~By: Jonie Buckley~
I spent well over a decade in a church where “making disciples for the transformation of the world” was the official mission of the church. I heard this over and over. Ministry and leadership decisions were consistently measured against this mission statement. And that was good. It was very good. It’s just too bad I did not understand true discipleship – what it is, what it looks like, and why Jesus chose discipleship as the means for growing His Kingdom.
On a Sunday morning two years ago, I headed into worship at my new church, and a woman warmly greeted me in the lobby. She noticed me. She was standing by a table and appeared to be tasked with the responsibility of plugging folks into small groups at the church. She took the time to ask about me and find out if I was currently in a small group. Even after I told her that I was, she continued the conversation, when I expected she would have been relieved of her duty to sign me up. She ended up taking my contact information, and a few days later, she reached out to me! She asked me if I would be interested in meeting her for breakfast. I was so surprised! I had been attending the church for four months, and this was the first time that someone who didn’t know me noticed me and took a genuine interest in me.
In the months that followed, she continued to connect with me. In a sea of unfamiliar faces at every church service and event, she somehow found me. She made a point to say hello and greet me. It seemed like she sought me out, intentionally, to ensure I felt welcome. And I did! Her intentional connections with me were so meaningful to me. She began introducing me to other women, ministries, and members of the church staff, which opened doors for new relationships and opportunities.
A few months later, she began discipling me. She invited me to be a part of an accountability group where we continued to learn about discipleship. She invited me to trainings where I gained clarity about Jesus’ intention when He commanded us to make disciples in His Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
I experienced tremendous growth in my personal relationship with Christ at this time, and I was hungry for more. I was learning more about discipleship, and I was getting to experience it and see it in action firsthand through this discipling relationship.
I began to study the life of Jesus through the lenses of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. If we are to be imitators of Christ, I wanted to see how Jesus discipled others. Up to this point, my understanding of making disciples included sharing Jesus with others by imparting knowledge about Him through avenues like Bible studies and serving others. Through studying how Jesus discipled in the gospels of the Bible, Holy Spirit revealed much to me. First, He showed me that I had been living far too much like a Pharisee – living by the law and trying to “do” all of those things, rather than living in obedience to Holy Spirit. My previous misconception about discipleship was that “making disciples” was another thing that we as committed followers of Christ are to “do.” We are called to follow Jesus, to love, to serve, to pray, to be obedient, to follow all of the commands of Christ, AND to disciple. But in this time of digging into the gospels, Holy Spirit revealed to me that these are all sub-categories and byproducts of obeying the Greatest Commandment in Matthew 22:37-40:
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
When we follow these two commands, God’s Word tells us that ALL the laws flow from them.
But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. 1 John 2:5-6 (NLT)
What did Jesus do? The account of His life in the four gospels tells us that He loved His Father first. Jesus would seek and spend time with the Father. He was obedient to do what the Father asked. Everything Jesus did was in the will of His Father. Jesus spent time with both large crowds of people and a few people. He spoke continuously about His Kingdom. He was intentional and built relationships with people. He did life with, provided for, and was available to people as He taught them, always speaking Truth.
Second, while I always thought Jesus chose His disciples on His own, I learned that God hand-picked them and directed Jesus. Jesus was obedient to the Father in selecting that motley crew of twelve. In Luke 6:12-13, we read:
One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles…
Just think – would Jesus have chosen Judas to be one of His disciples if it was up to Him? Maybe He would. He is Jesus, after all. I was very convicted by this because for most of what I thought was my discipleship, I had chosen who I wanted to spend time with. The thought of discipling someone whose life looked different than mine or had different experiences than I did frightened me. How would I be able to relate? How would I be able to speak into an experience that I have not lived or cannot relate to?
Therein lies the beauty of God’s constant, never-changing, steadfast Word. If our role as disciple-makers is to point others to Jesus, His Word applies to every person, to every circumstance, and to every experience. God’s Word is completely relatable because Jesus can relate to every one of us. God doesn’t tell us to “go into all the world and make disciples of…those you feel like, or those who are most like you.” God also told me that I don’t have the time or the luxury to be selective. He just needs me to be obedient.
Then he [Jesus] said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” Matthew 9:37
I am so grateful that God has led me to disciple according to His will and not by my own choosing. My life is all the more richer by these discipling relationships that He has directed, chosen, and entrusted me to work in the harvest.
Having a woman to disciple me has been transformative. Through her intentional discipleship, I have the opportunity to be sharpened, challenged, held accountable and encouraged as we work the harvest together. She faithfully and regularly prays for me and over me. She repeatedly points me to Jesus and His Word and Truth in every circumstance. This relationship has led to many incredible opportunities for working the harvest, such as attending and leading women’s Bible study, continuous training where I learn and grow in discipleship, connecting with other believers in the body of Christ at my church and seeing it as my mission field for discipleship, and being part of a ministry with other women who are actively fulfilling Jesus’ Great Commission.
Most importantly, it has quickened my heart to being on mission and understanding the importance and necessity of this true discipleship relationship I have experienced. Now, God is able to multiply it through me to those I disciple.
All of this began because of one faithful woman who noticed me and discipled me, so that I may notice and disciple others.