Last week, I shared some thoughts about discipleship and helping us as believers realign our thinking about what it means. This week, I thought I’d offer some nuts and bolts ideas of what it really looks like in “real life” to disciple someone. Note that I believe that online discipleship is just as valid as in-person. The internet is full of real people.
As I also said last week, I believe discipleship begins the moment someone indicates an interest and continues after they have trusted Christ. So these tips should be useful for either a new believer or someone who is searching. Some of you may think these belong more on the side of evangelism than discipleship, and I’m okay with that!
1. Pray. It goes without saying, but sometimes in our enthusiasm we can leave it out. Pray to be available for and dependent upon God, pray for Him to bring people to you (or vice versa), pray to recollect the scriptures and explanations, pray for protection from spiritual attacks. Another good prayer is for the confidence and calm to know that it is the Holy Spirit who works in people, not your clever or perfect words or your persuasion.
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. [1 Cor. 2:1-5 ESV]
2. Listen. I cannot think of anything that ranks higher when first connecting with someone (except prayer). I can’t claim to be the best listener. I am a slow processor and it takes me time to grasp and draw conclusions about the information I hear. That often means I get overloaded easily and have to take solitude breaks to think through all I have heard before I can say something back of value. Perhaps that’s why I feel more at ease with discipleship online. Others don’t have that challenge and are probably very good at hearing the words then using “reflection” to validate and make sure the other person knows you heard them. Use the listening skill you are gifted with!
3. Look at the person as God sees them. I hope this is not becoming the cliche I’m afraid it is, because if so, we’re really not getting it. When Christ looked at people, He had compassion on them, as sheep without a shepherd [Matt. 9:36]. They’re wandering in the sense of being lost, but also in the sense of seeking fulfillment and meaning in the wrong places.
“All men are really seeking after God…but they do not all seek Him in the right way, nor at the right place. They seek Him down below, and He is up above. They seek Him on the earth, and He is in heaven. They seek Him afar, and He is nearby. They seek Him in money, in property, in fame, in power, and in passion; and He is to be found in the high and holy places, and with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit (Isa. 57:15). They seek Him and at the same time they flee Him…” – Herman Bavinck, Dutch Reformed theologian (1854-1921)
4. See the person scripturally. People walking in this world have their eyes blinded (2 Cor. 4:4), are in darkness and in the power of satan (Acts 26:18), think that the cross of Christ is foolishness (1 Cor. 18-25; 1 Cor. 2:14), and are only delivered from the darkness when God opens their spiritual eyes (Ps. 146:8; Col. 1:13).
5. Search for the heart motivation(s) behind their words. What comes out of a person reflects what rules their heart. You will never understand a person’s reason for anything until you get to their heart motivations. This means understanding where the person has been in their life, what they have experienced, and what their background is from childhood till now. All these things are an influence on who they are — and take time and trust to know.
6. Remember this is a person, not a number. God does not see success in numbers, but in being faithful in what you were entrusted with. It’s about ongoing, progressive change in individual lives. It’s about the stories of people displaying increased conformity to Christ.
7. Focus on how God is working, not what you’re doing. Your job is to be faithful and share the truth, not “sell” or “convert” someone. I’ve said so many times to myself after a conversation, “I should (or shouldn’t) have said this or that,” when the truth is, God will use even your imperfect words! When you have that conversation, it is because your paths — you and that person — were designed to converge. You were the person God chose to use with that specific person. Expect that God will work change in them if He is calling them to Himself.
8. When you don’t know the answer, ask your own question. I have read that if someone asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, it makes you look dumb or as if you have not fully thought through your faith if you say, “I don’t know.” Now I can understand in some sense and highly agree that we should strive to understand what it is we believe and why. But you will invariably be asked a question you may not know or do not immediately know how to fully articulate.
I would suggest one thing you can do is ask your own question(s) with the idea of understanding the motivation behind the original question the person asked. Asking “What makes you ask that?” or “What makes that an important question to you?” with “I’d like to understand a little more about your thinking” indicates empathy and interest. You show your sincere desire to see where the person is coming from. As you hear more of what is behind a person’s question, you may be more likely to be able to dialogue with them about it.
9. Be prepared [1 Peter 3:15]. There is a reason that people who are certified in emergency services like CPR are required to renew their certifications. If you don’t do something, you will fall out of practice and risk not being prepared to do it when the need arises. It’s really the same for sharing Christ. No, each person is not a cookie cutter formula, but seeking to know what it is you believe and why as well as being drenched in God’s word is a sure way to have the confidence when an opportunity to talk to someone comes up. Or even to create that opportunity.
10. Be real. I mean by that, don’t put on some phony, happy, Christianized “front” and make it seem to people that life as a believer is somehow always sunshine and roses. You and I both know that isn’t the case. Being in Christ doesn’t make our lives good all the time; rather He gives us the strength and tools to deal with the times when life is hard.
Feel free to chime in and add your own ideas to this list!
HT: Trevor Nashleanas for stirring my thinking on this!