Making Disciples (Part 1 of 2)

Note: This two-part article is a chapter from the book Teach As He Taught by Robert Delnay. Published by Moody Press in 1987, the chapter is reprinted by permission.

So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.
—Luke 14:33

The goal of our teaching is to make disciples. To make disciples we must make demands. A veteran missionary was explaining his success in planting several churches: “We have not been afraid to make demands on our converts.” Nor was Jesus.

The question we face is how many such demands we may rightly put upon our disciples. Many of us live with the desire not to put other people to any trouble, and if we want a lot done right, we prefer to do it ourselves. Why be obtrusive? Why be a bother? Is it not more Christlike to do favors than to ask for them, to give rather than to receive?

Well, not always.

Many have observed that Jesus did not do for people what they could do for themselves. He turned the water into wine, but others had to do the pouring. He healed the paralytic, but others had gone to the work of lowering him down into Jesus’ presence. The disciples prepared the Last Supper; only then did Jesus serve the food. He did wash their feet that night, but that was no exception when we consider what a powerful teaching device He made it.

It is not that Jesus was too proud to do menial work: “I am among you as he that serveth” (Luke 22:27). So may none of us become too proud to sweep floors, hang up other people’s coats, carry bedpans, or clean toilets. On the other hand, Acts 6 requires us to delegate just about everything that someone else could do, while we give ourselves to what they cannot do or do not do. To the apostles that meant that they spent themselves in the ministry of the Word and prayer.

As we consider Jesus’ demands, it must strike us that His claims are absolute. Jesus made many and sometimes heavy demands on His disciples, and we are going to have to repeat some of those demands. In making those demands, we know that in Christ we find no selfish motive; His demands were for the disciples’ own eternal good. What is more, He demanded commitments no heavier than those He made upon Himself.

Call Them to Discipleship

“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4: 19).

“Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you ” (John 15: 14).

The first demand that we make is our call to a potential disciple, and sooner or later we have to tell him what he is in for.

“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away? For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:23-26).

By the time that Jesus said that, the twelve had been preaching and healing for most of two years.

Whenever and however we do it, we are duty bound to tell our disciples, our students, what following Christ involves. Christ takes priority over family claims. To follow Him is to drag the cross that we expect to die upon. To follow Him is to renounce all claims to pride, to things, indeed to any will of our own.

Paul the apostle accepted those terms for himself. He repeatedly called himself the slave of Jesus Christ. In addition, he taught those claims to his converts. To the first churches that he gathered he gave warning that through much tribulation they must enter the kingdom of God.

Put Them to Work

From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He began calling disciples to follow Him (Matthew 4:18-22), and He seems to have taken them along on His preaching tours right away. John 4:2 implies that from the beginning of those tours Jesus had His disciples do the baptizing. Not long afterward Jesus spent a night in prayer and then called the twelve (Luke 6:12-16). Then some weeks or months later He sent them out to do what He had been doing (Matthew 9:35-10:42).

Note the order in which He did it:

  1. He preached and healed, permitting them to watch His ministry (9:35).
  2. He let them perceive the compassion that He felt toward the crowds (9:36).
  3. He commanded them to pray earnestly for workers (9:38).
  4. He gave them authority to cast out demons and to heal (10:1).
  5. He gave them a whole chapter of specific instruction and encouragements.
  6. He sent them out to serve.

Now, how do you follow that same pattern?

First, get some disciples and take them along to watch your ministry. You’re already pastoring a church? Then it will be easier. You are a missionary preaching at various engagements and take some of your students along.

Second, find ways to convey to them your honest concern for people. If we have anything in our hearts that regards people as sheep to be shorn of money or meals, we need to get that right before God, or we will damage the men we seek to train. They will surely grasp our insincerity. Worse, they might embrace our attitude as normal for themselves. If we genuinely care about the people we preach to, that care will get across to our students as the norm they are to live by.

Third, remind them of the believer’s authority over the powers of darkness (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:9). Nowhere in Scripture did God withdraw that authority of ours, which we use by the name and the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. We must realize that we do not have authority over disease, however (Acts 28:28; 2 Timothy 4:20).

Fourth, after giving your disciples a chance to watch you at work, you should instruct them as to what their service involves. Go over some contingencies and prepare them for trouble. Assure them of God’s jealous care over them. Warn them of the family disagreements that are likely to beset them. Remind them of the eternal rewards for serving Christ.

Finally, send them out to do the sort of ministry they watched you do.

How much should you monitor their work? Jesus seems not to have critiqued their preaching or healing, nor did He ever have them do any practice preaching; from the beginning their service was in real life situations. From the beginning He expected actual service.

We do well to follow the same pattern of reality service. In training our disciples, at no point are we to have them play parts, fill roles, or put on performances. Even in class we can insist on reality, or else we can send our workers to find reality on the outside.

Teach Them to Pray

From the beginning Jesus taught His disciples to pray. Only a few weeks after He first called them, they heard Him teach the Sermon on the Mount. Halfway through it He taught the basics of prayer: simple, trusting language to a loving Father, in secret, forgiving others in light of the forgiveness we have received (Matthew 6:5-15). He was teaching them to look to Him, and He concluded that period of His ministry by commanding them to pray - to plead - for laborers (Matthew 9:38). Jesus’ teaching makes no requirement for skill, only diligence.

How do we apply those steps? Clearly by giving to our students the instructions that the Lord gave us: we teach them to pray directly to the Father, simple and intimate language, with forgiveness for any wrong they may have suffered.

Some months later Jesus’ disciples were ready for more. After watching Him pray, one of them asked Him to teach them to pray (Luke 11: 1). Not how to pray; it is unlikely he had forgotten Matthew 6. He was now asking Him how to go on praying, how to spend time in prayer.

So how do we handle phase two? We follow Jesus’ example by first reviewing what He had already taught them, the pattern of the so-called Lord’s Prayer. Next we explain the principle of importunity, that if by returning again and again we can get answers from another person, how much more God the Father is going to respond to our continued coming.

Jesus’ last instructions turned out to be the disciples’ final exam on prayer. After the Last Supper He led them to the Garden of Gethsemane. There, with events impending that they could not imagine, He commanded that while He prayed they should stay awake and pray. Jesus then agonized in prayer, and the eleven went off to sleep. Jesus woke Peter and asked if he did not have the strength to pray for an hour. What could he answer? Then Jesus gave them a startling command–that if necessary, they should pray standing up, lest they enter into temptation (Luke 22:46).

Sadly, they all failed the final examination.

Do we really need to teach our students to pray? We cannot very well leave that duty to others. It is all too easy to assume that our students are already praying. Or we may believe that the subject is too personal to intrude upon. However, if teaching prayer is an intrusion, we may need to go ahead and intrude.

If we can teach the urgency and the sweetness of vital prayer, we will bring blessing on our students’ lives and ministries. If we fail to teach that urgency, we will convey the alternate message, that contact with God is not particularly important, and service in the flesh is a live option.

But Jesus demanded that His disciples pray.

Robert Delnay holds a Th.D. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. He has taught in a number of Bible colleges and seminaries and is currently an adjunct faculty member of Clearwater Christian College in Clearwater, Florida. His publications include A History of the Baptist Bible Union, Teach As He Taught, Fire in Your Pulpit, and numerous articles.

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