What do you feel when someone asks you to disciple them? I imagine you’re excited because a hungry, likely younger Christian, wants to grow. I imagine there’s probably also stress because you don’t know where to begin. A wealth of good resources is at your fingertips, but that can make things more complicated. So where do you start?
I never played on good hockey teams growing up but one of my teams once made a tournament final. Every player wanted to be the hero who makes the highlight play to win the game. Our coach saw it in our eyes and knew we were in trouble, so he gave us this advice, “Keep it simple.” If everyone tried to be the hero, we would lose. The way to win was to do the simple things: make the right pass, clear the puck, and take the shot. If we did the simple things well, we had a chance.
Keeping it simple is excellent advice for discipling.
Disciples are students, devoted to learning from and following their teacher. Helping someone follow Jesus is discipling. Yes, it is that simple. Christians are disciples of Jesus who love him, learn from him and follow his example. When you help others follow Jesus, you are discipling. So start simple. Doing simple things often enough and for a long enough time is key to discipling well.
Let me offer three simple ways to start discipling someone.
Following Jesus is something we learn, not something we know intuitively. Being “transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom 12:2)” forms new ways of thinking that shape new ways of living. Learning together is one of the best ways to disciple someone.
A few years ago, I asked a group of young men to study the book of Amos with me. I was planning a preaching series through Amos but I also wanted to disciple them so I invited them to sit beside me and learn together. We didn’t have a master and apprentice relationship. We were co-learners and some of the most beneficial insights I received came from questions they asked or insights they had.
We are not all experts but we are all learners. Discipling someone is more like being the student at the next desk than being the answer key in the back of the textbook. Learning together helps each of you grow deeper with Christ.
Do Things Together
If discipling were only a transfer of information, we could do it all online, without the muck of people’s schedules, feelings, and fears. But learning to follow Jesus requires relationships and role models. It takes a church to raise a Christian. John presses this home when he unites our relationships with our joy in Jesus.
He says, “what we have seen and heard we also declare to you, so that you may also have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete” (1 John 1:3-4). An undervalued tool of discipleship is simply doing things with each other.
Discipleship happens primarily through faithful disciples doing simple things to help others follow Jesus.
Before having kids, I listened to lectures, sermons, panel discussions and read books about parenting. They were helpful, but when my sons showed up, my parenting resembled my dad more than my books. I spent a couple of years reading about fatherhood compared to a couple of decades watching my dad. Having courtside seats watching him be a father day after day was more formative than I knew.
In the same way, young Christians learn how to live as Christians by watching the normal lives of other Christians. If someone asks you to disciple them, invite them to go grocery shopping, or help replace your fence. Invite them to watch your life and imitate your faith (1 Cor 11:1).
Don’t Be Perfect
Being asked to disciple someone is intimidating. It feels like being asked to carry grandma’s precious glass bowl across a tightrope. One small mistake, one imperfect step, and everything shatters. Thankfully, this isn’t true. In fact, being imperfect better equips us to disciple others.
Mark Dever writes that discipling someone “doesn’t mean you as the discipler always play the wise one, or that you must be a fount of Socrates-like wisdom with all the answers.” Sometimes we disciple best when someone sees us confess our weakness. “By doing so” Dever continues, “you demonstrate what it looks like not to find your justification in yourself, but in Christ. And so you live transparently and honestly. Christian discipleship, in other words, isn’t just about displaying your strengths; it’s about displaying your weakness, too” (Discipling, 36).
None of us learned from perfect Christians. Every example we have ever imitated was deeply flawed. Their imperfections showcased God’s power (2 Cor 12). In our weakness, we can point to a perfect Saviour.
God does incredible work through ordinary means. Discipleship happens primarily through faithful disciples doing simple things to help others follow Jesus. Take my coach’s advice. Keep it simple.