What is a Discipler?

What is a Discipler? A Eurasian team member with the JESUS Film Harvest Partners told a college student who prayed to receive Christ: At the end of the film showing, we sang a hymn and prayed to the Lord.  After the prayer was over a college student. . . stood up and said, ‘My heart has been touched by something else.  Might this be the Lord Jesus reaching me with His love? I want to respond to Him right now.”  Yes, it was the Lord Jesus reaching with His love. But someone needed to be an extension of His heart and His hands.  That’s where the film team came in. And that’s where you come in. You have an unprecedented opportunity to be the heart and hands of the Savior reaching out to people with the love of Christ.

Evangelism and discipleship is just as important now as it was in the Early Church, and perhaps more. There is an increasing trend to grow churches by “harvesting” from other churches, reflected in percentage points on church reports but not in the bottom-line growth of the church.  Real growth is conversion growth: “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).

Author and missionary Joel Comiskey quoted Tom Clegg and Warren Bird in his article “Truth and Myth About Evangelism and Community: How Small-Group Community and Mission Fit Together”: “The fact is that, in America, it takes the combined efforts of eighty-five Christians, working over the entire year to produce one convert.  Half of all churches do not add one new person through conversion growth.” A new tide of evangelism just sweep across the church. Believers must be equipped with a plan to win people to Christ and then disciple them in their faith.

What happens to the Eurasian college student after he is saved?

  • He begins a follow-up Bible study to learn about being Christ’s disciple.
  • He will have an opportunity to join a small-group Bible study or be part of a church plant.
  • Then, prayerfully, the young man’s faith will be replicated in the life of another through discipleship training.

Paul’s discipleship plan still works: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2). The wisdom writer said, “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restrain; but happy is he who keeps the law” (Proverbs 29:18 NKJV).  The enemy is waging a tenacious campaign to win the souls of men and women and boys and girls. God has placed you on the battle lines.  You are called to bring them over to God’s side. God wants to give you 20/20 vision for evangelism and discipleship.

Becoming a Discipler is an essential calling. A Discipler is one who encourages and enriches new Christians by nurturing them to their higher calling in Christ. The Discipler does this by helping new Christians to catch the vision, develop intentional relationships, identify their spiritual understanding levels, implement a discipleship support system, maintain continual contact relative to their spiritual  progress and needs, incorporating them into the life and ministries of the church, providing daily prayer for their spiritual growth, identify their spiritual gifts, and enlist them into ministry.

Disciplers should not only be familiar with those disciplines but also practice them. In fact, they should take the lead in modeling the disciplines. Again, the best discipleship is “caught.” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”

There are eight additional areas of concentration in developing a disciple (D.I.S.C.I.P.L.E.):

  1. Develop an intentional friendship with the disciple.
  2. Identify the disciple’s spiritual progress/needs.
  3. Supply a spiritual support system.
  4. Contact the disciple about spiritual progress/needs.
  5. Incorporate the disciple into the life/ministries of the church.
  6. Pray daily for the disciple’s spiritual growth.
  7. Look for the disciple’s spiritual gifts.
  8. Enlist the disciple in ministry.

D – Develop an intentional friendship

Discipleship happens on a personal level–one person develops an intentional, personal, caring relationship with another. In other words, they make a commitment of emotional and spiritual time and energy. The process includes self-sacrificing love. Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples (John 13:35, NLT).

I – Identify spiritual understanding levels

Paul the apostle made an observation about spiritual maturity levels in his letter to early Christians in Corinth: “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it” (1 Corinthians 3:2). Disciplers work with disciples at their level of spiritual understanding. They recognize that the amount of spiritual truth that disciples process depends on their ability to understand that truth. Granted the Holy Spirit leads us into truth (John 16:13), but that leadership is through divinely given intelligence, reason, and conscience–and you can be a voice of that Spirit-directed leadership.

The Apostle John recognized that spiritual understanding levels also vary according to age and experience. In fact, three levels of maturity are identified:

  • “Newcomers”
  • “Children”
  • “Veterans”

First John 2:12-14 (TM) says:

I remind you, my dear children: Your sins are forgiven in Jesus’ name. You veterans were in on the ground floor, and know the One who started all this; you newcomers have won a big victory over the Evil One. And a second reminder, dear children: You know the Father from personal experience. You veterans know the One who started it all; and you newcomers–such vitality and strength! God’s word is so steady in you Your fellowship with God enables you to gain a victory over the Evil One.

Similar stages will soon become evident in the Discipling process. You will need to learn how to identify those stages and disciple those persons accordingly.

S – Supply a support system

We are dependent on support systems our whole life. From child care to geriatric care, the supervision of knowledgeable people either tells us how to live or keeps us alive. In one sense a Discipler does the same. Your knowledgeable supervision teaches disciples how to live and protect them from harm.

Your support system will include:

  • Prayer
  • Bible study
  • Fellowship times
  • Communications of encouragement
  • Guidance toward ministry

You not only are a partner with them but also are related to them by faith in Jesus Christ. Discipleship is caring for a family member spiritually.

C – Contact regarding spiritual progress/needs

Both modern and standard means of communication will strengthen your spiritual bonding with a disciple. There is a “golden hour” of communication when you can zero in on the need of your disciple. In a minimum of 60 minutes per week, you can express God’s love and affirmation.

I – Incorporate into the life/ministries of the church

Your disciple will need to learn–by your testimony and example–how important the local church is to spiritual growth. From a basic knowledge of the church and its beliefs to the ministries it offers individuals and families, your disciple needs the fellowship of other believers. You will discover ways that will make it easier for the disciple to become involved in the ‘”current” of the church.

P – Pray daily for spiritual growth

Christ’s first disciples not only ministered well in their teaching, administrative, and writing skills but also were effective in prayer. You will stand alongside your disciples as they face the enemy himself. Your intercessory prayer will be crucial for their survival against the attacks of the devil and his forces. Learning how to be that effective intercessor is a crucial part of the Discipling effort.

L – Look for spiritual gifts

Even before they were spiritually reborn, God has gifted your disciples with abilities and interests that will help build the Kingdom. Your task as a Discipler it to:

  • Learn ways to discern their spiritual gifts.
  • Enlighten them about those gifts.
  • Encourage them to use them for Christ.

You will also need to teach them about the Holy Spirit’s activity in giving spiritual gifts and of His intent to empower those gifts through entire sanctification.

E – Enlist in ministry

You will teach by your example how rewarding ministry can be. You will learn how to encourage your disciple to take part in a local church ministry. Your disciples will learn the importance of not “sitting in the stands.” They will learn the importance of being on the “playing field.” You will be their coach-encourager.

The greatest ship in a cruise line is merely an aluminum and steel monument of human engineering and ingenuity when it is tied to the dock. Its true splendor is in its moving away from the dock into the open seas. And every part of that movement is dependent on a power source hidden below deck.

Help your disciples chart the course and move away from the dock. Your task is to make the investment of your time and energy in their lives–and let God do the rest. Oswald Chambers said, “To be a disciple means that we deliberately identify ourselves with God’s interest in other people.” That’s it! It’s all about people. Jesus died for people. Your ministry isn’t just about properties or personnel; it’s about people.

  • Winning people to Christ
  • Discipling believers to become disciples
  • Starting Bible studies
  • Planting new churches

Catch the vision, and the cast it to others!