‘Where are you’ as a disciple maker

Recently I have been spending time with a group of young leaders who are part of a large church. They have been meeting as a group to share how they can more effectively make disciples. As part of their journey I shared the following story.

My friend Bob once got lost in a large shopping centre. It was the height of the Christmas season and shopping was in full swing. He had some idea of what he was looking for, but, amid all the crowds and confusion, he lost his sense of direction.  At that point he did what most of us would do. He found a directory and looked for the “you are here” tab. Unfortunately it was gone. All he saw was a big map of the shopping centre. Without that tab telling him where he was, the directory was useless.

These young leaders pointed out that they feel a lot like my friend Bob when it comes to making disciples. They don’t have a clear enough “your are here” point in their lives and so they are often confused as they attempt to disciple people, especially those who have had little or no contact with Jesus.

They all believe that a discipler is not called to make ‘converts’, invite people to ‘church’, remove people from their normal networks or even take Jesus with them into the market place. They have seen how Jesus is already there loving people, relating to people, drawing people. They are also aware that discipleship begins and builds with every single encounter they have with another person and they are careful to imprint people first and foremost on Jesus who is the only one who can change a person’s life. Nothing else, no matter how important we think it is, can replace Jesus.

With those things in mind, we re-visited the basic principles on which our encounter with people is built to sure up the “your are here” point in their lives and deal with some of the confused they felt.

  • Making Disciples has never been a go-it-alone journey, in spite of our tendency to make it that way. God has called us to work in partnerships with others (Heb 10:24-25).  God intended that believers join one another in walking through life. We can encourage one another when we become overwhelmed or lose sight of our destination.
  • Discipling isn’t about being an expert. Is there knowledge involved? Absolutely! But the most crucial knowledge focuses on areas like listening and asking good questions. Disciplers don’t need to have all the right answers so they can tell people what to do. It’s not about listening to the discipler – it’s about helping others to learn to listen to Jesus for themselves.
  • Discipleship is a process, not a conclusion. We never arrive. As we grow we’ll need to continue refocusing throughout our lives. We never know where each disciple will end up.
  • Discipling is a spiritual process. Listening to Jesus and responding doesn’t always translate neatly. Jesus often intervenes in surprising ways.  The best I can do as a discipler is listen to Jesus as well as help others to listen to Jesus for themselves. Trying to push my agenda is the quickest route to stifling a person’s journey of discovery. Discipling is like painting. Every painting will be unique, for we are all uniquely made in God’s image and he has a different path for each of us.
  • Listening is the essential cornerstone of every relationship. How do you get to know someone? By listening. How do you build trust? By listening. When I was younger, I remember being in conversation and interacting with others. I was partly listening but mostly trying to frame what I wanted to say next, so I wasn’t really paying full attention to what the other person was saying. And,at some level, the other person always knew that. As I’ve grown in my life and my ministry, I’ve begun to realize the power of listening. The art of it is actually to capture what the other person is saying, and to do that without interpreting, evaluating, or guiding them in a particular direction.
  • After listening, asking good questions is the next most important aspect of building a strong discipling relationship. Powerful questions can help people feel valued, which in turn will help build trust. So what makes a question good? Good questions don’t have to be complicated to be powerful – simple queries like “So what’s next?” can produce a wealth of insight. In fact, one simple rule of thumb will carry you far: ask open-ended questions. An open-ended question is one that cannot be answered with yes or no. If you ask someone,“What is the most important issue you are facing right now?” they must think about their answer. Remember that disciplers ask questions for the purpose of helping others discover what Jesus wants them to do next.

Remember three simple rules:

  • Don’t rush to give advice
  • Don’t tell people something they can discover with Jesus
  • Don’t fix problems for them.
  • Use people’s own stories and experiences to draw out feelings, desires, confusing thoughts and times when Jesus has intervened in their lives (even though they may not have considered that thought). You may have been encouraged to share your story (and there may be a time for that) but another individual usually can’t identify with our story because it is well removed from their world.

These young leaders had been introduced to a very systematic method of discipleship that was popular between the 1950’s and 1980’s. They have tried to use this method but it is obvious that it is less effective these days. They are now encountering a different discipling style that is relational, organic and missional. While still being intentional, the focus is to walk beside a potential disciple, encouraging them as they encountered Jesus and tapping into all that God had placed within that person. This approach will forever changed the way these young leaders make disciples.

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