Four places disciplers can turn for help
In my first attempt to disciple a peer in the air force, I had lots of questions. I often sought the advice of the man who had discipled me. Since then, I have discipled many people, yet I still run into roadblocks occasionally, unsure of what I should say or do to help someone take the next step. No matter how experienced we may be, I'm convinced we all need ongoing help in this endeavor called making disciples. But where can we find such help? Several resources can coach us as we help others grow.
God’s Word is our first source for help in disciplemaking. The lives and teaching of Jesus and Paul, especially, provide many examples of how to effectively help someone else grow.
Jesus repeatedly used questions to reveal the motivations of people’s hearts and to challenge them to follow Him. When Jesus encountered a man who had been an invalid for 38 years, He simply asked, "Do you want to get well?" (John 5:6). Before miraculously feeding the 5,000, Jesus asked His disciple Philip, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" (John 6:5). John comments on the reason Jesus asked this question: "He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do" (John 6:6). When many of those who had initially followed Him began to turn away, He asked the twelve, "You do not want to leave too, do you?" (John 6:67). Three times after His resurrection, Jesus asked Simon Peter, "Do you truly love me?" (John 21:15-17).
Jesus' example showed me how to ask thought-provoking questions and how to give people space to think about and answer those questions. Throughout the years I’ve seen how appropriate questions can be more effective than simple admonishment when it comes to helping others identify problem areas in their lives. When someone answers a question himself, he’s much more likely to make significant changes than if I simply give him a list of things to do.
Paul, too, had a distinct approach to ministry. When he faced a problem with a person or a church, he did two things: He wrote a letter, and he sent somebody with specific instructions to deal with the issue. The problems Paul confronted usually had both doctrinal and practical elements. He always connected the two.
We see this throughout 1 Corinthians, for example. The doctrine in that letter is directly related to specific areas of sin in the Corinthian believers' lives. In chapter one, Paul rebukes the Corinthians for their lack of unity and for quarreling about which leaders in the church they were following (1 Cor. 1:10-12). In response, Paul then uses pointed questions to focus their attention on Christ instead of arguing about misplaced loyalty to particular individuals.
Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?...For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
—1 Cor. 1:13, 17
Thus, Paul moves from identifying the problem—division in the church—to identifying the root issue: losing focus on the cross of Christ and relying instead upon human wisdom. Throughout the rest of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul repeats this pattern as he addresses other problems areas.
Paul’s example gives us a concrete model for dealing with sin in the lives of those we're discipling. He never treated doctrine as an academic issue but taught truth in the context of people’s lives. He taught those he discipled to do the same.
Fellow disciplers offer another source of practical help. I clearly remember my frustration while discipling a young man at the Air Force Academy years ago. I wasn't sure how to help him with his reluctance to share his faith. He seemed resistant to every idea I suggested. Over time I began to see that he was hesitant to talk to others about Christ because of deeper struggles with sin that needed to be addressed first.
Then one day I was playing handball with another discipler. In the locker room, I described the situation and asked for my friend’s advice. Lorne’s counsel was simple but very helpful: "If he doesn't really want to change, no amount of help can solve his problem. He must be willing to change."
Before this experience, the people I discipled had generally been willing to work on their weaknesses. Lorne taught me that there’s a major difference between helping someone develop a consistent quiet time and helping him overcome deeply rooted sin.
Since then, I’ve applied this principle over and over again. Whenever I run into a core issue in someone’s life, I ask, "Do you really want to change?" If the person answers, "I'm not sure," then I'll say, "I probably can't help you if you're not willing to deal with this." I'm grateful to Lorne for helping me understand this principle.
If you know another discipler, brainstorm some ways you might learn from and encourage each other. For example, my discipler and I exchanged audiotapes with questions and answers when we didn't have time to connect in person or on the phone. Later on I served on a Navigator staff team that met regularly. This was a significant learning time in which we shared our successes, failures, and questions with one another.
Several books have also helped me become a better disciplemaker.
Biographies offer another valuable resource for disciplers. The stories of believers who’ve gone before us show us what it looks like to walk with God for the long haul. I think Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God by David McCasland (Thomas Nelson) is one of the very best. Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret by Howard and Mary Taylor (Moody Press) is also worth reading.
In addition to these, I return to two other books regularly: The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer (Christian Publications) and Words to Winners of Souls by Horatius Bonar (Presbyterian and Reformed Publications). These authors challenge me to reconsider what it means to reflect Christ to others in my life.
Finally, I rely on some specific tools designed to cover the subjects a young believer needs to think about. Recently, I worked through Lessons on Assurance (NavPress) over the phone with someone. Other tools such as the Design for Discipleship series, the Studies in Christian Living series, and the Topical Memory System (all NavPress) offer a ready-made framework for getting people immersed in God’s Word, for asking questions, and for life application.
Whether you're a seasoned discipler or just beginning to meet with a person one to one, these resources can renew your commitment to the commission Jesus has given us: to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:18-20).