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Six key principles of a good discipler

August 28, 2016

Previously I wrote about key passages that have both developed my convictions and given me direction as I’ve labored to live the Great Commission.

Here, in the second of four articles, I want to look at a few principles that have helped my own thinking and planning as I’ve sought to make disciples on campus.

Begin With The Lost

The Great Commission assumes that we are beginning with those who are not disciples.

However, in our ministries we often begin with those who are already believers. This could be rooted in fear or comfort rather than by design.

While God may bring young, hungry believers into our movements, we want to make this the exception and not the norm. As Walt Henrichsen stated in his book, “Disciples Are Made, Not Born”:

“Making disciples begins with the task of evangelism. If we work only with Christians in our disciple-making ministry, then the net gain to the kingdom of God is zero. Aggressive evangelism is the mark of the committed disciple, and it is primarily from the fruit of evangelism that he chooses his Timothy – the person he seeks to disciple.”

A multiplying movement that doesn’t begin with the lost will rarely ever evolve in that direction.

I’ve also found that while dozens of other ministries on campus are seeking to “recruit” the 5% of believers on campus, often overlook the other 95% of the campus that desperately need the gospel.

Integrate Your Life With Students

As I read the Gospels, I am struck with both how Jesus entered into the lives and the world of those He was trying to impact, as well as how He invited those who were “seeking” and those that He was discipling into His life and world.

We see Jesus going to Matthew’s tax-collecting booth and then following him to his house to be with all of his “sinful” friends in Mark 2:13-17.

While the religious folks scoffed at Him for entering into the non-Christian world, Jesus defended this approach saying that it was the sick who needed a doctor.

On the flip side, we see Jesus inviting people into His world when they were curious about life in the Kingdom.

In John 1:38-39, when two guys approached Him with questions, Jesus, rather than answering their questions, invited them to “come and see” and invited them into His world.

When He called the 12 to be apostles, Mark 3:14 states that He called them so “that they might be with Him…” Again, He was inviting them into His world.

I regularly brainstorm both approaches in order to make ministry genuinely life-on-life, rather than have an appointment mentality. I think, “How can I enter into their world?” and “How can I bring them into my world?”

Making Disciples Is Both Intentional & Relational

Most of us probably lean one direction or the other in our methodology. We either lean into more of a “curriculum” mindset, or into a “hanging out” mindset.

I’ve found that being both intentional and relational are essential for truly developing those that we are helping to explore their faith and helping mature as disciples.

The “intentional” or formal components might include Bible studies, one-on-one meetings, D-groups, prayer times, sharing our faith together, etc.

The relational times could include playing sports, enjoying meals, attending campus activities such as philanthropies or intramurals together, etc.

The intentional times really help us to understand and grasp the biblical truths that God calls us to live and the relational times flesh it out as we live in this world.

Without both, we end up either ignorant of the truths of the Christian life that God calls us to or we simply compartmentalize the doctrines into certain “Christian activities” rather than into real life transformation that can be lived 24/7.

Embrace Both The Art & The Science Of Discipling

Scientists follow universal and objective principles that apply in all situations while artists operate in a unique and subjective manner that changes with each work of art.

When I think of the science of discipling, I’m referring to the essential building blocks (Convictions, Competencies, Character) that need to be built into the lives of everyone we disciple.

This should include areas such as the gospel, the Word, prayer, witnessing, fellowship, purity, holiness, relationships, our identity in Christ, quiet times, scripture memory, etc.

Every campus movement and individual laborer should have a core set of objectives and tools that help give direction in our disciple-making and equip us to build these building blocks into individual lives.

Having this core set helps to establish a culture within the broader movement.

There is a singular “mold” that should be true of all disciples. They are to be conformed into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29, 2 Cor. 3:18, Col. 3:10).

The science of discipling helps us to keep this bulls-eye in focus rather than making discipleship a purely subjective work of art.

At the same time, we recognize that every person we disciple is an individual, who has unique strengths, backgrounds, weaknesses, and potential (Psalm 139:13-14). The art of discipling invites us to consider these individual needs as we think through how to “teach them to obey” everything that Jesus commanded.

Different people may grow at different rates in different areas. So while there are some core ingredients that are essential for all disciples, there may not be one size that fits all related to the discipling process.

Good discipling is sensitive to this and meets those whom we are discipling where they are at. This should also drive us to our knees as we plead with the Lord for wisdom and grace to discern the needs of those whom we are seeking to influence and develop.

Stay Focused On Multiplying

Making disciples is never to end with the disciples themselves. When Jesus invited Peter and Andrew to follow Him in Matt. 4:19, He stated that He would make them “fishers of men”.

When Jesus called the 12 to be apostles, it was with the purpose that He might, “send them out to preach.”

When Paul instructed Timothy to invest himself into “faithful men” in 2 Timothy 2, it was in order that they might teach others also.

After the Thessalonian church learned from Paul, Silas, and Timothy, the message of the gospel began to “ring out” from them even beyond the regions of Macedonia and Achaia.

Our disciple-making is to have the focus of multiplication to subsequent generations. We are to not just bring our disciples to a place of personal maturity, but also to a place of leadership ability and build the convictions, vision, and skill to continue to multiply. Our goal is to see God raise up laborers (Matt. 9:35-38) through our disciple-making.

As Robert Coleman states in his book, The Master Plan of Evangelism,

“The disciples were to build people like themselves who were so constrained by the commission of Christ that they not only followed, but led others to follow his way…The only hope for the world is for laborers to go to them with the Gospel of Salvation, and having won them to the Savior, not to leave them, but to work with them faithfully, patiently, painstakingly, until they become fruitful Christians savoring the world about them with the Redeemer’s love…What really counts in the ultimate perpetuation of our work is the faithfulness with which our converts go out and make leaders out of their converts, not simply more followers”.

When discipleship happens out of the context of ongoing evangelism and multiplication, it loses not only its future impact, but also the essence of being a disciple.

We can build this focus with a missional focus on evangelism. We need to help those we are discipling to have this focus, and equip them to live it out.

Keep The Scope Of The Nations In Focus

Henry Martyn, a missionary to India, once stated,

“The Spirit of Christ is the Spirit of missions, and the nearer we get to Him, the more intensely missionary we become.”

Jesus told us that the scope of the Great Commission is to be “all nations” and when we get a snapshot of heaven in Rev. 7:9, we see that it includes every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.

When Jesus prayed for His disciples in John 17, he prayed for them “so that the world may know…”

Just as it’s impossible to be a disciple without a heart for the lost, it is incompatible to be a disciple and not have a burden for the nations to be transformed by the same grace that we’ve been transformed by.

Leroy Eims once said that we should view those we disciple like a picket fence. When we look at a picket fence, we not only see the individual pickets, but we also see the world through them!

That is the way we are to approach making disciples.

As an integral part of our discipling, we should be exposing them to the state of the gospel among the world, involving them in praying for the nations and engaging in opportunities to both directly and indirectly be ministering to those among the most unreached part of the earth.

This could include short-term mission opportunities, reaching out to internationals on campus or simply taking advantage of things like the Perspectives course or praying regularly through Operation World.

We want our disciples to live as “World Christians”no matter where they are residing.

Hopefully these six principles will help you as they have me to be pointed in the right direction, get started on the right foot, know how to engage in the process of making disciples and to know when you’re hitting the bulls-eye!

In future months we will continue by looking at Six Key Convictions and Six Key Lifestyles that are necessary if we are going to effectively glorify God by making disciples! Keep laboring…He is worth it!