By Matt Tullos
Special assistant to the executive director
I don’t think he’d ever remember this, but a man changed my life in a very intentional way. His name was Phillip Willis. Every Tuesday, Bro Phil would pick me up after school to take me to visit and evangelize other students. To this day, I still remember those visits. I remember watching Bro. Phil sharing his faith and challenging me to do the same.
He was a busy man, but he decided to make an investment in me and he changed the arc and direction of my life that year. He’s my favorite example of a disciple who made disciples, because I was the recipient of a man who took time to pour his life into an awkward ninth grade boy. Discipleship requires investment but the returns are eternal. Here are five dynamics of a disciple making disciples. They form an acrostic for the word INVEST.
Imitate Jesus. Before the Sermon on the Mount, before water was turned to wine, and long before the Great Commission was spoken, Jesus made disciples. He didn’t begin by starting a class, giving a reading assignment or testing the depths of men’s spiritual potential. He began by saying “Follow me.” In other words, come see how I live, what I value and where I go.
This was the beginning of the process. Just come along and let’s see what happens. Indeed, there are lessons to be learned and words to be said, but the beginning of discipleship begins with an invitation to follow. No badges, certificates or hierarchy because we are all in process when it comes to discipleship.
Name your person. Discipleship isn’t a large group process. It’s an intentional relationship. The exceptional disciple is one who finds someone to invest time with. It’s a running theme throughout the Bible. Moses named Joshua and Aaron. Paul named Timothy. Elijah named Elisha. And of course, Bro. Phil named Matt. Who’s the one you are going to pour your life, experience, skill and prayers into? I hope at least one name comes to mind as you’re reading this. Name your person and make an investment.
I have to confess, as an introvert, it’s much easier for me to go it alone in ministry. I have to work hard at this. But if I’m honest with myself, I’m much more effective when working alongside someone else. It sharpens my focus and makes me more intentional.
As Solomon reminds us, “Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9 CSB) Jesus challenged us to be disciples who make disciples who make disciples. Sounds repetitive but this is the plan for discipleship. It is all about relationships and the lessons learned along the way.
Encourage vulnerability. One of my favorite scenes in the Spielberg classic, “Jaws” is when the sheriff, the marine biologist and the boat captain hunker over a table and begin to reveal their scars and their stories. There’s something going on in that scene (besides the foreboding battle with a gigantic Great White looming in the next scene). It’s the failures, setbacks and adversities of the past. As disciples and deacons, we don’t hide our battle scars. We learn from them and pass on the lessons. For many deacons, scars are to be hidden not revealed and that’s what we call “shame.” Jesus always uses our scars for His glory if we are courageous enough to be vulnerable.
Set aside time. If we are serious about discipling, we have to be willing to sacrifice time. If you’re like most, time is like money. There never seems to be enough of it to invest. But we must. As I read the Gospels, I’m amazed by the number of miracles and holy, life-changing interactions Jesus had when He was on the way from one place to another.
We never see Jesus checking the time and saying, “Sorry friend, I just don’t have time. It’s not on my agenda.” He never scrolls through his calendar parchment and concludes, “I just don’t have the time for this.” He made time. We have to make time to disciple.
Trust the process. The Philadelphia 76ers, adopted this as their theme a few years ago. The owners of the team told their legions of beleaguered fans who suffered through season after season of losing campaigns to trust the process. It even went so far that fans started chanting it during the games. “TRUST THE PROCESS!” They nicknamed their all-star center, “The Process.” Some thought it was hokey but it’s something disciple-makers must do. Trust the discipleship process.
It’s not an overnight thing and it’s hard to measure results, but a continual investment of our lives into new believers, struggling fathers, and rookie deacons will ultimately win out. It’s gradual, but it’s eternal. And if we intentionally invest in people, the process works if we work the process.
It’s not a pastor thing. It’s an everybody thing! What would happen if every Tennessee Baptist decided to become a discipler? We’d easily reach our objective to see at least 50,000 Tennesseans annually saved, baptized and set on the road to discipleship by 2024. B&R