Restoring the Missing Christian Art of Discipleship
Men of God don’t just happen, the Bible tells us they are made. God provides the call and, although that can sometimes mean isolated periods of training, in the end we all need the galvanizing effects which result from the process of discipleship. This is what Jesus modeled as the foundational approach to extending the faith He taught. We must do more than seeking the sensitive, lecturing the curious or dazzling the immature with charismatic displays! Jesus intentionally established an interdependent, ‘body’-centered mentality within the original concept of Christianity so He could multiply Himself through those who gather in His name!
Spiritual men are made right there at the joining points where two or three believers converge in kingdom activity. Paul taught that each of us have something important to contribute to all of us. It seems even the practical process itself of helping others progress ties us together in the bigger plan of Christ. However, just as any particular people group or animal species can disappear from this planet when there are no longer enough active reproducing members to keep their DNA circulating among the population, believers can also fail to pass on the most important spiritual things which have been passed down to them. If you need proof, take a close look at Christianity today. It has become so man-made by substituting either volunteers or paid positions where the making of godly men is required. Godly women can still be found but where strong male leadership is lacking, the true essence of the faith is in danger of extinction!
Now, we know that the church of the living God will never disappear completely because the gates of hell cannot ultimately prevail against it. Jesus said this Himself but He also asked a very telling rhetorical question designed to keep us on our toes as believers. Luke 18:8b says, “…Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the Earth?” He found very little of it in the religious establishment of the nation of Israel when He came the first time, inferring to me that it will be much the same the second time around with ‘believers’! The Lord called us to multiply but we have been so divided by the strategic attacks of darkness throughout history until we seem to no longer perceive the extent of our problems. One of the primary indicators of our own faith is that we are purposefully passing it along to others.
Wake-up calls help us recognize what time it is so we can take action at the crucial moments of life. Today, we need to be reminded to do what many of us have been taught to always do. Remember what the Word of God says about the subject – every subject – not just the ones we are comfortably familiar with. In this case, scripture clearly tells us what we should be doing. According to Matthew 28:19, we must never forget to, “…make disciples of all nations…” as a part of Jesus’ mandate to preach and teach the gospel to every portion of the globe. He promised to be with us and verify us in this process, but is this the process we are involved in? By every modern statistic it seems we have stagnated in our ability to advance Bible Christianity effectively here in the western world. This must mean we have stopped doing the basic things Jesus commanded us to do. Disciples stick together in the Lord so if we aren’t sticky we aren’t mature. Children can’t reproduce, only fathers and mothers can.
Therefore, the answer we are looking for in this article is how to get back to the Word in the making of men and women of God. Winning souls and making disciples go together like a hand and glove. The ‘glove’ that protects the ‘hand’ is discipleship, or leadership mentoring if you want to call it something more up-to-date. Regardless of labels, lets stick to the Word to ensure spiritual results. Again, disciples are MADE, they can’t be imported at a cheaper price. So, lets get back to producing or rather reproducing the things God has invested in us. This means asking ourselves how we let the image and nature of God inside our own lives, families and churches spiritually touch and practically effect the lives of others.
This is an area I am familiar with, having been used along with my wife to disciple many young men and women over the past nearly 30 years of ministry. I’ve taken some helpful ideas from God’s Word, interjected some of my experiences and compiled 5 simple ways to remind men of God how they can keep transferring His purpose, presence and power to key people in their sphere of influence. Everybody is your potential disciple, even those you are first leading to Christ. With this mindset and a few of the following reminders I know you can leave a legacy and prepare people to be part of the powerful remnant of active believers Jesus will be pleasantly ‘surprised’ to find faithfully doing the same at His return!
Part 1 – FOLLOW THE LEADER TO LEAD THE FOLLOWERS
This section will help us model the nature of a spiritual mentor by reminding us how follow God’s lead. Without the wisdom of the Holy Spirit we only lead others into our ditch. On the other hand, by learning His ways we can help others find their way even when the specifics of their individual call is very different from our own.
“However, when He, the Spirit of Truth has come, He will guide you into all Truth; for He will not speak of His own authority, but He whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.”
