Real-World Disciple Making
by Mike Carman
During my college/young adult years (a long time ago!), the concept of making disciples (today usually called mentoring) was popular in our Christian circles. Numerous books were written and multiple programs were designed to help Christians fulfill what we understood as Jesus’s great command to His followers, to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19a).
We dutifully looked for young believers that we could take under our wings to help become more proficient in areas we were told (and were pretty sure) were included in discipleship. Armed with our Bibles, various Navigators tools (workbooks, memory verse systems), journals, other spiritual books, and much enthusiasm, we met regularly with our cohort. We tried to instill what we saw as Christian basics, such as spending time in God’s Word and in prayer, making time for fellowship and developing a commitment to sharing the faith. We talked about living a lifestyle consistent with our profession of faith, and encouraged growth as Biblically-based believers.
“… if we only look “inside the church” for those who might benefit from our time with them, we will miss a whole swath of potential disciples who may never found at that location…”
Looking back on those experiences, many of which were fruitful and continue to bear fruit today, I realize that the overriding context of our disciple-making was church-based. Disciples are learners, and our learners were primarily being taught how to be growing Christians, especially within the context of the church. I’m not knocking that, because I witnessed much good come from it. But I’ve come to realize that there are groups of people that need to be discipled, need to be taught, need to be encouraged in “Christian basics” who are not necessarily inside our church walls. And if we only look “inside the church” for those who might benefit from our time with them, we will miss a whole swath of potential disciples who may never found at that location.
I currently work among men and women who are experiencing homelessness in our community. Many of them know and love Jesus, but they don’t particularly fit into the typical church environment- sometimes because of how they feel about themselves, sometimes because of how the church feels about them. And you know what I’ve discovered? These men and women need to be discipled!
I’m not just talking about teaching them the basics about the Bible, or how to pray, or how to share their faith (although these are certainly important). These would-be learners need godly people to walk alongside them for a season and teach them about life basics. About how to present themselves to be successful in the job market. About how to learn to forgive those who have hurt them, and how to seek forgiveness for the hurts they’ve caused. About finding and maintaining rhythm that creates momentum and progress. About how to keep putting one foot in front of the other when they feel like giving up. About how to be faithful to God when everyone and everything around them dumps on them. In other words, they need to understand (just like many of us) how to more completely integrate their faith with daily life, because for many of them, there is a substantial disconnect in applying what they believe to what they experience (again, just like many of us).
” … Discipling, mentoring, or whatever else you might call it, is not just the passing of religious principles, but the transference of one life on to another … “
Even though we have not always modeled it, discipling is actually teaching about life, not just passing along certain spiritual disciplines. It demonstrates how those disciplines look and express themselves daily. Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, but it was in the context of life. He taught them how to spend time with God, not by giving them a set of verses to memorize, but by modeling what that time looked like, then inviting them to share in it with him. Discipling, mentoring, or whatever else you might call it, is not just the passing of religious principles, but the transference of one life on to another.
So many of those needing this mentoring touch exist just outside our sight or concern. They may not fit our idea of what a “good’ disciple/mentee looks like. It was the same for Jesus. The people that Jesus chose to pour himself into were some of the least likely to be singled out for advanced spiritual training. He found fishermen, a tax collector, a revolutionary, a pessimist, an impulsive hothead, a fanatical nationalist, and a traitor to be among those who would learn from him and be closest to him. Not only were most of them disregarded by the religious folks of the day, but at times they didn’t like each other much! And yet these were the ones. The ones hand-picked for something greater than they could know. From unlikely places, to unlikely places. I have to believe that there are those outside our walls who are just as unlikely. Who could accomplish the unlikely if someone would commit to invest time. And love. And life.
” … The people that Jesus chose to pour himself into were some of the least likely to be singled out for advanced spiritual training. He found fishermen, a tax collector, a revolutionary, a pessimist, an impulsive hothead, a fanatical nationalist, and a traitor to be among those who would learn from him and be closest to him … “
In our Jobs for Life training program that we operate at Orange County’s emergency homelessness shelter, Bridges at Kraemer Place, we incorporate not only teaching and training, but relationships through mentors (we call them “champions”). These men and women volunteer to walk alongside our graduates for up to 12 months following class. Because we know that transformation, not just information, changes people. And that transformation comes through an investment of relationship. From life touching life. Over and over again.
We are called to make disciples, to teach others what Jesus has taught us. And he made that teaching tangible by pouring himself into the lives of a few, who would then do the same with those around them. If you follow Jesus, you follow his example. Someone (or ones) has poured into you. Will you consider paying it forward by investing a season of your life with those who need your touch? With those who might not be the logical choice because they are outside your walls, but who need what you have to offer?
What do you need? A head start, a heart that desires to see others succeed and a willingness to be involved in the messiness of ongoing relationships that will impact you as much as it does those whom you serve. You don’t need to have all the answers, but you know the one who does – and he calls his followers to do as he has done. Make disciples. Of all people. In unlikely places. Go.
OC UNITED, Workforce Development