“Discipleship” is such a broad and elastic term that we cannot really use it without first ensuring that our hearers and readers understand what we mean by it. Certainly, there are connotations that come to mind – spiritual disciplines such as prayer, Scripture memorization, Bible reading, Bible study, etc. – and they are part of the meaning of the word “discipleship.” We know we are like farmers; we cannot make ourselves grow spiritually any more than the farmer can make the crops grow. Just so, our spiritual progress is something only God’s Spirit can bring about in our lives.
But also like the farmer, who plows and plants and tends, what we can do, we must do. I am the one who must cultivate the habits that God can use to bring about life-change.
But if all we mean by “discipleship” is what we do to grow spiritually, if all our attention and efforts in discipleship are limited to the spiritual disciplines, we are missing the main point of Jesus’ mandate: to make disciples. Not just to grow ourselves, but to help others move toward spiritual maturity. A man or woman who is committed to “discipleship” as Jesus meant the term must give careful attention to how he or she can invest in the lives of others.
Jim Putman is one of the leading voices in the contemporary disciple-making movement. His recent blog post, Six Habits of an Effective Disciple-maker, describes the behavior patterns of the man or woman who has made disciple-making a way of life.
As you read through his list, you will probably find, as I did, some things you are doing now and other things you need to begin doing. Don’t let this (or any other such list) be a source of discouragement or dismay. As I have often said, when you find something in your life you realize you need to change – some habit you need to break, some new habit you need to form, some heart-change you know God wants to see – “pray from where you are.” Begin that process by asking God, “who gives to all men generously,” to give you what you need to bring about that change in your life: first, a warming and growing burden in your heart, then the wisdom and courage to go forward with that the changes He has brought about.
For my part, I am asking God to help me be more intentional about establishing relationships with people who are outside the faith (#2). My wife and I are praying for our neighbors and praying about ways to make connections with them.
I am involved now with several men whom I want to “equip toward spiritual maturity” (#5) and someday “release for ministry” (#6) to make disciples on their own.
As you survey the possibilities for the new year, think about someone you could come alongside to help him or her grow toward knowing Christ in a deeper way.