Some people think of planned discipleship as a finish line. They think if they can just complete a discipleship program with someone, that will get the person across the spiritual finish line to a place where they are fully mature. Nothing could be further from the truth.
First, discipleship is not a program with a graduation ceremony. Discipleship lasts for life. Although you may move on to invest in other people, your disciples should always know you are available to them for life. Sometimes the biggest opportunity to impact a disciple is a late-night call from someone you haven’t seen in years. Because you invested in their life in the past, they know you are willing to help now.
Instead of a finish line, discipleship is more like a starting line. It’s a place where the process of growing in Christ can develop. He will take them to the finish line.
For most believers, God supplies us with multiple disciple-makers in our lives throughout the years. Just the right person, to teach us just the right thing, and just the right time. Each person’s discipleship is like a new starting line to begin the rest of your life. And every piece of the discipleship puzzle points to the our ultimate place as disciples of Christ.
So don’t sweat it if your disciple can’t quote the entire genealogy of Christ, the ten plagues of Egypt, or the twelve tribes of Israel. Instead, work hard to train them to keep running the race.
If Jesus really meant for disciple-makers to teach every detail to their disciples, then the Lord set a poor example for them. By His own admission in John 14:25-26, Jesus explains that there are more things to learn that the Holy Spirit will teach them while reminding them of things they learned personally from Christ. In other words, Christ did not “teach them everything” in the sense of exhaustive, literal facts while He was with them on Earth. So what did Jesus mean by “teach them to observe everything I have commanded?”
Christ meant for disciple-makers to live by His principle of teaching: To make sure that His disciples were trained in such a way that they would learn all things. In other words, He trained them in such a way that they would continue their education under the ministry of the Holy Spirit. This is just like the old saying, “Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.” Jesus was not satisfied to train His men to be dependent upon His physical presence with them—after all, he would only spend three years with them before ascending to Heaven. Instead, He transformed them into self-feeders with “ears to hear” (Matthew 11:15), so that when He was gone, they would be able to learn for themselves from the Scripture through the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Disciple-makers must always emphasize Christ’s discipleship over his own.
Our goal must be to disciple men to be life-long disciples of Christ through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He will shape them in ways that we are not able. In this way, if the disciple maker moves away, passes away, or fades away, the disciple is still growing.
John the Baptist is a great example. He gave His men a starting line. Then, when Christ came, He pointed and said, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Many of John’s men started following Christ. It was a perfect hand-off! Like John, we must understand that our discipleship is meant to lead to a greater discipleship with Christ. Eventually, we must decrease and He must increase (John 3:30). Discipleship is a starting line that helps people move to the next step in their spiritual lives. Like John the Baptist, disciple-makers don’t get disciples across the finish line, we just keep pointing them to the One who does.