Coach Hayden Fry’s 1983 University of Iowa football team picture has become famous, not necessarily because of the games it won, but because of what became of its coaching staff. The assistants on Fry’s staff that year would go on to become some of the most successful and well-known head coaches in college football. Among them were Kansas State’s Bill Snyder; Kirk Ferentz at Iowa — and Bob Stoops at the University of Oklahoma! In a very real way Fry’s career should be judged not merely on the number of the wins and losses of the college football team he personally coached, but by all the men he trained and sent out to coach in his footsteps.
This is the mindset we need to adopt as Christians. Being a disciple of Christ is not just about each of us following Jesus personally, but also involves passing our commitment on to the next generations of disciples.
Over the last 12 weeks, we have studied how Jesus called us to follow Him as His disciples. He commanded us in Luke 9:23 to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow Him. We have also heard from I Timothy 4:7-8 that we are to “discipline (ourselves) for the purpose of godliness.” We have looked at a number of the disciplines the scripture commands us to adopt as Jesus’ disciples, including daily Bible reading and prayer, spontaneous prayer throughout the day, scripture memory, fellowship & service in the church, witnessing in the world, and the disciplines of giving at least a tenth of our income, and fasting. This morning we are going to finish “The Disciplines of Disciples” series by looking at how we are commanded to reproduce what we have learned, into the lives of others, as we study “The Discipline of Discipling”, from II Timothy 2:2,
“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
I. You must BE a disciple yourself.
(:2) “The things which you have heard from me …”
The first thing of note here is that Timothy had become a genuine disciple himself; he had “heard (these things) from (Paul)”. Acts 16 tells the story of how Paul, on his second missionary journey, came to the towns of Lystra & Derbe, and found Timothy, whose mother was a Christian, and who was well-spoken of by the people in the area, and he chose him “to go with him” on mission, :3 says. So he did, and Timothy became Paul’s “disciple”, going with Paul everywhere he went, and learning from him everything that he taught. Timothy was first of all a disciple himself, which put him in the position to become a disciple-maker.
This is what God wants for each of us. He wants us to become disciples. The Bible word “disciple” means “learner.” Jesus commanded His followers in The Great Commission on Matthew 28:18-20 to go and “make disciples.” He did not say “make converts” who have “made a decision”; He commanded them to make “disciples”; “learners”, “teaching them to OBSERVE all that I commanded you.” In other words, they were to make followers who would put into practice what Jesus taught. It is one thing to “make a decision” and “fill out a card” and say you are a “convert” to Christianity. It is another to genuinely be a “disciple” who puts into practice what Jesus commanded.
We have made such an emphasis in our Baptist churches on “making a decision” to follow Jesus, that we have almost lost what it really means to actually FOLLOW Him as His disciples. We ask people, “Have you ‘made a decision’ to follow Jesus?” and if they say they have, we are content with that, no matter how they live, or how little evidence there is in their life that they are truly following Jesus. Now, if you are going to be His disciple, you do need to “make a decision” at some point to follow Him, but merely “making a decision” is not the same as following. You have to actually FOLLOW!
For example, if I tell my son Michael, “Michael, go clean your room”, he could come back to me and say, “Dad, I’ve made a decision. I am going to do what you said, and clean my room!” That would be GREAT that he had “made a decision” to clean his room, but the “proof in the pudding” would be, does he actually DO it?
Unfortunately, that is what has happened with a lot of so-called Christians for the past several generations. People have come forward and “made decisions” saying that they were following Jesus, but what is really important is not whether they supposedly “made a decision” to follow Jesus — but did they actually START FOLLOWING JESUS! We need to understand that just “making a decision” to follow Jesus is not the same as actually following Him. Jesus said in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ but do not DO what I say?” He indicated there that merely “saying” you are His follower is not enough; you’ve got to actually FOLLOW! A real disciple is one who OBSERVES what Jesus commanded, just like He said in Matthew 28:20.
1) Each one of us here today should ask yourself: am I a Disciple? Are you a genuine follower of Jesus Christ, not someone who just claims to have a “decision” some time in your past, but have you truly repented of your sin and trusted Jesus as your Lord & Savior — and does your life show that you have indeed followed Jesus since that point?
