"You should disciple Charles." Imagine hearing a suggestion like this for the first time. At that moment, you might feel privileged that someone thinks that Charles could learn from you. You may have a moment of excitement thinking of the ways God could use you to influence Charles' life for Christ's kingdom. But more than any other emotion, you probably feel terrified. "What am I supposed to teach this guy?" you think bewilderedly. "I'm still trying to figure out this whole Christian thing myself!"
I'm sure many of us feel the same way about the prospect of spiritually mentoring a young man or young woman. We feel inadequate. We feel incompetent. We feel unequipped. We feel that the task of discipling is just not for us. Yet, the truth remains that the Great Commission does in fact apply to us. Jesus calls all of his followers to make more followers of him. We are commanded to make disciples of all peoples by teaching them to observe and obey every bit of what Jesus commanded and by baptizing them into the community of faith (Matthew 28:18–20). So if Jesus expects every single one of us to make disciples, can this process really be one that only a few aptly skilled pastors or highly educated seminarians can conduct? Of course not. Every believer is qualified for this task. If you trust in Christ alone for your salvation, you have all that you need to make disciples for his name: the Holy Spirit who dwells within you. But the question still remains as to how you’ll actually walk through this process. To answer that question, I want to offer a very simple mindset for us to adopt so as to take the "scary" out of discipleship. Take whatever knowledge and experience you have gained in your walk with Christ, whether it be much or minuscule, and pass this on to the next generation of Christ-followers. Or, to state it as a proverb, hand down what you have.
What is Discipleship?
Before we tease out the how, let's make sure we understand what discipleship is. Regarding this topic, I’ve been helped by Mark Dever's excellent book, Discipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus. In this book, Dever's short definition of discipleship is "helping others follow Jesus." That's it! Whatever it takes to enable, encourage, and equip a fellow Christian to follow Jesus more, that's discipleship in a nutshell. While it's true that peers can and should help their fellow peers follow Jesus, I want to discuss here a discipleship relationship that involves a more spiritually mature believer mentoring a less spiritually mature believer. In my own life, I am discipled by men who are older than me and have walked with Christ for many more years than I have. So, generally speaking, the older will teach the younger.
How To Disciple Someone
Now how do we go about helping others follow Jesus? I like to use the illustration of hand-me-downs. Doubtless, you know that hand-me-downs are clothes gifted from one owner to the next. When an older sister outgrows her faded sweatshirt, she hands this article of clothing down to her younger sister. Or maybe it's a stack of baby clothes that a next door neighbor gives to the family with a new arrival. Discipleship can often function like these hand-me-downs. As you have acquired some level of knowledge and experience in the faith, you can then take what you've learned and hand it down to the next generation. Some Christians who are just beginning their walk with Christ have no idea what’s in the Bible or how to go about reading it. In our increasingly secularized culture, biblical illiteracy has risen. You might easily find a new convert who doesn't know if Moses comes before or after Jesus. You can see the great need for discipleship in this sort of context!
Whatever You Have, Hand It Down
Within your own congregation, there are baby Christians––that is, believers young in the faith. Baby Christians can be of any age, but keep in mind the high-schoolers, college students, and young adults who could grow in many ways. I'm willing to bet that each one of them could learn a thousand things from you. Even if you were converted last month, you probably learned something that a person who was converted last week doesn't know. And all you have to do is hand down what you have.
Do you ever pray? Hand that down; show someone how you pray. Do you read the Bible? Hand that down; read the Bible along with someone. Did you recently listen to a sermon? Hand it down; recount a point that was beneficial to you. Did you just finish reading a good article online? Hand it down; explain whatever new insight you gained. I do this sort of thing all the time. Whatever I'm learning or thinking about at the time, I pass along to the person I disciple. You can also bear witness to God’s faithfulness in your life and the lives of others. If you’ve seen God answer prayer, comfort the afflicted, embolden the fearful, or provide for the needy, hand down the story of God’s goodness in those moments and the wisdom you gained through those experiences.
But the best thing you can hand down is your God-given knowledge of himself in the Bible––hand that down. You’ve come to know and trust God, you’ve learned to follow Jesus, by encountering him in his holy Word. Show the person you disciple one of the Psalms that ensures us that God is faithful and steadfast in his loving kindness toward sinners like us. Show the person you disciple which of Jesus’ parables most prominently shaped your understanding of the kingdom of God. Show the person you disciple a few of the many statements from Paul explaining why Christ is supremely excellent above all else.
Don’t stop there. Don’t simply hand down your own knowledge and experience, but also teach them how to observe all that Jesus commanded (Matt 28:20). Over time, show this young believer how to search the Scriptures for himself or herself more and more. As they say, “Give a man a lemon, he’ll have lemonade for a day. Teach a man to grow a lemon tree, and he’ll never be thirsty again.” (Or something like that.) In their discovery of the Bible, they might end up teaching you a couple things!
Also, remember that it's okay to stumble alongside the young man or woman you disciple. You're going to make mistakes and have questions along the way. There is grace for that. There are also resources to help you (like the book by Mark Dever that I mentioned above). And there are people to help you––you're surrounded by a body of fellow believers. If the person you disciple asks you a question to which you don't know the answer, just say, "I don't know. Let's go find the answer together. Let's do some research this week and ask our pastor if he has any thoughts." Then discuss what you've learned the next time you meet together.
If you are a Christian and you've never thought about discipling someone, I would ask you to consider doing so. If the only thing holding you back is that you don't know how or you think you're unfit for the task, don't over-complicate the issue: start by handing down what you have and go from there. Look again at that young Christian that someone pointed out to you and said, "You should disciple _____." Better yet, go to church next Sunday on the lookout for someone whom you want to disciple. He or she can learn something from you. God has grown you in knowledge and truth more than you think. Hand down whatever you have. The next generation needs it.