John 16:13-14 NKJV
According to our text, the Holy Spirit is the heavenly messenger and tour guide for our spiritual expedition throughout this life. His job is to ‘lead’ us into all truth and our job is to ‘follow’ as we are being groomed to be Jesus’ “body” or His spiritual leadership on the earth. The problem is that too many believers want to lead before they know how to ‘be led!’
It is a very real and present danger that so many churches are occupied by unspiritual people with carnally oriented leaders, all trying to convince unbelievers to obey the God they do not listen to themselves! In this way the church shames itself without even realizing it, giving society a license to label it as outdated and hypocritical.
We can only become light to humanity by first learning to be enlightened by the Holy Spirit. Notice how the Spirit of God was provided in the absence of Jesus Himself to equip believers with everything needed to successfully navigate through this life for God.
The word ‘guide’ here literally means that God’s Spirit has been given to us as our ‘conductor’ or ‘route leader.’ If we are willing to follow and do things His way, the Bible tells us that He will take us where we need to go in order to fulfill our destiny; which is God’s will. He will helm and pilot the business of the church in such a way to cause it to be a conductor of His business!
‘Learning to be led’ becomes your life’s map through this lost world, and a marker of God’s hidden treasures for other seeking souls!
Three Facets Of Spiritual Leadership
There are three specific areas of knowledge the Holy Spirit wants to introduce into us for purposes of leadership. Firstly, He guides us into the proper expression of God. He doesn’t speak on His own behalf or with the warped, confused and selfish ambition of evil spirits. Because He too is an adept follower, He can expertly convey precisely what Jesus wants communicated to His church. Just as the Lord spoke to His followers when He was incarnate, so He still speaks clearly to us today when we listen to the inner urgings of the Holy Spirit.
Secondly, Jesus said the Spirit would foster accurate understanding of the deep, secret things God has reserved for us. When God decides to speak and we determine to listen with our heart, we attain the ability to know what is ahead of us. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said the disclosure of hidden spiritual information is the very foundation on which He would build the church and empower it to prevail.
Thirdly, the Holy Spirit’s purpose is to glorify, or to exalt and honor Jesus Christ. Have you ever tried to pray directly to the Holy Spirit? He will always redirect and point our focus to Jesus. He does this by taking the Lord’s words and transmitting them to us. The result is that we have access to consistent answers for every circumstance that Jesus confronted while on earth and that we presently face. We become His extension in this world, saying what He said, doing what He did while giving Him all the credit. The literal job description of the church is to keep the spiritual cycle of godly honor going! He honors us so we will honor Him so He can continue to honor us so we can continue to honor Him…until there is so much Jesus worship in His church that it creates an environment where His Presence abides to the extent that there is no visible separation between Christ and His body!!
Three Avenues Of Spiritual Influence
The role of spiritual leadership is a serious concern for any Christian. The Holy Spirit’s job is to guide us into absolute Truth by taking who/what Jesus is/has then transferring these characteristics and dynamics to us. As a result we gain something real which is spiritual in origin to offer and to help lead others. The more proficient we become at following God, the more able we are to influence others for Him. This is spiritual leadership.
According to our scripture, Jesus subtly tells us there are three general avenues by which the Holy Spirit influences believers. Notice that He specifically helps us to first RECOGNIZE the voice of the Lord. He then moves to RELAY what Jesus is saying to His followers. Finally, the Holy Spirit REVEALS the meaning of what has been said. If you want to be someone who goes beyond lip service to fulfill the will of God for your life, then you must learn the language of the Holy Spirit, follow His lead, and lead others to follow Him.
Modern computer technology is based on the concept of ‘Pattern Recognition.’ The higher the capability a computer model has of recognizing the patterns that are encoded in various kinds of software, the more useful it is to its owner. In the same way the more sensitive we are to the Holy Spirit and His patterns of leadership the more useful we become at training, mentoring and supervising other believers who are less qualified than ourselves. We have to realize ahead of time that The Holy Spirit is going to speak to us in ways that are often foreign to the way we think, and introduce us to experiences we have never had before.
God is a spirit and so are we, but this mind and body we are encased in while on earth orients us toward relying on reason and logic rather than Spirit and absolute Truth. In scripture, the Holy Spirit is often compared to such free-moving elements as wind, water and fire. If we want to truly understand God’s voice we must realize that it is more about the recognition of how He speaks than the rationalization of what we think He should say! This is a most important distinction for every believer to make in preparation for last day surprises!
