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 in the Body of Christ
Now, there is still one more kind of relationship that is vital in disciplemaking. It's one I think we very often miss. God is pleased to do the work of disciplemaking through our relationships with the members of our church family.
Throughout Paul's second letter to Timothy, and especially in the closing chapter of this book, Paul refers by name to other members of his ministry team, other members of the church family in Ephesus. He notes 22 specific first names. Behind each name is a story. Behind each name is a man or a woman, and a lesson in disciplemaking.
Some of these lessons are spelled out by Paul. Others don't have to be spelled out. Paul just says the name.
You know how it is when you're talking about someone in your fellowship. You say, “Oh, you know Susie" and your friend says, "Oh, yeah, do I know Susie.” Because Susie is in fellowship with you, because she is part of your local body of Christ, you know her story. You know her. You’ve lived life together. You also know what is to be learned from observing her life. So Paul doesn't always tell the whole story behind the name.
He is able to tell Timothy succinctly, From Demas, you could learn the dangers that result from loving this present world. And don't forget that from Luke, you can learn better than from anyone else what faith and bravery are all about. And from Alexander, the coppersmith, you'd be reminded that the worst attacks that come to us as disciples of Jesus Christ come from inside the fellowship. Don't ever forget that, Timothy. From John Mark, you can learn that the grace of God is greater than my grace, because I gave up on him and God didn't. And now he's of great service to me.
So it goes, name after name, of those in the church at Ephesus or on Paul's ministry team. Behind each name is a story, and behind each story, a lesson in disciplemaking to be learned by Timothy. Clearly, God intended each one of these relationships in the local body to help foster young Timothy’s development as a disciple.
But Paul didn't tell these stories only for Timothy’s benefit. Have you ever wondered why these verses are recorded in Scripture? You may be thinking, ‘Paul, we don't know these people. Why are you telling us this?’ Paul wanted you and me to get the picture. He wanted us to understand that we are to embrace relationships in the local body.
God has incredible lessons to teach us about what it means to be His followers, His disciples. Some of those lessons, by the way, are positive, and some are negative. Actually, a lot of them are negative. So many of them are negative that some people decide, "Well, you know what? It's just going to be God and me in the end. I'm going to give up on the church." And they lose out on all these great lessons that they could have learned, and that God wants us to learn about disciplemaking from rubbing up against one another.
I want to encourage you to do something this week that I think you'll really enjoy. Sit down and write, as they come to you, the names of 10 people with whom you have been in fellowship over the course of the years. And then think for a moment about the story behind each name.
Then think about this: What is the core lesson that God taught you through that man, that woman, that young person, that child?
I expect that this simple exercise will fill you with joy.
Core Lessons God has taught me from a friend. 1. _____________________________ name __________________ 2. _____________________________ name __________________ 3. _____________________________ name __________________ 4. _____________________________ name __________________ 5. _____________________________ name __________________ 6. _____________________________ name __________________ 7. _____________________________ name __________________ 8. _____________________________ name __________________ 9. _____________________________ name __________________ 10. _____________________________ name __________________
I wrote down some names: The first was Jim. Now, the Bible says, "Everybody has a gift.” Someday, I'm going to ask God about Jim’s gift, because it was not immediately apparent.
But Jim Sweeney could smile. He had the most incredible smile, and he would drive a bus out into the neighborhood, smiling. He was a pied piper and would just crank up that smile. Kids would respond to his friendly invitations, and he'd bring them to church. Over the course of the years, he brought dozens of young people from “the wrong side of the tracks” into our church to hear about Jesus Christ. Some of them came to Christ and testified, "It's because Jim smiled at me."
Next I wrote Grandma Springers name. She was the first person who ever pulled me aside and said to me as a young boy, "I know God has his hand on you, son. I pray that He'll raise you up to be a pastor, a teacher of His Word.” And the list goes on.
Reflect on those you have come to know in and through your experience in the local church. Ask, "What lesson has God taught me through them?” While too often ignored, our relationships with brothers and sisters of the local church have been used by God to impress on our hearts and our minds scores of lessons necessary in the everyday life of a disciple. By the way, this is one of the best reasons for staying engaged in the life of the church: the joy of discovering how God uses disciplemaking friendships to draw us close to Him and to each other.
Well, there you have it: the centrality of relationship in disciplemaking, and three distinct kinds of relationship used by the Lord to foster disciplemaking.
Relationships in the home
Relationships with friends and often younger believers
Relationships between brothers and sisters in local churches.
In an age fascinated by technology and innovation, God is still pleased to use human relationships as his primary means to accomplish His purposes. If just one person in each group of friends begins to seek the Lord, asking that his or her relationships with other believers be transformed into the kind that nurture and stoke spiritual growth, what might happen in our local churches? How might the Lord use you?
Earlier, I suggested we each pray up 10 names, and meditate on how the Lord has used them to grow you spiritually. In addition: "Where would God have you invest more fully in fostering relationships in order to be a more effective disciplemaker?" Who might God be prompting you to share life with as disciplemaking friends? Is there an impression from the Spirit of God that seems to be directing me to make myself available for relationships that lay the groundwork for disciplemaking?
Friends God is prompting me to draw close: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.
The Lord may even bring to mind a friend or neighbor who hasn't yet come to faith. Has the Spirit of God ever put someone on your heart, and you’ve responded, "Lord, how in the world would I disciple him? He doesn't even know you." Start there! Begin to build a friendship.
Perhaps you’ll reframe how you think of relationships with your own children or grandchildren. If you’ve backed away, or haven’t been too involved spiritually, the Lord is saying, "Just spend time, would you? Find a way to be with your children or grandchildren a bit more and let them see the life of Christ shine through you."
Maybe you’re thinking of a younger believer or someone less mature. God is saying, “Invest! Be a friend. Go on a road trip! Wherever you go, invite this younger person along as you seek and follow the Lord.”
May I suggest that when God prompts he is wanting you to respond?
I want to challenge you to stay tuned to God’s prompting by regularly praying the Disciplemaker’s Prayer.
The Disciplemaker’s Prayer
Heavenly Father, Thank you for giving me a disciplemaking way of life in Christ Jesus. As I go through every part of this day, help me to love you and love the people who cross my path-starting with my family. Don't let me miss the adventures you are sending my way to live and speak the Good News about Jesus today. Draw my heart to you and to specific people you want me to pull close for Jesus-like disciplemaking friendships. By your Word and Spirit, transform me into a follower of Jesus who loves you, loves people, and makes disciples-who make more disciples, ad infinitum. —In Jesus' name, amen.
Why not start a daily routine of asking God to open your eyes and heart to His joy, the joy of disciplemaking friendships at home and in life.
Note: You can share the Disciplemaker’s Prayer by visiting disciplemakersprayer.com.
End of Part 4.
Bonus: As promised here is your free digital edition 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