Disciplemaking is a living interaction between Christ and the members of Christ’s body. —Marty Voltz
In Acts 16:1-2, the apostle Paul highlights three relationships that foster the making of a disciple. The disciple in question, of course, is Timothy, and the disciplemaking relationships Paul highlights are the same relationships God still uses to raise up disciples today.
Here are the three relationships:
Relationships with family in the home
Relationships with friends and younger believers
Relationships with brothers and sisters in local churches
It is significant that as Paul writes to Timothy, he begins and ends his second letter by focusing attention on these same three relationships. These are relationships in which and through which our Lord calls on His church to foster disciplemaking.
Relationships with Friends and Younger Believers
The second kind of relationship we may use to accomplish God's commission to make disciples is this: our relationships with both friends and often younger, less mature believers.
Interestingly, many typically think of disciplemaking as primary with younger, less mature believers, but that is too limiting a view. Disciplemaking should define our peer friendships for the whole of life’s journey, not just a season of baby steps.
Also many seem to limit discipling relationships to one-on-one structured programs; while in fact, there are very few, if any, Biblical examples of one-on-one discipleship. Have you ever thought about that? Jesus had a dozen disciples (plus many other friends as companions, including those listed in Luke 8:1-3 and 10:1-3). That doesn't mean he didn't take time with each of them individually, but most often, he taught them and related to them together. You may quickly say, "Paul discipled Timothy." Yes, it may have started that way, but eventually they became truly mutual friends. And Paul built a disciplemaking friendship with Titus, and John Mark, and the list goes on and on. It's quite a list. In fact, we have that list in 2 Timothy, at least in part.
Most often, those who respond to the call to disciple less mature brothers and sisters in Christ do so in small groups, or simultaneously disciple one person over here and another over there. But whether we engage in disciplemaking relationships, one-on-one, or one-on-two, or one-on-ten, certain traits need to be present. I want to suggest a few of them to you because I think they're so critical.
The first trait is prayerful selection. Consider how Jesus chose which friends he would draw close. Luke 6:12-13 says, “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…”
Mark 3:13 adds, “Afterward Jesus went up on a mountain and called out the ones he wanted to go with him. And they came to him.”
Likewise, when Paul was in Lystra, while we don't get specific references to him being in prayer, we get the sense that Paul made a choice. Paul stepped back, and from among the men, he chose one particular young man, Timothy, to be with him at that time in his journey.
Another piece of the pattern is the invitation to be a disciple. I don't think you'd necessarily just go up to someone and say, "I'd like to disciple you, young man." That may work on some occasions, but Jesus didn't say that, even to the twelve. He said, "I want you to be with me.” [Mark 3:13]
Jesus chose the twelve to be with him, and then to send them out. He began by saying to them, “I want you to be with me." What did Paul want young Timothy to do? He wanted Timothy to be with him. There was no curriculum, no seminar, no one hour class. There was just one man, a believer in Christ, seeing another and saying, "I want you to spend time with me. I want you to be with me.”
Foundational to this idea that disciplemaking is fundamentally relational is a commitment to “with-ness."
I've been in a number of pastorates with great opportunities to practice relational disciplemaking. In central Illinois, our fellowship was right across the street from a college campus, and on Sunday mornings, we had 800 - 1000 people, most of them students.
Young believers excited about their faith would often come to visit me in my office. Can you guess what their number one request was? It was,"Would you disciple me?" Many were from Christian campus groups. They constantly heard about discipling, but had never been discipled. So they'd ask, "Pastor, would you disciple me?" And I would reply, "Tell me what you mean by that.”
In particular, I remember Mark coming into my office. He stands out in my memory because he was so urgent about the whole thing. He sat down and blurted out, "I could come in for one hour every Wednesday and you could disciple me." I shook my head, and said, "No, I couldn't."
"Why not?,” he pleaded. “You could disciple me. I'd give you an hour a week. I'd give you an hour and a half."
I said, "No, I don't think it would work like that.” "I'll tell you what,” I said. ``Why don't you give me one Wednesday a month?"
"What would we do?” he asked.
"We would do what I do,” I replied. “You would meet with me when I pray in the morning, and we would study the Word of God together, and go visit the needy. Along the way, we'd talk about the things of Christ. You'd go shopping with me when I go shopping. You will see me when I get angry, and have to confess to my wife and my boys that I haven't been kind. You would sit at supper with us when we eat. Oh, by the way, Mark, did you grow up in a Christian home?”
