As I am reading through the devotional, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Day by Day, I came across this story from the book Song of the Bird by Tony de Mello:
A man found an eagle’s egg and put it in a nest of a barnyard hen. The eaglet hatched with the brood of chicks and grew up with them.
All his life the eagle did what the barnyard chicks did, thinking he was a barnyard chick. He scratched the earth for worms and insects, he clucked and cackled. And he would thrash his wings and fly a few feet into the air.
Years passed and the eagle grew very old. One day he saw a magnificent bird above him in the cloudless sky. It glided in graceful majesty among the powerful wind currents, with scarcely a beat of its strong golden wings. The eagle looked up in awe. “Who’s that?” he asked.
“That’s the eagle, the king of the birds,” said his neighbor. “He belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth — we are chickens.” So the eagle lived and died as a chicken, for that what he thought he was.
How many times have you stopped yourself from doing something risky because you were convinced it was impossible? How many times have you failed to speak up because you feared what would come out of your mouth?
Certainly there are times when discretion and caution are marks of wisdom. However, when fear prevents us from doing what God has clearly commanded us to do, then we are like the eaglet in the parable above. We are convinced we cannot fly, and so we never try.
For our purposes today, I ask you to think about this in terms of King Jesus’ command to go and make disciples. This is no mere suggestion from a friend, no extra-credit assignment from a teacher, this is an order from our King, a command from the one who gave His life for ours. This is an instruction that He expects us to fulfill.
Yet, He does not send us out empty-handed and alone. He says, “Behold, I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). Our King goes with us to help us complete this assignment. Not only that, He also promises makes this promise in Luke 12:
“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”Luke 12:8-12 English Standard Version (Emphasis added)
Now if the Holy Spirit will give us the words needed when facing persecution, surely He will give us the words needed when discipling a friend, won’t He?
I have found that the hardest part of discipling others is getting started, overcoming the fear that I do not know what I am doing and will mess it all up. Once that over that hurdle, the rest is pretty easy. So how do we go about it?
- Pray — Bathe what you are doing in prayer, and constantly remember that you rely on King Jesus’ power, not your own.
- Gather — Invite one or two others to start meeting with you on a regular basis for discipleship. Again, pray that God will lead you to the right people. Some may say no. That’s fine. Take it as a sign that God has someone else in mind for you to disciple. (Men with men, and women with women.)
- Commit — Discipleship is not a six-week process. Expect to walk with these men or women for an extended period of time — one or two years. Don’t sugarcoat the expectations.
- Discuss — The gist of discipling others is helping them know, love, and follow King Jesus in all areas of their lives. This happens most as we reflect on life and faith together, maybe over coffee or maybe while fishing or golfing, but it does not happen without some form of communication. There are three forms of “curriculum” that can help guide discussions and keep them focused on discipleship. All three are useful and valid.
- Bible — Some disciple-makers prefer to do what is commonly called a Bible Study with his or her disciples. They read, discuss, and apply the scripture to life. In this case, scripture becomes the thing that drives conversation. So when a passage that mentions money, we talk about money. When the passage shifts to marriage, we talk about marriage. The challenge is to not let the discussion be about head knowledge only, but also about life application.
- Discipleship Guides — There are workbooks, discussion guides, and even apps that walk through various topics that are important for disciples of King Jesus to understand and apply. One that I use and recommend is The Way of Discipleship from Grace Church in Noblesville, Indiana. There is also Greg Ogden’s Discipleship Essentials. The challenge with these is not to adhere too strictly to the material that you miss opportunities to listen to the needs of the disciple or the voice of the Holy Spirit.
- Life — It is also possible to let the lives of the disciples guide the conversation. What challenges are they facing at home or at work? What doubts, fears, or temptations are they wrestling with? How is their prayer life? What are they reading in the Bible in their own quiet time? The challenge here is that sometimes we do not know what we need. If we only focus on what the disciple sees in front of him or her, we may miss other areas that are important for the disciple’s growth.
- A healthy discipleship relationship will use a balance of all three. It is ok for the discussion to go “off-topic” when there is an important life issue to address. However, a dedicated study through the Bible or through a Bible-based discipleship guide helps us cover areas we may otherwise overlook.
- Release — The goal is not to spend time with the same one or two people until the end of days. Remember that Jesus sent His disciples out and eventually commissioned them to go and make more disciples. Cast the vision with your disciples that you are preparing them to go and make other disciples. If necessary, be prepared to push them out of the nest. They are eagles, not chickens after all.
When my wife and I were expecting our son, I remember reading through parenting books. They gave us instructions about the first few months and the first few years. At the time, I did not need to know about the teenage years. I wasn’t ready for that and neither was my son. Now my son is ten and will soon be “pre-teen.” So now is the time for me to read those books.
My point is that as a disciple-maker, you do not need to know everything. Sometimes the teacher is simply one chapter ahead of the student. If you wait till you know everything, you will never start. So get started. Pray and gather and disciple, trusting that King Jesus will be with you every step of the way.