“Who am I discipling?”
The question resounded in my mind as I read about Ying Kai. I was both inspired and challenged.
Let me back up and give you the context. I was reading T4T: A Discipleship Re-Revolution by Steve Smith, who relayed the story of Taiwanese-born Ying Kai.
Ying Kai had previously planted churches both in Southeast Asia and the USA but was disappointed when the results fell short of what he had hoped for. Now, he sensed God was calling him into China, specifically to make disciples who would make disciples. He didn’t really want to go but did so out of obedience.
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Smith described how, over time, Ying had developed strong convictions about the kinds of key disciple-making principles and practices that were in line with the teachings of Jesus and the practices of the Apostle Paul.
Ten years later, it was discovered that more than 1.7 million baptisms had resulted from this work.
Frustratingly though, Ying had found these principles and practices to be nothing like those in the churches he had been involved in planting. He wondered if they could ever really work and planned to put his convictions to the test.
In China, Ying was given a mix of highly educated college graduates and barely literate villagers to disciple, in turn showing them how to disciple others.
The result was incredible! Ten years later, it was discovered that more than 1.7 million baptisms had resulted from this work.
Astoundingly, in just five years, one house church network started by Ying and his wife Grace had reported 18 new generations of Christians!
So what actually is discipling?
When asked the above question, most people respond by saying, “Discipling is just teaching people the words and ways of Jesus, isn’t it?”
And it is. But it’s also a little bit more than that. And it’s one of those times when a little bit more makes a huge difference.
Discipleship is actually teaching people to follow Jesus – and there really is a difference!
Jesus didn’t instruct his disciples to make more disciples by teaching them all that he had commanded them, but by teaching them to obey all that he had commanded them (Matthew 28:19,20).
Obeying Jesus’ commands is where the rubber hits the road – where we go beyond knowing what Jesus taught us and apply it by putting it into practice. That’s when we move beyond knowing about Jesus to following him as a disciple.
Too often in developed countries like Australia, we’ve missed the mark by making discipleship merely based on knowledge. We have relied upon getting the right sermon series, curriculum or small group study to teach. Many preachers or teachers have been frustrated when they deliver a knockout message with brilliant insights that congregants appreciate but never apply to their lives.
There, discipleship is generally based on obedience rather than knowledge.
A clear contrast is often evident in developing countries’ disciple-making and church-planting movements. There, discipleship is generally based on obedience rather than knowledge.
People being discipled are taught to obey and apply the teachings and commands of Jesus. They understand Jesus’ words as those they should personally apply. The result? Followers become fishers, new creations become ambassadors and Spirit-empowered believers become witnesses.
Put another way, they become disciples who make more disciples – which sounds like what Jesus commands us to do!
Jesus promised to build his church (Matthew 16:18) as we do our part, obeying his command to make disciples.
It’s so easy to get this wrong and think it’s our responsibility to build the church. But it’s not; it’s his responsibility – he says so! And if we do what he asks us to do – making disciples and being known for displaying Christ-like love – then his church will be built, and built his way.
Five simple disciple-making tools
There are many disciple-making tools available that can help you disciple others. Some simple tools that you may find helpful include:
1. Discovery Bible Story – This is a method you will find in Steve Addison’s books Your Part in God’s Story and What Jesus Started. I use it in small groups where we look at a story from the Bible and ask questions like: “What did you like about this story?”; “What did you see Jesus do or teach?”; “How did the people respond to Jesus?”; “Is there a command to obey or a teaching for you to apply?”
2. Three-Thirds Discipleship – This simple small group format brings about gentle accountability to decisions made to apply the teachings. You can read about this in the books I mentioned above.
3. 411 – This is a simple disciple-making toolkit you can use. Here’s a video explaining what it is: movements.net/411
4. Life Journaling (or SOAPing) – This method of journaling on scripture focuses not only on what Scripture says but on how you are to apply it.
5. Life application teaching – This is done preferably with time to discuss what the Holy Spirit is saying to you through the message and what the Holy Spirit is asking you to do. Ralph Moore, who saw extraordinary success in disciple-making and church planting, used similar questions in his small groups when they met to discuss the week’s message.
Who are you discipling?
So the big question is, who are you discipling? This question stirred me, and I hope it stirs you.
As Jesus followers, an unavoidable part of our “job description” is to actively make disciples of others, teaching them to obey all that Jesus has commanded us to do.
And as we do this, why not set multiplication in action by asking the people we are discipling, “Who are you discipling?” It just might be the most important question you ever ask.
Tim O’Neill is a seasoned pastor, leader and champion of church planters. Tim is the Director of Exponential Australia– a community working to see church multiplication stimulated across the Australian Christian landscape through events like their upcoming 2023 Conference. Tim leads Tailrace Community Church with his wife, Sharon, a church they planted almost 30 years ago.