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Jesus was the greatest disciple-maker in history and there were three things to His success in making disciples. Firstly, He was an intentional leader. Secondly, He made disciples in a relational environment. Thirdly, He followed a process that we can learn and repeat.
Intentional leadership is to know exactly what you are doing and when you are doing it. Jesus intentionally prepared His disciples to go out and make disciples and we are called by God to be an intentional leader who mentors others through the discipleship process. And to be intentional we need to know the process, we need to know where the disciples are at and we need to create a relational environment for them to grow.
Jesus knew the mission and He knew what the disciples needed in order to complete it.
Jim Putman says, “When I speak of intentional disciple-makers understanding the rules of the game, I mean they understand the basics of how this world works: where it came from, what will happen to it and to us in the end, and who we fight against. They know the goal of this life, the Christian’s responsibility in it, the purpose of their family and the team (the church), the proper use of the rule book (the Bible), and so on. Intentional disciple-makers must understand these things for themselves, and then they must teach them to future players. They must strive to develop a biblical worldview and then teach others to have the same.”
The only way to know where the disciples are at, is to be in relationship with them. Your role as a disciple-maker is similar to that of a parent. Every Christian begins with spiritual birth at salvation.
1 Peter 2:2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation.
Growing up as a Christian/Disciple is a process. Discipleship is not a class, or program. It is a process.
Stage 1: In the first stage, a person is spiritually dead, meaning that he or she has not been born again. This stage is characterized by the word unbelief. Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:1 that we were all dead and trespasses and sins. Without Christ, we are separated from God, who is life, so when we are separated from Him, we will eventually die a physical death. But this is not all. Without Christ, we are spiritually dead as well. Revelation 20:14 speaks of the second death, which will be experienced by all who enter eternity without receiving Christ. When we accept the good news – salvation through Christ – we are saved. At the moment of salvation, we are born again (see John 3:3-5). The Holy Spirit comes to indwell the believer and the process of spiritual growth starts. Yes, we will still die physically (until Jesus returns), but we will not experience eternal separation from God.
Stage 2: Every new Christian starts out as a spiritual infant. As new believers, they are excited and eager to learn. They know something has change, and they may even experience a spiritual high, which is great. Their unsaved friends often notice the difference, and infants are quick to announce their new faith to all who will listen. However, in many ways they tend to make messes. They are oblivious to what this new world is all about. They are characterized by the word ignorance. They might know many things, but they are ignorant of the rules in their new spiritual life.
Stage 3: As they grow, spiritual infants move into the spiritual child stage of development. At this point, they understand the basic language of faith. They can be excited about their faith, and in many ways they are innocent and cute. However, they still act childishly and are often rebellious and self-centered in many ways. Spiritual children tend to do what they should only when they are rewarded or threatened with some kind of punishment. They may do the right thing, but it’s usually to avoid an outcome they dislike or to get something they want.
Stage 4: As spiritual children grow up, they mature into the spiritual young adult stage. At this stage, they have grown tremendously from where they started. They are eager to serve, think independently, and look much like adults; however, they still have much to learn about responsibility and about how to care for the spiritual needs of others. They are zealous for God and can be characterized as being “God-focused” and “other-centered”. They are becoming intentional or strategic about sharing their faith and will see people converted, but they are not yet able to reproduce disciples who can make disciples. They serve intentionally but don’t make disciples intentionally. They want their independence, and in some cases they should have it, but they need continued coaching/parenting.
Stage 5: In the final stage of spiritual development, we become spiritually mature enough to reproduce disciples – we become spiritual parents. I am purposely using the term parent here rather than adult. As Christians we are called to make disciples – to do our part to reproduce our faith in another. Adults are able to reproduce, but that does not mean they are reproducing. I know many Christians who have the ability to be spiritual parents but don’t make it a priority. Though they would like to call themselves mature, I would say that they are not. Why? Because they have not prioritized their lives around the mission of Christ, which is to make disciples. Just as the human race continues because we physically reproduce, so Christianity continues on this planet because Christians spiritually reproduce or make disciples.
Note: I want to emphasize that assessment is not a way of designating one believer as more valuable than another. It’s very important that disciple-makers and disciples understand the difference between value and usefulness. While a mature Christian is more useful to the purpose of the Lord and the church than a spiritual infant or child, he or she is not more valuable.