The Character of a Disciplemaker (Graziano Crepaldi)
“You will know them by their fruits…“ (Mt. 7:16)
Jesus commanded His followers to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19). It is therefore important for us to understand what it means to be a disciple, to evaluate our lives in the light of this definition, and to commit ourselves to living as disciples of Jesus. Scripture could not be any clearer about the mission of the Church. It is not about buildings, Sunday programs, creating spiritually safe zones for holy events, or advancing political kingdoms on earth. The church has but one mission: to make disciples of all nations! The idea of being a disciple (in greek mathetes) was deeply rooted in Jesus’ time, not only in the Jewish culture but but also among other nations.
A devout Jew would apprentice to a rabbi living with him, sharing life with him, learning his teachings, imitating his way of life. A young Greek artist would rigorously follow a master in every aspect of his art. An apprentice fisherman would study and imitate the ways of catching fish, and bringing them to the market. The concept of discipleship is alive and well used today in many secular enterprises, from trade apprenticeships to graduate-school mentoring, to language schools. There is a reason why this intensive, relational method of learning has persisted through the ages: it works! It moves a weak student along a pathway that results in professional maturity, making him a disciple-maker himself. This is why the word disciple appears about 230 times in the gospels and 28 times in book of Acts. Jesus places the highest priority on discipleship. So what are the characteristics of a mature disciple of Jesus?
He or she:
- Knows Jesus: has placed their faith in Him and put Him in authority over their life.
- Submits to a more mature teacher who shows how to follow Jesus.
- Learns the words of Jesus and His way of ministering.
- Imitates Jesus’ life and character.
- Finds and teaches other disciples how to follow Jesus.
When Jesus called His disciples He said, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt 4:19), Jesus was demonstrating that discipling was: Relational (follow me), Intentional (I will make you) and Missional (fishers of people). Therefore a true Kingdom disciple is a person that has decided to become just like Christ, to follow Him, to be transformed by His love and to take part in His mission to make God known to the end of the earth!
It is very clear that Jesus was more interested in quality disciples, that’s why He said: “…anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt. 10:38-39). The known author Dietrich Bonhoeffer summed up discipleship this way: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” To die to self-will, self-determination, and self-agenda and to live for Christ’s will and agenda. As Jesus warned, a person should carefully count the cost of discipleship (Luke 14:25-33). Jesus is calling people to follow him in discipleship, and then he’s reminding them that it’s like building a tower that you don’t want to leave half-finished because you don’t have enough commitment or enough resources to finish it. It’s like going to war and realising you don’t have enough soldiers to win the battle and defeat the enemy. Be sure to count the cost before you sign up for a discipleship relationship with Jesus, because it’s costly. I don’t want you to sign up naively and be surprised later when the cost is very high. The person that has decided to be a disciple must have certain fundamental qualities, assuring us that spending the kind of time necessary to disciple that person will be well spent. The disciple maker who enters an in-depth process of discipleship with a disciple becomes a “spiritual father” (or mother) to him/her. Therefore, if you want to choose wisely I suggest we look and pray for the following qualities:
Faithfulness: God looks for men and women who are committed to Him. In 2 Chronicles 16:9, we read that “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” So many believers have a half-hearted commitment, often diluted by the influence of worldly desires. God sees right through our half-hearted efforts, and requires that we daily demonstrate our commitment by faithfulness. Paul exhorted the young Timothy by saying: “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). Notice he didn’t say lazy men, nor does he give approval for him to choose disloyal men. Paul is concerned that the time Timothy spends in discipleship is not wasted in a discipleship relationship characterized by an unfaithful disciple. We have often made the mistake of selecting disciples who were characterized by unfaithfulness and this kind of person will do nothing but drain the “discipler” physically, emotionally and spiritually. The disciples of Christ were called followers of Christ and he never chased them because they are his followers. I’m not saying we should never chase down a stumbling disciple, but I am saying that we need to be careful in the selection process so there will be little need to go after lost sheep. How do we know if the prospective disciple is faithful? The disciple maker begins observing and praying for the person he/she wants to disciple. Is he/she committed to the community? Has the person demonstrated some faithfulness in the new life In Christ? Is he/she ready and joyfully willing to help? What do other discerning people say about the person? In the first meeting, I always explain what I expect from my disciple. I share my confidence that God will do great things to develop him spiritually. Faithfulness is a primary characteristic and is foundational to all others. A disciple who does not demonstrate faithfulness will waste many hours of effective discipleship. Until he becomes faithful, he will never be a fruitful disciple of Christ.
Availability: The disciple may have all the other qualities desired, but if he/she doesn’t have a time available that fits with the discipler’s schedule, obviously he/she cannot be discipled effectively. Paul encouraged the believers that: “… we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.“ (Eph. 2:10) For many, their commitment to the cares and desires of this world are an obstacle, even when legitimate. For instance, his responsibility on free time events, the need or desire to work a second job, or perhaps a chaotic lifestyle, may prevent him from meeting. The Bible is telling us that we should “Redeem the time, because the days are evil.“ (Eph. 5:16). We always find time for what is really important for us! Ask your potential disciple where they are investing their time, money and decision. There you will find his/her heart. Often a potential disciple’s commitment is not the issue at all. Sometimes the discipler’s schedule and the schedule of the disciple are simply in conflict and so the answer may be that you help find someone else to disciple this person, whose schedule will harmonise more fully.