2) If you are, then you need to ask yourself: What kind of disciple are you? Are you putting into practice the things we have looked at over the last weeks? Are you spending time in the pure milk of the word every morning? Are you beginning your day with prayer? Do you continue to talk with God all through the day with spontaneous prayers? Are you memorizing scripture (are you carrying your card with you? Are you working on memorizing a verse? Are you committed to the fellowship of the church, to service, and to evangelism? Are you giving a tithe of your income as a demonstration that Jesus is your Lord? And do you care enough about people or your country to fast and pray for them? Are you exercising “The Discipline of Disciples”?
You cannot make disciples if you are not personally a disciple. Jesus condemned the scribes & Pharisees in Matthew 23, saying they were blind guides leading the blind, so that both will end up in a pit! In other words, you can’t lead someone else as a disciple if YOU are not a disciple yourself. You cannot take anyone farther than you have personally been.
You can’t teach anyone about praying if you aren’t personally praying. You can’t lead anyone to obey God’s word if you aren’t. You can’t tell anyone how to evangelize if you never share Christ. The most basic question to ask before you try to become a disciple-maker is, are you practicing these things yourself? If you are going to be a disciple-maker, then like Timothy you must first personally BE a disciple yourself.
II. If you are a disciple, then the next commitment for you is to MAKE disciples
“entrust these to faithful men”
Paul told Timothy, because you are a disciple, and you have heard and learned these things from me, NOW I want you to go and share these things with others: “entrust these to faithful men.” The word “entrust” here is the same word Paul used in I Timothy 1:18, where he said “This command I entrust to you, Timothy” — So Paul is asking Timothy to do for others what HE had done for him: “entrust” to them the doctrines and practices of the faith which he had learned from Paul. Because Timothy had been a disciple, he wanted him to now go and make disciples too.
This wasn’t a “new” commandment. As we have seen, this was Jesus’ command from the very beginning in Matthew 28:29, “Go and make disciples …”.
Unfortunately, for several generations, most churches have focused on making “converts” instead of real disciples. Pastors & church proclaim things like:
— “We had 79 professions of faith”, or
— “We baptized 38 people”, or
— “We had so many ‘decisions’.”
These things are recognized and celebrated by the churches, associations, and the Convention. And they may be good in themselves, but our ultimate concern needs to move from how many “decisions” we had to how many DISCIPLES we are making! Jesus’ command was not to “get decisions”; it was to make DISCIPLES.
Disciples are not people who have just “prayed a prayer”; they are those, according to Matthew 28, who are being taught “to observe all things that I commanded you.”
As one seasoned discipler wrote, we need to stop asking how many numbers of “decisions” we’ve had, or how many people we have sitting in our pews, and start asking ourselves, what are these people LIKE? Are they still going to our churches? Are they actually following Jesus? Are they becoming like Him? Are they observing what He taught us to obey? Are we “making disciples”? That is what He commanded us to do.
There is a church I know of in Oklahoma that a few years back baptized 100 people a year for something like 10 years in a row — but at the end of the 10 years, that church had virtually the same weekly attendance they were running before! I said to myself: something is WRONG here! What’s wrong is that many of our churches are more focused on getting “decisions” or numbers of baptisms, than really making long-term disciples!
So, HOW do we make disciples? There is much more that can be said about this than can be shared in one message, but let’s look at a couple of examples from scripture of how we can make disciples:
— First, we see the example of Paul & Timothy. Paul was going about his mission, and came across Timothy, and he “pulled him aside” and took him with him, and poured into his life. This is a model we can follow: find a person in the course of your life & ministry who is receptive to spiritual things, and spend some special time with them, investing into their life.
— Jesus also exemplified disciple-making, which should say a lot to us. He ministered to the crowds for sure, but He always had the 12 with Him whom He was investing special time with, and taught them things that the multitude was not ready for yet. And even beyond the 12, He had the 3: Peter, James & John, with whom He spent even more special time.
We should look for opportunities to do these same type of things. As you go about your life & ministry, find a person or two who are receptive to growing spiritually, and spend time with them, investing into their lives in a special way. That is discipleship. It can be done in various ways:
— There is the classic “one-on-one” discipleship where two people meet together to pray, study scripture and memorize verses. The Navigators have popularized this approach.
