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.
It was C. Norman Kraus who said, “The life of the church is its witness. The witness of the church is its life. The question of authentic witness is the question of authentic community” . Our unity and love for one another as followers of Jesus is a proof to the world that the heavenly Father sent Jesus to earth. Jesus prayed for his future disciples that “they would be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me” (John 17:23). Our unity is a proclamation of the gospel.
When the world sees our unity, it resonates with their innermost being because man was created not to live a detached existence, but rather to belong. Our unity may even make the world uncomfortable as it exposes their disconnection with others and with God.
Unity is at the heart of making disciples because it is rooted in the nature of God. Jesus came to earth to introduce the kingdom of God through demonstrating the unity he had with his own father. He said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?” (John 14:9-10). But he also worked for nearly three years to cultivate unity among his followers knowing that their relationships with one another would be a picture of the gospel to the world. He confronted anything that could cause disunity (e.g., arguing among themselves who was the greatest, Mark 9:33-34) and encouraged anything that would build unity. (“Love one another as I have loved you.” John 13:34-35)
Kevin (not his real name) was an atheist who had become friends with our group of disciples. Kevin later became a follower of Jesus and told us that the group’s love for each other was something that he had longed for his whole life. He had never had a place to belong. This love caused Kevin to re-investigate the very claims of Christianity that he had been earlier refuting.
Some closing thoughts:
Be intentional in building unity among your disciples.Talk to your disciples about unity. I have worked on 4 church staffs and 2 para-church organizations and do not recall ever having a deliberate plan to cultivate unity among the believers.
Believers love for one another and unity as disciples may be one of the best ways to reach atheists.
Making disciples should be done in a community (as Jesus demonstrated both with the twelve disciples and the other disciples in his home town of Capernaum.) It is in the interpersonal relationships among the group that love is learned and demonstrated.
 C. Norman Kraus, The Authentic Witness: Credibility and Authority (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 156.
Christianity is struggling in Chicago. Evangelicalism has spent thousands of dollars on advertising, church planting, and evangelistic outreach with disappointing results. Although the gospel is powerful, I wonder if we are hindered by our method. Christianity continues to approach Chicago as it has always done with church planters and missionaries working as “Lone Rangers,” even though we have the example of Jesus building and ministering from a team. Training His men, Jesus used fishing as a picture for making disciples. We envision a lone person with a rod and reel, while in the first century, fishing was a group effort netting multiple fish. It was no accident that Jesus wanted fishermen on His team.
The Holy Spirit gives each person an ability that works in harmony with the other team members. In our own community Jeremy is the energy behind us serving one another. Ryan and Abbie remind us of the lost people around us while Dan keeps us authentic. Prayer is Maureen’s passion, Randall leads us to give, Leah keeps us in the word, and Rachel has a hug for everyone. It is living in community that we have learned how to work together and how to love a variety of personalities. Unity is a choice that requires humility and hard work to keep a sure grip on the net.
The basis for this team approach is found in the nature of God. God is made up of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They exist in harmony, and out of their relationship flows an infinite love to the world through the cross of Jesus. A discipling team is a picture of God to the world by their love for one another as John describes in 1 John 4:12: “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” The team embodies our message.
Our mission is no more difficult than the Roman world of Jesus. As He faced the challenge by forming a team, so we also should form teams believing that our unity is the point of engagement with our culture. Our unity is how Chicago will be convinced that the Father has sent Jesus into the world. “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23).