One way to get know your disciple is by getting to know his parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents through family stories. Here you are looking for relational tendencies, values, character traits, and dysfunctions that have been passed down through the generations. Most people I disciple have given little consideration to their parent’s relationship to their grandparents, or their grandparent’s relationship to their great-grandparents, even though we are all products of preceding generations. Family stories are a mirror for your disciple to see himself.
Several years ago I wanted to get to know my dad and mom better so I set out to discover some of their childhood stories. My dad is from upstate New York so one summer I loaded him in the car and film in my camera and we toured the places of his youth. Later I did the same with my mom visiting her old stomping grounds in the Indiana Harbor. In both cases they were almost compelled to tell the stories of the past as memories were stirred by revisiting the houses, schools, neighborhoods, cemeteries, and churches of their childhood. I learned about people and events that I would have never known about apart from these trips down memory lane with my parents. Dad told me how as a boy on cold Sunday mornings he would build a fire in the woodstove at the Emory Chapel, which was built in 1833, so that the church would be warm when the congregation arrived since his family lived nearest to the country chapel. Mom told of her Yugoslavian neighbor, Mrs. Horvat, who taught my grandmother how to make stuff cabbage, which to this day is my favorite meal.
The best way to gather information about a person is through stories rather than asking direct questions. Story telling unlocks the memories of the heart. Often I have had a disciple say, “I just don’t remember much from my childhood”, but as you get him telling stories he will start remembering things and then say, “I haven’t thought of that in years!” or “I had totally forgotten about that.”
A couple points in closing:
Memories can be locked up by fear and shame. Story telling is a backdoor entrance to your disciple’s heart.
Telling his childhood stories can be emotional for your disciple. Just yesterday a guy got choked up as he was telling me about his childhood.
Together my disciple and I build a timeline of his life, which helps him remember the stories of his youth and helps me keep his story straight.
When possible visit the hometown of your disciple. I find it intriguing that most of Jesus’ disciples were from around the town of Capernaum, which was the base of operation for Jesus’ ministry. Jesus would have known some of his disciples’ families.
Each Tuesday evening our group of disciples has dinner together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. This past week during our table discussion there was a frank honesty about our childhoods and how each of us had felt like we had not belonged anywhere while growing up. We had lived a detached existence.
Making followers of Jesus must be done in a group. A large part of the disciple making process is accomplished through my disciple learning how to interrelate with his brothers and sisters in the family of God. I have wondered how much of Jesus’ training of the twelve was achieved through the disciples learning how to live together for three years vs. the “classroom” instruction of Jesus. I have also wondered how much of the teaching of Jesus flowed out of the conflicts between the disciples not too dissimilar from a parent using sibling discord as a teaching moment for his children.
The essence of our God is the familial interconnectedness of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Their identity is found in the eternal love bond to the other persons of the Godhead. Because we are created in the image of God a disciple can only come to understand his identity and purpose by integrating into a family context with his heavenly Father and his spiritual siblings. In contrast, our culture pushes him toward individualism and independence, which can only lead to confusion and ultimately self-destruction.
Just as a my disciple cannot know himself or understand his giftedness apart from being in this family context, so I cannot know my disciple apart from seeing him interact with his spiritual siblings. His relationship with God is not visible to me which means he can deceive me into thinking he has a good relationship with God when in reality he may not. One way I can get a glimpse into my disciple’s relationship with the heavenly Father is through seeing how he relates to others and how others relate to him.
How I view my disciple has a powerful effect upon him. It is impossible to hide from another what I truly think about him. A channel of subliminal communication between my inner man and the hearts of others transmits my true thoughts and feelings no matter how hard I try and conceal them.
My disciple is a child of God who is the apple of His Father’s eye so my view of him and care for him should be such that it pleases his heavenly Father. Even how I speak of him to others is important because God is listening in on all my conversations. One way for me to express love to God is to love and honor His child.
Between the Borst and Quigley families there are six young children in our group in Chicago. This was their first week of school so at our family gathering we prayed for each child by name asking the Lord to bless them and protect them this school year. Now I am not sure in ten years that any of the children will remember that we prayed for them last night but I doubt their parents will ever forget that moment. Matt and Stacey Borst, Jeremy and Julia Quigley all love their children and one way to love them is to love their children. Recently Matt told me that nothing gets to his heart as a dad than for someone to love his kids.