Two Ways God Leads
“Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being tempted for forty days by the devil.” Luke 4:1-2a NKJV
“Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.”
Mark 1:12-13 NKJV
The Holy Spirit urged Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan immediately after He was baptized in the river Jordan and commissioned for ministry. It is interesting to note, though, that Luke and Mark used two different words to describe the method by which our Lord was directed. In Luke 4:1 the word is ‘led’ which means, to induce as in the birthing process. Here we see the gentle side of God’s nature in that He leads by coaxing us lovingly from one stage of maturity to the next. He leads us as a shepherd caringly leads his sheep to the green pastures and still waters to restore peace and increase strength.
In contrast, the word used in Mark 1:12 is ‘drove’ which almost creates a paradox. This word literally means to eject or throw from within, as when a person vomits! What the Bible is telling us is that there is another side to God’s nature. Not only does He lead us gently at times, but He also compels us when necessary to go forward into our destiny! Jesus, like us, had to encounter His chief adversary in order to complete His earthly life lesson. He would have to be particularly obedient to His Father to fulfill the biblically predicted description of the Messiah. That meant being pushed along the way to confront those circumstances which were contrary to his incarnate nature for the sake of all mankind!
Like Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road, there are times when we may need to get knocked to the ground by the intensity of God’s own Presence, in order to obtain a complete perspective of what we should truly be involved in…to prepare us to endure what we may suffer in the end!
Two Effects Of Being Led By God’s Spirit
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” Romans 8:14 NKJV
“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” Galatians 5:18 NKJV
There are two specific New Testament rewards you should expect as you embark upon this spiritual lifestyle. The first is a sense of ‘son-ship,’ which repositions our mindset from thinking we can serve God on our own, and in our own way. In Romans 8:14 the Bible makes clear our place in the household of God, and the privileges we share as His sons and daughters. The scripture tells us that we have a full inheritance in Christ, and that all of creation is waiting for the children of God to mature into their Kingdom capacity. Yes, even nature needs our help to be released from the bondage sin has placed upon it through mankind, so that everything can once again function from the original spiritual position it possessed in the Garden of Eden! We carry a responsibility to inherit all God has for us by being led by His Spirit!
Besides the heavenly status we receive and the spiritual resources God grants us for becoming His sons and daughters there is another major effect that comes from following the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:18 clarifies what it means to be free from the weight of the ‘Law.’ Perhaps the greatest aspect of The Holy Spirit is the fact that He is a part (the Spirit) of God Himself and thus perfect. He can work in us to keep the commandments of God’s law, which are perfect in themselves, while also revealing our imperfections!
The Bible teaches that the legal aspects of God’s Old Testament covenant with us can only be kept through the New Testament sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We are simply unable to please God without faith in His Son, or without maintaining a continual relationship with Him via the Holy Spirit. The bottom-line is that we don’t have to ‘do religion,’ instead we get to ‘know’ the Lord firsthand! There is all the difference in the world between attending a church where God is in every service, and one where others are there only to opine what God would have you do!
Part 2 – PRACTICAL ASPECTS OF DISCIPLESHIP
This section will help provide you with some specific principles any man of God on assignment must possess in order to qualify for biblical leadership. Many can walk well when they are under the influence of another but the acid test for the disciple is whether he can stand on his own, having learned to use the anointing of God in ways that even continue honoring those authorities which have been used to train them. Without using a wrong spirit of control, right impressions must be made for the legacy of Christ to be passed on.
The Right ‘SLANT’ on Discipleship
“Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.'” 1 Peter 1:13-16 NKJV
I recently read about an interesting group of public schools called the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Academy. They originated as a single school in one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City during the mid 1990’s. Their vision is to help inner-city kids learn the skills necessary to qualify for first-rate colleges and beyond.
The result has been that these minority and reduced income kids do as well by the eighth grade as other children across America from more affluent neighborhoods; especially in mathematics. The thing that caught my attention was the founder’s simple yet highly effective code of behavior, which drives these students to success. It is packaged in the acronym, “SLANT” and should be memorized by any student wanting to prepare for the next level of life…including Christians wanting to be ready for Jesus return! Here is what it stands for: Smile and Sit up, Listen, Ask questions, Nod when being spoken to, and Track with your eyes.