— I read a book by a man who has done discipleship for years, and he is of the opinion (backed by some research) that “triads” of three people statistically have the best long-term success rate in making disciples.
— but then I read a book by another author who asserted that Jesus discipled in a small group, so we should too. (I don’t know how you can argue with that!)
— I believe that discipleship can be done from the pulpit as well. Numbers of you have told me how you have begun to read your Bible daily, or pray using the Model Prayer outline, or memorized verses, as a result of the “Disciplines of Disciples” messages we’ve shared. So discipleship can be done in larger group settings as well.
So we can see that there is more than just one way to do discipleship. I like a definition that a friend of mine has adopted, that discipleship happens any time you are doing spiritual good for someone else. It can be any of a variety of activities, from leading a large group, to teaching classes, to meeting with a person one-on-one, to discipling your own kids at home, to informal meetings, to just spending time with people and modeling for them how you live & respond to situations, etc.
There have been scores of books written in recent years on discipleship, each advocating one particular way or another of “doing discipleship.” I have come to the conclusion that ALL of them are good; what is important is that you find the best way to disciple that fits your gifts and temperament and ability , and DO IT! Different ones of us will do different types of discipleship better; the important thing is to find what you can do most effectively, and purposefully invest your life into others, to help them grow spiritually.
We are going to try to get some books and resources into your hands over the next weeks and months, that will help you disciple others. I am going to be leading a discipleship class starting on Sunday nights in September, based on the book, “10 Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health”, and I hope that many of you will take that not only for your own spiritual growth, but also specifically so that you can turn around and share it with others, and help them grow as disciples.
Or if you have a question about a book, or a resource, for discipleship, ask me or one of our church staff. We are here to help you become a disciple, and to equip you to disciple others.
People can look at Hayden Fry, that football coach at Iowa, and identify a number of men whom he mentored, and who are now successful head coaches. He basically “discipled” those guys, and people can point to his “disciples” in the coaching ranks.
We should be able to do the same thing as disciples of Jesus. The Apostle Paul could say: “There’s my Timothy; I discipled him.” Someone has said that we should all be able to do the same thing: to point to a person whom you have met with, and taught, and discipled, and now they are out serving the Lord where He called them. I think that ideally, everyone in the church should have both a “Paul” and a “Timothy” — a person who is pouring into their life, and someone whose life they themselves are pouring into — at least that should be our goal.
So who is your Timothy? Who are you discipling? Or who should you ask to help you become a discipler? Ask God to lay someone on your heart to begin to meet with you, as you begin “The Discipline of Discipling.”
III. We must MULTIPLY disciples.
“who will be able to teach others also”
But as important as you becoming, and making, a disciple is, that is not the end goal. Paul says it is extend to another level. You want the people whom you disciple to then go on and disciple others. He commands Timothy to entrust these things to faithful men “who will be able to teach others also.” In other words, the process is to continue in an endless chain of disciple-making.
That should our goal for what happens in our churches: not just “addition”, but multiplication, as disciples make disciples who make disciples, until we touch the whole world through our discipleship.
It has been pointed out numerous times how you can take two people, one with a gift of evangelism, who wins 10 people a week to the Lord, and another, who “only” wins one person ayear, and disciples them to do what he does. In the first year, the “evangelist” would win 5200 people to only 1 by the “discipler”. But in just a few years, by multiplication, the “discipler” would be multiplying to millions of disciples and touching the whole world, while the “evangelist” would still be winning the same couple of thousand a year.
This is what we need in the church. We need to multiply our efforts through purposeful discipleship. But this is also where we are, in a sense, “dropping the baton” by not discipling the next generation of Christians.
In the 2008 Olympics, the U.S men’s team was running the 4×100 relay, and the U.S. was cruising towards a great run, and an advance to the next round, and a good shot at a gold medal. But just before the last leg of the race, one of the sprinters tried to hand the baton to the next runner — but they dropped it. The baton bounced on the ground behind the runners, who then had no chance of winning the race, and the Americans’ hopes for gold were over — NOT because they weren’t fast — but because they didn’t successfully pass the baton to the next runner!
That idea of running the race and passing the baton is a very good picture of the Christian life. Our success and failure as Christians is not merely based on how we personally live our lives; this verse reminds us that we have not done what God has called us to do here on earth until we have passed what God is doing in our lives on to others, who will “run the race” as well.
