There’s no secret to being a disciple-maker. Paul gave us clear instruction on how to do this, and it couldn’t be simpler:
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. (2 Tim. 2:1–2)
It’s true that Paul gave these instructions to Timothy, leader of a church in Ephesus. But it’s clear that these aren’t just instructions for church leaders. Paul invested in Timothy; then he told Timothy to invest in others; then he expected those others to invest in others too. Being a disciple-maker isn’t just for church leaders. It’s for all of us.
Whenever I read this, I’m struck by how simple and effective this strategy is.
First, be strengthened by the grace that’s in Christ Jesus. Being a disciple-maker always starts with being a disciple. Paul reminds us that we don’t get the grace we need to influence others from ourselves; it comes from Jesus and His gospel. Our first unending job is to continually find strength in Jesus, and to be clear with others that we don’t find strength in ourselves. The best thing we can offer others is our own pursuit of Jesus.
Second, look for faithful, reliable people. Paul lists only two qualifications: that they are reliable, and that they will be able to pass on to others what’s entrusted to them. The bar is set low. We aren’t looking for charismatic leaders or unusually gifted orators. We’re looking for ordinary people who show up.
Paul mentions men, but he’s writing to Timothy. If Paul was writing to a woman, like Lydia or Phoebe, he might have told her to look for reliable women. Generally speaking, men are best geared to disciple men, and women are best geared to disciple women. Both men and women are needed.
As I look around, I can usually spot some extremely gifted individuals. Their gifts are far greater than mine. I sometimes worry about them. Many of them will be tempted to coast on their abilities. They may be tempted to define their leadership by what Joseph Stowell calls “outcome-driven leadership”—leadership that’s driven by results, leads with the power of positional authority, and that’s competitive.
I can usually also spot what Stowell calls character-driven leaders. They’re not as impressive at first. They see themselves as followers first. They measure success by character. They “know their fallenness, are unsure of their instincts, and willingly rely on the wisdom of Jesus and godly counsel,” and “energetically cooperate with others for the advancement of the work of Christ.” Those are the people I’m looking for. Search for this kind of person around you. I bet there are more of them than you realize, even though they’re often overlooked in favor of outcome-driven leaders.
What if you can’t find reliable people? Pray about it. I’ve found that God is good at bringing the right people into our lives when it’s time. Ask God to direct you to someone who is ready to grow, and who will be able to eventually help others grow too.
Still can’t find reliable people? Consider patiently coming alongside men, women, and children in the church who are unreliable, unfaithful, and challenging. Invest in them, and consider how to encourage them to grow.
Then, entrust the gospel to them. Take what you’ve heard and pass it on to others, who will then pass it on to others. This brings it down from theory to practice. But this is exactly the point where we’re most likely to get stuck.
A lot of us want to grow. If you’ve read this book to this point, you’re at least curious if not serious about strengthening yourself in the gospel every single day and building gospel habits. You’ll do this imperfectly, and things will get messy, but the Spirit will work in your life. You will grow. God will see to it.
As you grow, it’s likely that you’ll spot others who are reliable. I look around the little church I’m a part of and I’m amazed at the people with whom I get to share my life. It’s an incredible privilege, and I can’t get over it. I can think of reliable people pretty easily.
You know where I get stuck? I think I have nothing to offer them. I get tripped up with the mechanics of becoming a disciple-maker. Who am I? How can I help them when I struggle so much myself? Who would want to be discipled by me when it’s obvious that I have so much to learn? These questions are enough to stop me before I get started.
But look again at Paul’s advice, and we just might get unstuck. Paul asks us to repeat what others gave to us. We don’t have to invent or improve the message. We simply have to pass it on.
Paul asks Timothy to entrust the gospel to others just as Paul entrusted it to him. I don’t know how exactly Paul entrusted the gospel to Timothy, but I imagine it involved long, late-night conversations, food, laughs, and maybe some tears. I know it involved relationships. Paul took a personal interest in Timothy and befriended him with a purpose. It’s not so different from what Don Taylor did with me, minus the late nights.
Think about the person who’s most impacted you with the gospel. Copy that. If they invested in you relationally, then invest in them relationally. If they took you out for coffee, continue taking others out for coffee. Teach them. But more importantly, share your life with them as well as the gospel. Pass on the message, and copy, as much as possible, the way that the message came to you.
Help them pass it on. Paul describes four generations of impact:
• It began with Paul;
• he passed it on to Timothy;
• Timothy passed it on to others;
• they passed it on again.
Paul wasn’t satisfied with influencing another person. He wanted that person to become someone who influenced others who would then influence others.
The greatest contribution we make may be in the people we influence who then influence others. My Sunday school teacher, Don Taylor, influenced the lives of three young boys. Each of us became pastors. We’re passing on what he gave to us to hundreds, even thousands, of people. Who knows how his influence will trickle down in the coming generations? The simple faithfulness of a man who showed up and served faithfully behind the scenes will continue to pay dividends for generations to come among people who won’t even know his name.
We don’t need to be impressive. We often won’t even know what will come out of our imperfect ministries. But if we invest in others, even imperfectly, God will often multiply that investment more than we could imagine. All it takes is a commitment to find reliable people, entrust what we’ve received to them, challenge them to influence others, and then to stand back and watch God work.
Forget about yourself. Get over your fear that God can’t use you or that you have nothing to offer. Build into others; use what you have and don’t worry about what you lack. Don’t focus on the impact you will have. Trust instead that God will use those whom you influence. Think in terms of generations. Nobody will know your role except for God.
To paraphrase a famous Moravian leader: entrust the gospel to others, die and be forgotten. If you do that, you will be forgotten on earth and celebrated in heaven.
Excerpted from How to Grow: Applying the Gospel to All of Your Life by Darryl Dash (©2018). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.