When we think about the “cost of discipleship,” most of us focus on the personal cost: What I must change, give up, or sacrifice to follow Jesus. There is certainly a case for this in scripture. Jesus’ call to discipleship demands total allegiance, to “give up one’s life,” to “die to self,” to “take up your cross,” and follow Him. For those of us who have surrendered to His Lordship, we now live on the other side of the decision and are experiencing the promised blessings. “He who loses his life will find it.” Having been on the surrender side for many years, I can think of no other way to live on the planet.
There is another cost of discipleship, however, that many Christians, even leaders, are less willing to pay. It is not the cost of personal surrender. It is the cost of helping others “follow me as I follow Christ.” To “make disciples” we are called to invest huge amounts of our time and energy into a few people who know us and look to us for an example of Christ-like living.
As a parent of four children, now all married, and the grandparent of ten, I know a little about child-raising. Raising kids to be successful, stable, responsible, law-abiding adults with life-skills, confidence and healthy self-esteem is no easy task. It takes a minimum of two decades – with many joys and challenges along the way. For those of us who live on the other side of THAT investment, again, we would insist there has been no better way to spend our lives. We love our kids! We love their spouses! And, we love their children! The reward of child-raising was not easily or quickly won, but it was worth the effort and the wait.
No matter what it is called – mentoring, parenting, fathering, coaching – discipleship is a lot like raising children. It requires a huge investment into a few people. It means spending time, building trust, and being selfless, authentic, and transparent. It means listening more than speaking, and being genuinely interested in the person sitting in front of you. Discipleship isn’t answering the phone when people call. It is taking the initiative, and calling people up for coffee and a chat.
Never patronize. Never try to control.
There are some things I never do in my discipleship relationships: I never patronize. I never try to control. I don’t view the relationship as a “feather in my cap,” and I don’t try to recruit the person to my team. My goal is simply to empower people to walk with Jesus and become what God intends them to be. People who feel this kind of support will enjoy doing life with you! Regardless of where they work or live, they will join your team! Why? Because affirmation and encouragement are some of the most powerful commodities in the world, but sadly are also in short supply these days. So, share them prodigiously!
There is a cost to discipleship! It takes time. Lots of time. You don’t disciple people by preaching to a big crowd. Preaching is important ministry, but it is not a replacement for discipleship. The real power of discipleship is face time. It took my wife and me two decades to raise our children – this messy conglomeration of activities, emotions, empathy, fun, joy, sadness, instruction, guidance, correction, and encouragement that is essential for children to become healthy adults. Discipleship is no different… except for one thing. The people you will disciple need your respect and love, but they are not children, so don’t patronize them!
Christian leader, if you are too busy for disciple-making, clear your schedule! Your life is too important to waste, and you have too much to give to fritter it away on shallow relationships.
Jesus spent three years investing in twelve men. Do you really think the impact they made on the world after the Resurrection and Pentecost would have happened if Jesus only focused on preaching to the masses and managing a growing ministry?
Discipleship is the foundation of Christian leadership. The Rule of God does not go forward without Christ-centered, investments-of-your-time with people. One person at a time. One small group at a time. All the other great things we do – preaching, leading, influencing, communicating, teaching, managing – are a consummate waste if we are not pouring our lives into a few chosen people.
Jesus’ disciples stumbled along behind him, making a lot of mistakes, while He patiently and graciously coached them into ministry leadership. Later, with the power of the Holy Spirit, they changed the world. If we make the same investments into people we can expect the same impact and reward. Ultimately, the measure of our investment in people is their success in life as a follower of Jesus.