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This year, I learned one very big lesson about discipleship.
Discipleship is not about the end result; nor is it solely about the process.
When I first began discipling women in my church, I used a six-week book on the foundations of Christianity. At the end of the book, I expected to see a shiny new follower of Jesus ready to engage the world and culture for Christ.
And although I wouldn’t have admitted it to anyone, I solely thought of discipleship like investing. If I poured all my knowledge of the Bible into a vessel, something great would come out!
But at the end of the day, discipleship in the church planting context has taught me that producing new Christ-followers is not a strategy. Discipleship process is about sacrifice.
As the discipler, I must spend time to prepare, read up, do my homework to give that person adequate spiritual food to chew and digest. I must exert a lot of energy pulling my disciple through God’s Word and out of the muck of the world in which they are accustomed to sitting. I must eagerly spend all the resources at my disposal to ensure my disciple is adequately and securely grounded for living life among rough seas.
Typically, this is exhilarating – especially when at the end of that investment period, a disciple is actually produced. But many discipling relationships don’t end that way.
Discipleship is filled with setbacks and comebacks. There are redos and regrets. There are mistakes and miracles.
Sometimes a disciple loses interest.
Sometimes a disciple loses heart.
Sometimes a disciple loses a battle against the flesh.
That’s all very discouraging for the discipler, the one who has invested time, energy, and resources in churning out an effective disciple.
It’s easy to write the disciple off or wave the white flag at God asking to be released from the work the Great Commission requires. But it’s in those moments of discipleship despair that the call of the cross shines brightly.
As I was recently reminded by my pastor, discipleship is most commonly about sacrifice, not investment.
That’s a hard pill to swallow because even in the kingdom, we like the authority and position that comes with the discipleship roles of teacher, preacher, leader.
We like the sound of “investing” – investing in the kingdom, investing in our church, or investing in others. But because ‘investing’ promises a return on work rendered, it can easily speak of the work of our hands.
And if we are not careful, ‘investing’ in a disciple can quickly become a personal commendation of own wisdom or ability.
But I’m learning that I’m not called to make disciples because it’s a good kingdom investment (although it certainly is). Rather, I’m called to make disciples because the sacrifice it requires is a powerful way to live out the story of the cross.
The sacrifice of the cross is setting aside personal rights, commendations, or preference and setting the needs of others before our own. In order for discipleship to continue and thrive, the sacrifice of the cross must be the most prominent characteristic of a discipler.
So, what makes a successful discipleship ‘strategy’? I used to think it was the production of a certain number of effective disciples. Today, I believe that is the wrong question altogether.
In a church plant, where the laborers are scarce and the ground is hard, we come closer to seeing a kingdom reality when we ask “How costly is the discipleship process?”
And it doesn’t matter how much I invest in a disciple, because at the end of the day, when God asks me to disciple someone in his name, ultimately, he is showing me the depths of his sacrifice to make me his disciple in the first place.
Have you ever battled discouragement in discipling a new believer? How did you push past it to continue the hard work of the Great Commission? Share you story below!