When you know that God has initiated a relationship, you can also expect His help. You do not have to make the disciple over-dependent on you. You become a fellow labourer with God in producing another disciple of the Lord Jesus.
‘Who do people say the Son of man is?’ Jesus asked his disciples (Matt. 16:13). Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Matt. 16:16). On hearing this, Jesus said to Peter, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven’ (Matt. 16:17). Jesus was the discipler but Peter found out something that Jesus had never told him. He received a revelation from God. Similarly, when your disciple finds out things you did not tell him, don’t become offended but rejoice that God is working alongside you. Ultimately your goal is to help the new believer hear and obey God for himself. You want to present him as one who has become mature, no longer dependent on you.
God wants discipleship training to be an integral part of the life of every healthy church. Just as Jesus hand-picked and trained the men he wanted for discipling others, so disciplers should be trained and commissioned by the church before they are released to train others.
Not everyone should be encouraged to disciple others. The apostle Paul warned the Ephesian elders, ‘After I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them’ (Acts 20:29,30). Beware of lone disciplers who seek a personal following.
What’s the goal?
God told Elijah that Elisha would succeed him as prophet (1 Kings 19:16). To Elijah, this was not just a nice idea. It was his commission. Right from the word go, he knew exactly what he had to produce, and that goal would set the pattern for the training. After three years, Elijah could review his disciple’s progress and ask himself, ‘Is Elisha more like a prophet now than when I found him?’
Discipleship must have an objective. If a discipler doesn’t know what he’s trying to produce, how can he test his disciple’s progress? Your goal is not to place someone in permanent subordination but to prepare him for usefulness.
Elijah knew exactly what he was trying to make: a prophet to take his place. That knowledge gave both him and Elisha a firm foundation for the time they spent together. God told Moses, ‘Commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land’ (Deut. 3:28).
‘I charge you,’ said David to Solomon (1 Chron. 28:8). He then gave his sons the plans for the work on the temple, and continued, ‘Be strong and courageous, and do the work’ (1 Chron. 28:20). David left Solomon with no doubts about what he was meant to accomplish. Then he encouraged him to do it.
Commission and encourage
Paul said to Timothy, ‘I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction … discharge all the duties of your ministry’ (2 Tim. 4:1,2,5). Timothy knew what he was meant to be doing before he received the encouragement, ‘The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you’ (2 Tim. 4:22).
When Jesus sent out the Twelve, he first gave them specific instructions about what they should and should not do. ‘Do not go to the Gentiles or to the Samaritans but to the Israelites,’ he said. ‘Tell them that the kingdom of heaven is near. Heal people, raise the dead, and drive out demons. Take this, don’t take that. Beware of men. Keep going …’ (Matt. 10:1-28).
Then, having given them a definite goal, he continued, ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows’ (Matt. 10:29-31). First Jesus commissioned his disciples, then he offered words to encourage them.