— Imagine had Jesus not made disciples. His ministry, as amazing as it was, would have ended when He ascended to heaven!
— If Paul had not made Timothy and others as disciples, his great ministry would have ended when he was killed in the prison in Rome.
— My ministry and yours is the same way: if we do not “pass the baton” the next generation, we have failed to complete the mission that God had for us in this life.
This is exactly where many individuals and churches are failing today. We are not training others to take our place. Recent statistics from the Southern Baptist Convention indicate that 9 out of 10 SBC churches are either plateaued or are declining in number. I read one study which indicated that if nothing changes, tens of thousands of SBC churches will close their doors within 20 years and cease to exist. What has happened? I believe one of the biggest reasons for this is that we have “dropped the baton.” We have not purposefully made disciples to pass the leadership, and the faith, down to the next generation. We have “dropped the baton” — and as a result we are losing the race.
It is time for every church to ask itself: what are we doing to purposefully “pass the baton” to the next generation? Not just what can we do to “reach” people, but to disciple them like Jesus commanded, and train them to train others, to train others, to multiply disciples to reach our community, and the whole world. This is going to require some changes in many of our churches:
— for many of our churches it is going to require a new way of “keeping score.” Our success can’t merely be measured by “how many came” or even how many “professions of faith” we get, but how many DISCIPLES we are making; what they are living like; how many leaders are we raising up and sending out into the world?
— in many churches it is going to take a re-arranging of priorities. It may call for giving some scheduling time that we have given to other meetings and priorities, to discipleship classes and groups so that we can train disciples the way Jesus commanded.
This is one of the reasons why we are going to start a church-wide emphasis on discipleship beginning Sunday night, September 13. We will have classes for every age group kick off at the same time, and we will have a selection of discipleship classes for adults to choose from. I know that a number of us would like for us to have a Sunday night service again, but we need as a church to have a purposeful time when we focus on developing disciples. It’s not going to happen overnight, and it will take some time to get going, but I believe this will be a vital and strategic time for our church as we focus on discipleship on Sunday nights. I hope you’ll make plans now to participate, for your own spiritual growth, and so you can pass it on and disciple others.
— For many it may require a shift in the way we view the work of our pastors and staff. We need to understand that pastors and other ministers are not called to DO all the work of ministry in the church, but that God has called our leaders to disciple the members to do the work of ministry. This is just what Ephesians 4:11-12 says, that God gave pastors and teachers “to equip the saints for the work of the ministry.” We need to realize that it is not a bad thing for pastors and other leaders in the church to spend time with a few individuals, or a small group, because that is just following the pattern Jesus set of discipling a small number of people in order to make disciples. And don’t be found criticizing the ministerial staff because they aren’t making every visit, or doing all the ministry. Pastors and staff are not called to make all the visits and do all the ministry; we should be an example and do our share, but our scriptural mandate by God is to “equip the SAINTS for the work of the ministry.” Don’t be found in the future criticizing your pastor or staff for doing ministry the way that God has specifically called them to do it in His word!
— But don’t make the question merely “What should the pastors do?” or “what can the CHURCH do?” about discipleship, but pray about what God wants YOU to do. Who should YOU meet with? How can YOU obey Jesus’ command to make disciples?
Hayden Fry, the football coach I mentioned in the introduction, finished with 277 wins, which is a terrific record. Bobby Bowden, the legendary Florida State coach, won 377, the most ever in Division 1. But when you add the wins of all of Fry’s “disciples” who went on to coach, they won 722 more games, totaling almost 1000 wins that came from Fry’s “coaching tree” — almost three times as many as record-holder Bobby Bowden, or any other head coach ever in college football history!
What was true for Hayden Fry in football, can be true for you & I spiritually, if we will disciple. What you accomplish in ministry during your lifetime will only be “the tip of the iceberg”; the people God uses you to disciple can multiply your ministry many times over, and make an impact all over the world for all eternity, if you will exercise “The Discipline of Discipleship.”
Thanks very much for sharing a most needed truth for the ministry. God bless you more! I just started making disciples again in our church, by God’s grace we will continue.
Amen; I am grateful to hear of your commitment. God bless you as you make disciples for Him!