Teachability: Another important element to evaluate if an individual has a genuine desire to learn is a willingness to submit to being taught. Does the disciple ask questions, or just want to debate issues? A potential disciple will display eagerness as he attends learning opportunities such as Bible studies or other community activities. During these engagements , the person will be alert and aware, sometimes taking notes and often asking questions. The disciple maker will conclude that this person has a keen desire to learn about God and effectively live the life of Christ. “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God!“ (Psalm 143:10). I met with a man once that wanted my input into his life but he was constantly trying to teach me. When I tried to instruct him, he would change the subject because he was not interested in being taught. He just wanted to display his knowledge. Another person that I helped for a short season responded to any given input with excuses why it was impossible for him to follow the teachings of Jesus. He just wanted prayers for his problems, but unfortunately he was not willing to deal with the roots of his challenges. The amazing truth is that when we use the Bible in a life-on-life relationship with a person who has a teachable spirit, almost any barrier can be overcome. It is a great pleasure discipling someone who is eager to learn and a who continually desires to apply the truth of God’s Word into his/her life.
A hunger for God: If a disciple wishes to grow into a true servant of God, it is absolutely necessary that he or she maintains a heart for God. Does the disciple have a desire to know God? Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37-38 ). Of course we all fall short of this command, but if a person desires to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, he or she must have a desire to love and obey him. Jesus also said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). This command will only be followed by a person who has a heart for God. You will recognise if a disciple has a heart for God because you , yourself, have a heart for God. This yearning has become your primary motivation! Does the disciple have questions about God? Does he or she share his/her testimony of what God is doing in his/her life? Does the disciple want to be around his/her brothers and sisters? Ask God to show you if the person you want to disciple has a heart for God, and soon it will become clear to you..
Readiness to Serve: We experience a great sense of gratification when we understand that we’re doing something significant and of eternal value. The sense that the Holy Spirit is using us to impact someone ‘s life is in itself a strong encouragement. Each of us must be willing to be God's representative and see souls saved. However, are the disciples ready (willing) to serve the Lord and people who need to be saved? In the New Testament we read that we should: “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly“ (1 Peter 5:2). We have to understand that we're not serving Him for our happiness, our benefit, even our self-respecting, but we serve Him in eager devotion and readiness. Oftentimes we want to be in a position just like people who God uses amazingly, because it looks like it is such a wonderful life. Nevertheless, we have to know that being a servant of God means serving in life-devotion and readiness. It means, we can't stop serving although we are tired and feel like we are not ready to serve. Willingness is not enough to make us be a God's servant, we also need to have readiness. Serving God has a profound impact on our motivation and love for Him. If the prospective disciple has no eagerness to serve God, it will greatly impede his growth. Therefore, look for a person to disciple who sincerely wants to serve God.
Respect for Authority: Evaluate if the disciple has respect for the authorities around him; this would include leaders at church as well as the police and elected officials. Some go so far as to openly resist anyone who exercises authority and holds them accountable for their actions. However, as Romans 13:1-2 tells us, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” If the individual doesn’t respect the civil authorities, he or she will likely disrespect the disciple-maker authority as a leader, and it will be difficult to disciple him or her. A general disrespect for authority will result in disrespect for God’s authority as well. All of this does not mean that we are to disobey God in situations where the law of man may conflict with the law of God (Acts 4:18-20; Acts 5:40), but even then a disciple should continue to respect the government’s authority even when those in positions of authority have abused their offices. In other words we are looking for disciples that live in a culture of honor and respect.
The Apostle Paul founded almost all of the churches we read about in the New Testament. He was an amazing church-planter and disciple-maker that brought good fruit. In order to reach this goals Paul had to learn to work in teams. He had a particularly close friend and co-worker called Timothy a young and timid man whom Paul trained to help him with his important work. 1 Timothy 4:12 is a summary of the life Paul wanted Timothy to live as he ministered to others. He wrote…“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.“ The Bible has no problem with young people serving God... as long as they are mature and godly. Ecclesiastes 4:13 backs up this statement when it says, “Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to take warning.“ Don't let your age stop you from doing great things for your creator! Paul was also concerned on the quality of Timothy and his disciples and mentioned few areas of growth, which include: Speech: Are you using your words wisely to build others up and point them to God? Or are you tempted to bring people down and seek attention for yourself? Conduct: Are you seeking to live a Christ-like life, and align your actions to God's expectations? What areas of your conduct do you need to work on? Love: Are you humble, concerned for others, looking out for their best interests even when it comes at a cost to you? Faith: Are you trusting deeply in the promises of God for your life, or are you trusting in money, success or fame to make you happy? Purity: Is your life characterized by purity or do you struggle to control your desires? It doesn't matter about your age - what really matters is your heart and your actions.
If you're a person seeking to serve God, then go for it! But when you do, make sure your life is an example to others, and that you are seeking to live for Christ and not for selfish ambition. And if you know in your heart that you've got some big things to work on, ask God to help you become the sort of person he wants you to be... and work hard (through a discipleship relationship) on becoming more like Jesus.