There is a leadership saying, "you can't lead someone to a place that you've never been." To confidently lead someone, you have to know where you are taking them and how you're going to get there. For example, if someone is following you in a car through the streets of downtown Chicago, if you don't know where you're going you'll be so focused on what's in front of you, you might forget all about the person behind you and quickly separate from them. But if you confidently know the route, you don't have to be so focused on what's in front of you, and you can continually look back in your rearview mirror to make sure they are with you. Essentially, you're free to focus on them rather than on yourself. This only comes from having been there yourself.
This is true not only when it comes to leading someone to a physical destination, but it's also true when thinking about a spiritual destination.
Last week I posed the question, how do you make a disciple? That is the call of Jesus, isn't it? As He ascends back to the Father at the end of Matthew's gospel, He leaves His followers with the charge to go into the world and make disciples (Matt. 28:19). But how do you actually do it?
Before you can make a disciple, you have to be one yourself. You can't lead someone to a place you've never been. You can't shape something in someone you don't possess.
So, before we can ask "how do you make disciples," we first have to ask, "what is a disciple?" Perhaps a metaphor will help.
My brother is an electrician. To become a licensed electrician, he had to go to school, do lots of reading and studying, and take a variety of exams. But that wasn't all. He also had to work side by side with an already licensed electrician. He would go to the job site with him every day. He would watch how the licensed electrician did certain things. Eventually, he was given the opportunity to do different tasks, and the licensed electrician would check over his work and sign off on it. In this season of his career, the title my brother had was an apprentice.
I think the image of an apprentice does a good job of capturing the nature of a disciple. An apprentice is a learner, but specifically a hands-on learner. It's one thing to learn in a classroom setting, it's another to learn out in the field. This is true not only for electricians but also for Christians.
Our modern-day vision of discipleship is often one of two things. It's either intense Bible study, mining out the deep truths of scripture to grow in our knowledge of God, or showing up to an inspirational service to get your spiritual fix and fill for the week ahead. While studying scriptures and gathering for corporate worship are important, by themselves they fall short of biblical discipleship.
I would suggest that true discipleship requires engaging in kingdom-oriented ministry with others and with Jesus.
My brother would not be an electrician if all he did was read about the work of an electrician, or sit in a classroom and learn about electricity, or be inspired while watching other electricians work. For him to legitimately says he's an electrician, he has to do the work of one.
In Mark 3, Jesus chooses his disciples. We read,
Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. (v13-15)
This moment teaches us that discipleship is being with Jesus, in order to learn from Jesus, so that we can live like Jesus.
That means discipleship has a relational component (being with Jesus), an educational component (learning from Jesus), and a practical application component (doing the things Jesus did, i.e. - kingdom ministry).
Before you seek to make disciples, you first have to ask the question, am I a disciple? Am I spending regular time with Jesus? Am I being taught by His Spirit, ultimately to engage in bearing witness to His rule and reign in my life?
If the answer is yes, the next question is, what do I do to bring others along on this journey?