While in college I was discipled by Pat, a director in our campus ministry. Typically we would meet weekly in the student center for coffee and talk. But for at least half of time, we would do other things together: shopping or I would help him paint his house or I would go on ministry trips with him. In one instance he took me with him while he did street evangelism. He put on me the spot by asking me to share my testimony with a group he was talking to!
In the early days of our discipling relationship, I wondered what was really going on. Why wasn’t Pat taking more time to teach me things? I wanted to go deep and learn, not just hang out!
Then Pat showed me a story from the life of Jesus, from Mark 3:13-19 (ESV):
“And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons. He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.”
He honed in on verse 14a, “And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him.” Pat made clear that Jesus wanted the disciples to do and share in Kingdom ministry, but first and foremost, he called them just to be with him. The reason Jesus did this was that he wanted the 12 to watch his life closely and have front row seats as he did Kingdom ministry, so that they too could do the same.
Last week I wrote about the disciple-making principle that ‘more is caught than taught’. Before that principle can be effected however, one has to learn the importance of simply ‘being with’ another who disciples him/her. This has been called the ‘life on life’ principle.
This is where one person intentionally watches and learns from another through the investment and sharing of time and space. The time spent with those we disciple or are being discipled by, creates the space for more to be caught than taught.
While it can be helpful to use disciple making tools and studies (I use them and so did Pat), disciple-makers must remember that the heart of disciple-making is life on life transfer of biblical truths by teaching, practice, modelling and enabling. It requires that I live as a disciple of Jesus and that I both model and multiply that life into the man or woman I am discipling.
To be an effective and fruitful disciple-maker, I have to make space to let people into my life: my home, my errands, my driving, my family, etc. That’s what Jesus did with the 12. That’s what he calls us to do with those we are discipling.
Revd Canon Peter Matthews is a NAMS Companion, and Rector of St Patrick’s Church in Lexington, Kentucky.