Living life alongside people is hard. Let’s just call it like it is. People have many opinions formed from experience and personality. We take those opinions and preferences into relationships and then explosions can occur.
If I told you that disciple-making was easy, then I would be a liar. If I told you disciple-making was rewarding and worth the investment, then I would be telling the truth. However, be prepared to find hardened and frustrating places in yourself and others in the process. It is a risk, a journey, and a challenge because we are fallible humans who have conflicting emotions and experiences and outlooks.
It would be delightful to say I learned this from a textbook, but I tend to learn my lessons from the school of hard knocks in relational contexts. In my flesh, I am typically a rule-follower, a pleaser, a studier, a peacekeeper, one who does not seek debate or conflict (because it raises my blood pressure). God has certainly had to grow me A LOT in Him to be somewhat effective as a disciple-maker.
In the beginning of growing in disciple-making, I assumed you give people the right and true information, they process it that week and oila–growth. Growth was measured in my timing and my evaluation system and that breeds success on my part. You know that saying, “we plan and God laughs?” Yeah…so true.
This process could be true for some people because their heart was primed for the lesson in the moment. They were coming in hungry and the Spirit intersected their hearts to grow. Some people are coming in with a different perspective, a deeper wound, possibly a heart hardened by sin’s deceitfulness, or a heart that has not been regenerated (changed–brought to life in Christ) by the Spirit.
We can assume a lot and listen a little–that is a BAD combination. When we hear…”I want to grow in my relationship with Christ, will you walk with me?” The person might be saying “I have never had anyone listen or take an interest in me, will you spend some time with me?” or “I want to be challenged deeply to go beyond the status-quo, will you challenge me and ask me questions and dig deep into my heart?” or “I’ve really messed up and am lost as to what to do, will you make me feel better about my life?” All of these are different asks, and if we do not listen and ask for clarification, we could totally miss the boat.
So, here are a few things I would advise when beginning a disciple-making relationship with someone.
1. Ask their story…what they are looking for from you.
Listen…pray that the Spirit help you discern where the person is coming from. Are they a believer? Are they questioning about Christ? Are they seeking someone to fix them or seeking Christ to fix them? Are they a lonely person who wants connection? Do they want you to make them feel better about their life? Are they seeking wisdom or ease?
2. Is what they are asking, what you are seeking to give?
If I sense the person is seeking someone to just talk about life with, I am probably not the person for them. It is okay for me to say that because there are people who would fill that role well that I could connect with them. If I seek and that person asks for someone who will challenge them and set before them the truth of Christ no matter what, that is the person in which I am called to invest.
A wise disciple-maker once told me that he asks several questions before meeting consistently with someone to see what they are seeking…
1. Do you believe the Bible is God’s word in truth to live by?
2. If yes, are you asking me to help you study it and to point out, in grace and love, if there are any inconsistencies in your obedience on this journey?
The answer to these questions gives you a meter to read about the person. It also gives you a verbal agreement as to the direction you are going. It is, in a sense, permission to walk into hard places. Disciple-making is about the heart–not an outside set of circumstances, therefore, it is a very challenging investment.
3. Do you sense that the person is willing to do the heart work to grow? DEFINE the journey.
This is harder to sense. This is why you want to hear their story…how they talk about things. Do they blame others? Do they have a sense of their sinfulness? Do they know the gospel? Do they seem to know themselves or want to tackle deep issues? Do you sense commitment on their part–making meetings, doing homework, asking themselves hard questions?
DEFINE the journey you are about to go on…It is easier to be up front. What is your goal to lead them toward? What are you asking from them? Have them answer if they are willing to commit. I even define a time frame–usually 2 years…sometimes shorter seasons.
4. Are they exposed to/in Christian community? Are they willing to make relationships with other Christians apart from you?
If you are the only person speaking truth in their life, it will be a hard road–almost impossible. They need people around them wholly to help them grow. If they are not willing to commit to seek to that, I do not have a lot of hope for consistent growth or commitment on their part. It is also easier to hide things from you when no one else is around them holding them accountable.
Also ask… Do they have a set of issues that may be out of your wheelhouse–ie, eating disorders, alcohol or drug abuse, an abusive family life, sexual addiction, etc? If so, they may need some good counseling help alongside. There are certain issues that are really in need of professional help in order to come to healing–you may not be skilled to see how certain things fit together. If these issues are hijacking your time together and you feel stuck and there is not a forward motion in your time together, these may be indicators this person needs someone in addition to you.
Disciple-making is a commitment to love, share truth and grace and pray, pray, pray. I hope this helps to clarify some of the beginning questions.