I am sure that the heavenly Father’s heart swelled with delight when Paul told his disciples in Thessalonica: “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, youare our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19).
“How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you” (1 Thessalonians 3:9).
Friendships are a mirror of who a person is. If you want to understand your disciple, get to know his friends. Your disciple has chosen his friends and his friends have chosen him.
Parents, you should not be nearly as concerned about friends being a bad influence on your child as who your son or daughter chooses as a friend because the choice of friends is a reliable indicator of the inner man of your child. Another window into your child’s heart is who chooses your son or daughter as a friend, because like attracts like. Children know how to deceive their parents, teachers, coaches, youth pastors, and disciplers but friendships expose a person for who he really is.
Often when I point out this friendship mirror principle to my disciples it makes them uncomfortable. One guy recently said to me, “But I don’t want to become like my friends!” even though he was already exactly like his friends. It is comfortable to live in denial believing that I am in a better condition than my friends, when in reality friendships are an accurate diagnostic tool for my heart condition.
Love limits. When a man says “I do” to his wife, he says “I don’t” to all other women and when a couple decides to have children they choose a lifestyle that is limiting in comparison to their childless friends. Recently I attended my nephew’s wedding. Both sets of his grandparents are still living whose combined years of marriage is 114. I was moved at the sight of a room full of their direct descendants who all love and enjoy one another. We willingly set margins around our family so that love will multiply to future generations. To neglect a marriage leads to divorce and to neglect a child results in a wounded person, which both break the love continuum.
Christianity accepts the setting of boundaries to effectively love our families but for some reason we do not apply that same principle to our ministries. I can only love a limited number of people, so to choose a disciple making approach to ministry (which in a word is love) means to limit the number of people to whom I can minister. To not limit the number of people in my ministry is to actually hinder the gospel multiplication process, but if I can remain disciplined and love my few disciples well, in the long run there will be a continual multiplication of love for generations to come.
Recently I was with a Jewish couple that had converted from Judaism to Christianity. One difficulty in the transition was the home life. Judaism had provided for them a template for a Jewish home (e.g., keeping the Sabbath, Passover, and feasts, etc.), whereas Christianity gave them little help on what a Christian home should look like. (Other than they were told to be sure and get their children into Sunday school and youth group.) As Voddie Baucham points out, Christianity’s approach to ministry communicates to parents: “leave the spiritual training of your children to the professions.” 
God gave the Israelite parent the responsibility for the spiritual training of their child. To be an Israelite meant to train children for a lifetime-not only were they expected to teach their own children but also their grandchildren. “…teach them to your children and to their children after them.” (Deuteronomy 4:9-10)
Since God is familial (Father-Son-Holy Spirit) the best environment for a child to learn and experience the nature of God is in a family. Are there benefits for a child in attending Sunday school, children’s ministry, vacation bible school, and youth group? Sure. But the best context for him to experience sacrificial love, belonging, grace, and a servant’s heart is in a home. Here, day after day, year after year, a child learns what it means to belong in a family just as the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are in perfect union.
Around 80% of the children who are raised in an evangelical church will leave Christianity at college . If the number were 50% we should be concerned, but at 80% alarmed. Yet churches seem to be more concern about their numerical growth than they do about losing their own kids. Churches spend thousands of dollars on church growth conferences, consultants, and materials searching for the key to their expansion, while spending comparatively few resources to help parents with their marriages or on how to disciple their children.
In many cases if a married couple volunteers for ministry in their church, they will be required to have some type of training and be under the apprenticeship of an experienced leader for a period of time. But when a couple announces to that same church that they are expecting their first child they will given little or no training on how to raise that child.
There is something inconsistent about strategizing on how to reach our community and the world when we are unable to reach our own children.
 Glen Schultz, Kingdom Education; 2002 Southern Baptist Council on the Family.
Sin is the principal issue in your disciple’s life. Man was designed to love and to be loved, sin prevents both. It has estranged him from God and alienated him from others. It has opened his life to the dark force of shame; a shame that prevents him from drawing near to God and prohibits him from building authentic relationships. When man lives a detached existence his behavior becomes unstable, erratic, and often self-destructive as he explores ways to attach to others and to belong.
As a discipler, one of your first concerns should be to gain an understanding of your disciple’s perspective of his sin, the cross of Jesus, and his relationship to it. There are even those who grew up in Christian homes and gospel centered churches that have not been able to apply the gospel to their lives. Pride and disbelief will cause your disciple to make himself the exception to the rule by believing that he has sinned beyond the patience of God. He must humble himself and acknowledge that he can do nothing to pay for his sin. His forgiveness is a gift from God because of his mercy and love.