“Oh, no," he said. "My dad shot my mom in front of me when I was about five. It's one of my earliest experiences."
"Well," I said, "I would be honored for you to spend time with me and my family in our home. You could see what it looks like for a Christian family to live together and love together. We’d spend the evening together. If I went out calling, you'd go calling. If I went to a meeting, you'd go to a meeting with me. We could just be together, and you could see what it looks like and hear what it sounds like when a person is trying to live life in relationship with Jesus Christ. Will you come and be with me one day a month?”
If discipleship were the transmission of notes and ideas from a notebook—from my notebook to your notebook—then one hour a week would be just fine. But if it's a matter of sharing the life of Christ with another, then it's going to take with-ness, transparency, and sharing of life.
Bill was another young man. He was attended the first church I pastored in Southern California. He was a college ministry staff worker, and had been involved in what was presented as a “discipling culture” for years. He was going through a difficult time in his life and wanted me to counsel and pray with him.
One day I said, "Bill, I would love to just spend time with you. I feel like we just need to have blocks of time together." And he said, "What do you want to do?" I said, "Well, it so happens that my family and I are about to move back to Ohio. I'd like to hire you to drive the truck. You drive. I'll pay you for driving, but I'll sit right next to you. We'll have three or four days together. We're just going to talk about what it means to live a Christian life, what it means to be a disciplemaker.”
We drove together for several hundred miles, talking about the things of Christ, stopping along the way to get food, to pray, to do this and do that, check with our families, and so forth. I think it was maybe the second or third morning of traveling together, when Bill got in the truck, looked at me, and asked, "When are we going to start?"
"Start what?” I asked.
“Discipleship!” he said.
“We're not doing discipleship? This isn't it? What were you hoping for?" I asked.
"I don't know,” he said. “You're supposed to know what it's about."
I said, "I think I do. I think you don't. This is it. These past few days have been me living the life of Christ out in your presence. You’ve seen me make mistakes along the way. You’ve heard me confess them, saying, 'I'm sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.' You’ve been with the real and genuine “Marty” in whom Christ is living—if that doesn't cut it, I have nothing special to give you.”
He said, "I thought maybe you'd give me some stuff for my notebook."
I said, "Oh, that's great. I'll give you some notes later. You're driving right now. I'll write them down and hand them to you later. But to tell you the truth, I've got a book at home that does it better."
Bill was looking for notes and for information, and at the same time, was overlooking the kind of loving relationship that imparts real spiritual life. (Although I imagine that in reflecting on our cross-country journey, Bill might have figured it out.)
In the absence of with-ness in relationships, there is no disciplemaking. It's that simple. Disciples are made in open, transparent relationships. I love Paul's words to young Timothy at the end of his second letter to him: "You, Timothy, you know all about my teaching. You know all about my way of life, my purpose, my faith, my patience, my love, my endurance, my persecutions, my sufferings." (2 Timothy 3:10)
I wonder how Paul might have talked to Timothy about his pain and his difficulty: the thorn in his flesh. I imagine he might have said, "Timothy, you know all about this. You know what kind of things happen to me. You know the pain, the challenge, and how I must cling to the Lord. You know my story, Timothy, and you know that God has rescued me time and time again. Timothy, you know me.”
Timothy knew Paul because he was with him. Paul lived a relationally open life. He was able to say to the entire church:
"We were delighted to share with you, not only the Gospel of God, but our very lives, as well.” —1 Timothy 2:8
If I could go back and do it over, I would extend more invitations to come with me. I would share, not only more of the Gospel, but also more of my poor, faulty, stumbling life with the men and women around me.
End of Part 3.
BONUS: For those who stay with us through Part 4 we'll provide you a free digital copy of Disciplemaking: Biblical Insights from My Fifty Years as a Local Church Pastor to share with friends.
This series was originally a local church message I shared in early 2021. My friends at Cadre Missionaries encouraged me to release this in written format so that you could share in the joy of disciplemaking friendships. I go into more detail on each of these relationships in the next parts of this series: DISCIPLEMAKING: Biblical Insights from My Fifty Years as a Local Church Pastor. —Pastor Marty