Why Relational Discipleship Has Become My Priority

by | May 30, 2012 | Blogs, Fire in My Bones

I’d
rather invest in a few emerging leaders than preach to crowds of thousands.
Here’s why.

Once
when I was traveling in India a pastor made a tempting proposal. “If you come
to our city, we will stage a big evangelistic campaign and invite thousands,”
he said. “You can preach to all of them.” This man assumed I would be
intrigued. After all, I could take photos of the big crowds and use them to
brag later about how many people made decisions for Christ.

I
didn’t accept the offer. Instead I gave the man a second option. “Let me spend
three days with a small group of pastors,” I said. “Let me encourage them, and
then they can go out and preach at the big meetings. They will do a much better
job than I could.”

Jesus did
not mass-produce legions of followers. He hand-carved a few—and they became the
pillars of the early church.”

I’m
not against mass evangelism. I’m not criticizing people who organize big
meetings. But I’m learning that the best way to impact a large number of people
is to focus on a few.

This
was Jesus’ method of ministry. Most of his conversations in the Gospels were
with His small group of handpicked disciples. Even when He did mass meetings,
He used them to instruct the people He was mentoring. For 3.5 years He invested in His closest followers in a deeply personal way—not as an
instructor but as a friend. Jesus did not mass-produce legions of followers. He
hand-carved a few—and they became the pillars of the early church.

Jesus
calls us to do ministry His way—by making disciples. Yet in today’s
performance-based culture, we think bigger is better. We put all our money and
time into splashy events while ignoring relationships. We want the sensational,
not the simple. We crave big meetings, bigger platforms, noisy sermons,
hyped-up altar calls and instant results. It may look spectacular on opening
night, but the show fades fast.

This
shallowness is killing us. Christianity in so many parts of the world is a mile
wide and an inch deep because we think faith is best transmitted to people by
preachers standing behind pulpits. Preaching is certainly important, but
without personal discipleship leaders aren’t formed and Christians don’t develop
true character. If this vital relational aspect is overlooked, our faith
becomes programmed, superficial and horribly fake.

I’ve
changed my priorities as I have grasped this truth. I’m not as interested in
flashy conferences or huge crowds as I am in making an indelible mark on people
who can then disciple others. And as the Lord has shifted my paradigm, I have
become more intentional about making discipleship a part of my daily life. I’ve
done this by following what I call the Five “I’s” of Discipleship:

1. Identify. Jesus prayed carefully before selecting those who would
travel with Him. Paul selected people like Timothy, Silas, Aquilla and
Priscilla to be his ministry companions. Who are you called to disciple? God
connects people in discipleship relationships.

2. Invest.
Don’t look at discipleship as a program. It must flow out of love and genuine
friendship. It is a precious investment of your time into a younger Christian.
Paul told the Thessalonians: “We were well-pleased to impart to you not only
the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to
us” (1 Thess. 2:8, NASB).

3. Include. One of the ways I disciple young men is by taking them with me on
ministry trips. I would have fewer hassles if I traveled alone, but my privacy
is not that precious. In the last couple of years I’ve invited emerging leaders
such as Jason, Steven, Vitaly, Khuram, Donnie, Felipe, Lyndle and Ryan to
accompany me to various events. Investing in a disciple, to me, has become more
exciting than preaching to a multitude!

4. Instruct. Jesus didn’t lecture his disciples; He artfully wove His
teaching into the events of daily life—a storm, the death of a friend or an
encounter with a needy beggar. His teaching flowed out of His relationship with
His companions. Discipleship does not have to happen in a classroom setting. It
can happen at a doughnut shop, during a bike ride or in a car. Expect “teaching
moments” to flow naturally when you are spending time with those you are
mentoring.

5. Intercede. Paul told Timothy that he constantly remembered him in his
prayers “night and day” (2 Tim. 1:3). The most effective discipleship occurs
when the discipler invests time in prayer for those he or she is mentoring.
After some of my young disciples gave me an iPad last year, I decided to return
the favor by using it to help me pray for them. I now have a “visual prayer
list” with photos of the people I intercede for regularly.

Floyd
McClung, a former leader of Youth With a Mission who now lives in South Africa,
says he wishes he had spent more of his time making disciples when he was
younger. He recently wrote: “I’ve been blessed to do many things: books, conferences,
television, etc. But that’s nothing compared to pouring into others and seeing
them go for it.”

Leaders all around the world are coming to this same
conclusion. They recognize that today’s fatherless generation is looking for
more than the hottest music, the coolest stage lighting or the hippest
techno-pastor. They just want authentic role models who will spend time with
them.

J. Lee
Grady
is the former editor of Charisma
and the director of The Mordecai Project. He is
ministering in San Juan, Puerto Rico, this week. You can follow him on Twitter
at leegrady.

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