The truth of the good news of Jesus is best learned and experienced in the context of a loving relationship with a parent or a discipler. The parent/discipler provides an environment of love and forgiveness which illustrates the gospel for the disciple as he explores the gospel and applies its truth to his sin.
A couple of closing thoughts:
Most people (including believers) will never have anyone talk with them about their sin and the application of the gospel to their lives. If you do not discuss it with your child or disciple probably no one will.
Just because someone has “made a profession of faith” at some point in his life does not mean he believes he is forgiven by God today.
Your disciple’s behavior, rather than his words, is an indicator of his understanding of the gospel. (Is your disciple comfortable with God? Does your disciple love others well? Does your disciple receive love well? Is his life style contradictory?)
Our God is love. Our message of the gospel is love. Our love for one another is an expression of the gospel. Love is a reliable test of a person’s understanding of the gospel.
Making disciples of Jesus is best done in the context of your home, whether for your natural children or your spiritual children. Disciples are the children of God; therefore the home is an ideal environment for a disciple to experience, (1) the parental nature of God, (2) what it means to belong to a family, (3) how to love and serve others, and (4) how to attach to brothers and sisters. Children can witness what it means to follow Jesus by observing the daily lives of their parents in various circumstances.
In the West we tend to compartmentalize our lives, often separating our ministry from our home. Even when ministry is conducted in the home, it tends to be done as a “study” or “meeting” rather than being a family gathering. (In the many small group training conferences that I have attended, never did “family” or “a meal” enter the discussion. A house was only a convenient place to hold a meeting.)
Some Benefits of Hospitality:
Hospitality provides you an opportunity to serve your disciple. (Serving is another way to say “I love you”.)
Hospitality opens up your life to your disciple. (A person’s home tells a lot about a person. I have been in very few homes of pastors or church leaders.)
Hospitality provides your disciple an opportunity to observe how you relate to your wife and children.
Hospitality provides an opportunity for your children to serve others and to learn how to share.
Hospitality provides an opportunity for your children to love others and for others to love your children. (A hug from a 4 year old will melt any heart.)
Hospitality provides an opportunity for your children to observe how you minister and interact with others.
Hospitality provides a place for your disciple to belong.
Hospitality provides a place for your disciple to serve. (Help cook, help clean up, help with the children)
Hospitality provides you an opportunity for you to observe how your disciple relates to others.
The types of leaders that are necessary to begin and sustain a multiplication of the kingdom of God are Godly moms and dads. The instruction, encouragement, kindness, time and sacrificial love that go into raising Godly children are the same necessary ingredients to make followers of Jesus. Paul reveals his own parental approach to disciple making in 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 where he writes: “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.”
Yet, sadly, the same parents who have raised Godly children feel inadequate to make disciples of Jesus because Christianity has made discipling an educational method through curriculum, classrooms, and certification rather than a family relationship. I believe that the church has passed over kingdom leaders because they were not perceived as qualified, even though they have raised Godly children. I am now challenging parents to help advance the kingdom of God by making followers of Jesus in the same way that they raised their children.
The church (ekklesia) is made up of the children of God, and so it only seems consistent that we would function as a family on earth. Families cannot be run as an organization, and yet Christianity approaches the church as an organization as seen in the way it recruits and trains its leaders. The starting point for recruiting church leaders are with men with post-graduate degrees from religious education institutions The seminaries instruct their students in theology and church leadership, but how much preparation do these students have in how to be a good husband, wife, or parent?
I attended a pastor’s conference where business and military leaders challenged us to take the leadership principles from their organizations and apply them to our churches. One pastor said that the same leadership training he was giving us he also used to help businesses. This is not to say that there is no authority, structure, or accountability in the church; healthy families have all these things. I also am not suggesting that a leader of a business cannot be an effective leader in the church, or that pastors do not have helpful insights for the business world, but there is a marked difference between how a business and a family functions.
Here are a couple of action points I am working on:
I am rereading the New Testament with the lens of viewing the church (ekklesia) as the “family of God.”
I am recruiting Godly dads and moms, who could never imagine themselves making disciples or as kingdom leaders, to disciple others in the same way they raised their own children.
I am interviewing Godly moms and dads for insights into how they raised their children and applying it to how I can disciple others.