How amazing is that? Isn’t this what most civilized people should have been taught in school from a very young age? More importantly, this is what the Bible teaches about honor and respect. This system has a profound effect upon a person’s ability to break free of the restrictions of their environment!
The Apostle Paul taught his disciples to be imitators of both God and himself (as he followed God). Jesus modeled the same approach in training His closest disciples to literally “follow” Him.
What works as a KIPP elementary school kid’s ticket to a better life will also work as your voucher to the next life…so SLANT yourself toward God and His Word!! (The above information on KIPP was taken from the book, “Outliers,” by Malcolm Gladwell; 2008, Little, Brown and Company).
Be A Man, Boy!
“But you, O man of God, FLEE these things and PURSUE righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. FIGHT the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called…that you KEEP this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing, which He will manifest in His own time,…COMMAND those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty,…O Timothy, GUARD what was committed to your trust,…”
1 Timothy 6:11-12a, 14-15a, 17a, 20a NKJV
You will notice a six-point charge for men of God given by the Apostle Paul to Timothy in this passage of scripture. In fact, this entire chapter of the Bible is a guideline for being effective in the Lord’s service, particularly as a man, while staying prepared for His return.
It is important for us, as modern believers, to realize the distinction between “success” and “effectiveness.” Today, so many believers are drunk with religion and don’t even know it! We must beware of substituting what we do well for what God wants done. They are not always the same. God’s idea of success is that we not flinch as His followers when the pressures mount BECAUSE He has assigned us things that do not lead to bigger bank accounts and better reputations!
The above list was given to help a leading young man in ministry know how to be a MAN of God before trying to build a successful ministry. Paul was helping Timothy from becoming misguided in his own calling, which in turn, would allow him to remain a safe Christian guide for others. It shows us that God is always more about the making of the man than the doing of the work. If the man is godly the work he does is usually God’s work, whether it looks like it to the world or not!
One of the best prophetic words I have ever heard was given by a seasoned minister to a younger man being groomed for ministry. As the young man lay on the ground, the older preacher nudged him on the shoulder with his foot and simply said, “Be a man, boy!”
These six things will help any Christian leader answer that same call and, in doing so, build a solid foundation to stand on in the midst of a fast-paced, ever- shifting world of change!
The Recipe For Spiritual Development
“But you, O man of God, FLEE these things and PURSUE righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.” 1 Timothy 6:11 NKJV
Now that you know how to personally avoid contributing to the coming end time disaster, God specifically instructs us to pursue the right things in life and ministry.
Do you notice the similarity of the six things listed here with a couple of other key lists in the New Testament? Stop and think about it…these are the most important things for any disciple to be ambitious about obtaining. Doing so will help you formulate an understanding of exactly which biblical qualities will pay the greatest dividends for you as a Christian if you focus on practicing them. This is not to say that any other qualities in scripture are less important. However, when you see something clearly repeated in God’s Word the points He’s making should stand out.
Remember how the Lord called to Samuel three times as a little boy before Eli the priest understood that it was God (1 Samuel 3). Then, the fourth time, God used his name twice, saying, “Samuel, Samuel,” to get his full attention. This signifies something very important to us just as it did in that situation. The Word of the Lord had grown rare in those days because of corruption in Eli’s household, and it is not much different in our day as we quickly approach the last of days. Samuel was God’s answer to that age, but he had to be able to hear God clearly in order to follow His instructions and develop spiritually.
Today, we must know what the ‘recipe’ is for true spiritual development and thank God it is not hidden. These same qualities, plus a couple of others, are also known as the “Fruit of the spirit,” in Galatians 5:22-23. They teach us how to practice walking in the presence of God so we can learn to live from our inner man and overcome the flesh.
These two lists are then shaken together and partially used again in Peter’s “fail-safe” list of spiritual success (2 Peter 1:4-10). As you take the time to examine these portions of scripture the importance of these qualities become increasingly clear.
Here are the six things and their general definitions: 1. Righteousness means doing the right things from the heart. 2. Godliness is turning to and leaning on God continually. 3. Faith means to believe the things the Lord says in His word so much that one practices them. 4. Love is a responsible decision to act like God feels about people and things. 5. Patience means to delay our gratification, willing to endure whatever is necessary to see God’s will be done. 6. Meekness is that humble flexibility that allows one to be molded and used by God.
