How to define a “faithful” disciple? How to know if one has been “made?” These two questions were pressed deep into my heart when I first realized that all my good work as the rector was not producing disciples as the Lord expected. I was getting pretty good at making denominational Christians, rooted in some Anglican traditions, but not enough were people following Christ Jesus as their Lord and Master.
It was easy for me to resolve the first question. If they have begun to follow the Lord Jesus, truly following him with serious attention, they are learning to be disciples. And I was reasonably sure that meant, for starters, learning to worship him in spirit and in truth, to pray to him, to open his word daily, to be generous, accountable to authority, and learning to love the brethren. Of these things I was sure. With those things internalized maturity in all things needful would come, I was sure. But how would I know if someone was now a “made disciple?” This was the Risen Lord’s Final Command. “Go, make….” (Mt 28:19) I prayed and prayed about this, and then it finally became clear to me: I would know someone had been made a disciple when I saw them discipling someone else. I would see that they had become a disciple-making disciple.
Surely this is to be seen clearly in the teaching Jesus gave on the night before he suffered and died. He told the disciples in training that they would “bear much fruit and prove to be [his] disciples. (John 15:8) There it is. How had I missed it for so long? Years of training, years of church life, years of ministry in the name of God, yet I did not see it. Welcome I understood. Gospel preaching and teaching, I understood. Conversion as my prayer for those in the flock, I understood. Nurture and equipping too, as concepts I understood. But replication as normative for a disciple? That I had never fully grasped. Until we see that, disciples making disciples, we have not learned the full meaning of our call to be “fishers of men.” (Mt 4:19)
What was missing that made this great omission so stark? I think now I can answer simply. No one I had known knew how to make a disciple in the Jesus way, and therefore I had never experienced it. I had never witnessed it in all its simplicity. Though I had read the New Testament many times over, I had never understood that the central focus was to make disciples who could make disciples. That was to be the test of my work. That was to become my metric for “effective and productive” ministry. (II Peter 1:8) Then God sent a servant into my life who understood the ways of the Lord, and I began to be discipled by him week by week, on the phone!
What the man I call Colorado Bob taught me was this. To disciple a man you need to meet with him regularly and talk about how you and he are seeking to follow God’s Word. You need to pray together, simply, that Jesus would guide your time together. You need to let the Holy Scriptures speak to practical struggles and joys. You must trust Jesus to be the master discipler, and constantly turn to him. That is it. That is discipling.
Next Week: Little Groups