How are disciples of Jesus made?
New disciples are birthed when I die to my life and place others ahead of myself by serving them. It is not the act of service itself that changes the disciple; rather it is the death to self occurring in the discipler that produces spiritual life in the disciple. Jesus gives us the key to kingdom multiplication in John 12 when he says to his disciples:
“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” (John 12:23-26)
Paul viewed his ministry in this same way when he writes: “…so then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you” (2 Corinthians 4:12). It is critical that a servant’s heart is cultivated in each disciple in order that the multiplication of the kingdom will continue. Most church growth strategies focus on expansion on a corporate or group level. Either churches begin other churches or a small group multiplies my growing numerically and then dividing. I believe that Jesus intended for kingdom expansion to be on the individual level; each disciple producing another disciple.
How long should I serve a disciple, especially when there does not seem to be any progress?
This life change and multiplication process in a disciple will take longer than you thought it would and requires the discipler to patient. The disciple is often unaware of the significance of being served by his discipler until later. Jesus served the twelve for three years and yet on the night before his crucifixion the disciples were still debating among themselves who was the greatest (Luke 22:24). Once again the Lord used this opportunity to instruct and demonstrate the kingdom value of a servant’s heart. To be a follower of Jesus is to be servant.
There is a story of Jesus and his disciples that makes me smile every time I read it. They were getting settled into the house after a road trip, and Jesus asked the disciples, “What were you guys arguing about back there on the road?” Busted! The disciples answered him with silence because he had caught them arguing about which one of them was the greatest. Here is the exact account:
“They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.'” Mark 9:33-37
As followers of Jesus there is a particular “way” we are to relate to one another and live out our lives together (Luke actually calls Jesus’ new movement “The Way” in Acts). Jesus formed a group with the 12 disciples to have a relational laboratory in which to teach the values of the kingdom of God. The “way” kingdom disciples are to live is to consider others more important than themselves and to serve one another. Form any group, and there will eventually be conflict. Jesus was able to use each conflict that occurred among His disciples as a teaching point to expose the source of the conflict and also to provide them with the solution. The solution was found in the example of Jesus himself. He said to them, “…I am among you as one who serves,” (Luke 22:27) and “…just as I did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give my life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
A discipler’s instruction alone is not enough to form the kingdom values in the heart of his disciples and their community. It requires the discipler to demonstrate a servant’s heart by his actions and attitude.
- It is in community that the discipler can both teach each disciple how to serve the others, and illustrate a servant’s heart by his own life.
- Conflict in your community is not a disruption, but rather an opportunity to move the community toward serving one another.
- Help each individual to identify opportunities to serve the other members in the group. (Do not assume that they are aware of opportunities to serve. Our eyes are tuned to see ways for people to serve us, rather than to see how we can serve others.)
Taylor Gardner is the man who discipled me. His life is an illustration of a servant’s heart. One evening I received news that my dad had been severely hurt in a motorcycle accident hundreds of miles away. Though late at night, Taylor drove across the city to be with me and to make sure I was alright. I will never forget that act of kindness as long as I live. Taylor went on to serve me by opening up for me ministry opportunities, even when he knew he could have done a better job on his own.
As a discipler, serving your disciple is a necessary element in the relationship in order to cultivate within him a heart to follow Jesus. Unlike the world, the discipler is to serve his disciples rather than being the one served, as exemplified by Jesus himself. He not only taught about a servant’s heart, he demonstrated servanthood by serving his disciples in daily living, such as preparing breakfast and washing their feet, and in the ultimate act of service in laying down his life for them.
Disciple making requires more than a weekly Bible study with a disciple at Starbucks; it is living life together. As a discipler I must be acquainted well enough with the life of my disciple in order to see the opportunities to serve him and his family. I must also have the time available to serve my disciple when the opportunity does arise. This is why a discipler can only disciple a limited number of people. What good is it that I am aware of a need of my disciple, but I am not able to meet that need because I am too busy?
Here are a couple of lessons I have learned along the way about serving:
- The opportunities to serve your disciple will come at inopportune times. It is the sacrifice you make to meet that need of your disciple that empowers the act of service with love.
- Look for ways to serve your disciple in simple ways (like a ride to the airport), as well as a major event (such as a move).
- It is the responsibility of the discipler to cultivate such a degree of comfort in the relationship that the disciple is able to share a need with the discipler.
- An act of service says, “I love you.”