Any believer or Christian leader who allows the Holy Spirit to work these things through their spirits will grow and be prepared for any situation or season!
Qualified To Serve God
“Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One)… Wives be subject (be submissive and adapt yourselves) to your husbands as a service to the Lord…Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her…This mystery is very great, but I speak concerning [the relation of] Christ and the church.” Ephesians 5:21, 32 AMP
If we can successfully follow the teachings and example of Christ in our marriages, then we can also advance them in society. Marriage is quite literally a physical illustration to the world of the ultimate spiritual relationship Jesus died to make possible with humanity. It is referred to in this passage as a very mysterious and awesome principle, which demands the Church’s attention, for the sake of its surrounding social order.
During the thirty plus years of my “born-again” life, the primary assault being waged against the church has been in this area. It has become so common to hear of pastors and ministers who have lost their ministries because of marital problems that nobody is surprised today, even when it affects someone close to them! The latest statistics I have looked at report that 53% of the marriages in our nation end in divorce. That’s the good news! Christians divorce each other at a rate of 54%! How can sinners understand Jesus while His saints remain such a pathetic representation of commitment to His instructions? Call me old fashioned, but I can’t go for that. My wife and I have also been married for over thirty years. We have had good times and bad, with a near miss separation right in the middle. But for the grace of God, we or any other couple reading this article, could have experienced a tragic ending to our marriage and the loss of ‘ministry destiny’ that goes along with it.
How to Cross Your Supernatural Threshold
According to 1 Timothy 3:2 & 11, marriage is one major ‘proving ground’ that qualifies believers to stand as servants or ministers in training and overseers for what God is doing in the earth through His real church. Also highlighted among other reputation-defining qualities is the ability to raise children who obviously reverence God and respect their parents, both privately and publicly. We are going to be tested there and graded before we are given fuller measures of heavenly blessing with regard to our anointing and influence. These abilities are linked directly with the state of ‘Church’ in its role as Gods very “pillar of truth in the earth!” Therefore, the goal must be to persevere and grow in the area of our family and church-family relationships.
Stephen and Philip stand as amazing examples given in the ‘Acts of the Apostles’ of those who crossed this kind of ‘supernatural threshold’ and did the kind of end-time exploits for God Daniel talked about! One Bible commentator has attached this meaning to the words, “…purchase to themselves a good degree and great boldness in the faith…” used in 1 Timothy 3:13! These young men proved that a little practical faithfulness can result in big-time spiritual breakthroughs. When we are willing to serve the men God is using, we are well on our way to becoming men God uses!
The Holy Spirit is calling us to accountability on this subject today and warning us to take responsible action. It is time to rise up out of our mentality of convenience and take a little spiritual inventory, one person at a time, one couple at a time, one house at a time and one church at a time! Listen to the prophetic warning that is being sounded about the dangers of losing the last remnants of what we call “American family” values. Believers must reinforce their faithfulness to both God and each other…BEFORE the coming separation of wheat and tares!
In conclusion, remember Paul’s final words to the church in the city of Ephesus. In this epistle, which is so central in defining what the ‘church’ really is, He urges them in the sixth chapter to be strong by being aware of what they are really dealing with! There is a battleground but it is not an obvious one from the human standpoint. Intelligent and organized dark forces from a higher dimension seek our demise and do not want us making faithful Christian men at any cost. God has deemed us victorious in Christ but we must remain outfitted with the power that comes with the Holy Spirit’s clothing in order to stand firm and overcome. A prayerful, word-based lifestyle prepares us to thwart every devilish strategy designed to distract us from living productively in spiritual realities.
One of the saddest things in an older believer’s life is knowing so many other would-be finishers who have fallen away from the faith during their lifespan. A man of God is made to endure the test of time. Embrace your own call and let your light be a beacon that shows the way for others who are running behind you. “Chosen” is the prize we compete against this obstacle course for. Those who finish strong win the reward of knowing Jesus in the highest way. Keep that before those you touch and train…some may fall but many will beat the odds and maybe even finish ahead of you!
*These and many other helpful ‘disciple-making’ nuggets of truth can be found in my book, “Everyday Preparation for Jesus’ Return, 365 Ways to Stay Ready”