don’t see the tired face of a 19-year old; I see the faces of the nations. I dream of the miracles and salvations that nation will one day see because of the college student in front of me. This is no ordinary meeting. It’s a seed sown into a nation that’s waiting to hear and it’s a step of faith towards Jesus’ return.
We have seen that discipleship works. Jesus’ disciples did it in the Book of Acts and it continued through thousands of years, and the call is reaching students across our college campuses today. If they’ll commit to a discipleship with no loop holes – investing in another person to help them become a lifelong, obedient follower of Jesus who will, in turn, do the same…I believe we can see the return of Jesus in our day. And that’s something I can get excited about. Excited enough to commit to something without loopholes myself.