Discipleship happens, not just by sharing the gospel but by sharing our lives with others. Writing to the Thessalonians, Paul comments: “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess 2:8). Paul and Silas shared the gospel and their lives with these men and women. Paul lived with Jason, worked with the Thessalonians, ate meals with them, had an affection for them.
They shared life in the rhythms of working, eating, suffering, and serving, like a family.
So how do we go about making disciples?
Paul describes discipleship through two primary relationships: brother to brother and father to son. Perhaps more people are familiar with brother discipleship relationships, where you have shared life and the gospel with your peers. All too often these Christian relationships stop at sharing life. They don’t go deep into the gospel, mining grace through conflict, suffering, and mission. The other disciple relationship God has given the church is the father to son or mother to daughter. This relationship is not peer-based but mentor-based, sharing not only life but also gospel wisdom.
I’ve had the privilege of sharing life and wisdom with some great mentors. Tom & Julie Steller shared their lives and the gospel with us our first year of marriage. We lived on the first floor of their home, which was connected to their floors with a winding staircase. We popped in on one another, talked in the front yard about life, and occasionally shared meals. The Stellers gave us an example of marriage during our first year. Julie intentionally prayed for Robie and walked with her through some trials. Tom also helped me fumble through the first year by sharing wisdom with me, not just life. He was the first person to show me that, when 1 Peter 3:7 calls us to “live with our wives in understanding way”, it literally reads “dwell with them according to knowledge.” In other words, husbands should be students of our wive’s needs, hopes, fears, and dreams. We should know them intimately not just provide for them financially. This insight has compelled me to love my wife over the years by asking her questions about her joys, fear, concerns, hopes, and dreams. I’ve passed it onto many.
How to Speak Wisely
Mentors speak wisely in a variety of ways. There’s not a one size fits all way of sharing wisdom. Paul discipled through speech by exhorting and encouraging. He wrote to them saying: “For you know how, like a father with his children”exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (2:11–12). A fatherly mentor observes his disciple and takes time to exhort, encourage, and charge others in the faith.
A mentor observes his disciple and takes time to exhort, encourage, and charge others in the faith.
Tom exhorted me to understand my wife as a display of the gospel to the world. Doug Birdsall encouraged me in seminary. We met together regularly but he also took the time to attend the Sunday School classes I taught, in both my first year and my last year. Then, after each class he would pull me aside to specifically tell me how I had improved. When I began writing, published author and mentor, Steve Macchia, encouraged me to keep writing even when my article queries were turned down. He insisted that I had a voice and something to say, and that one day, I would get published. He endorses my first book, which comes out in March. Exhorting and encouraging can and should happen in peer discipleship relationships too, though exhortation and encouragement from a mentor carries a particular weight. Use it wisely.
The discipleship crisis can be redressed if we will simply take the time to be disciples who share the gospel and our lives with others. If this kind of discipleship had stopped with Paul and Barnabas, Christianity would have gone nowhere. But Barnabas discipled Paul, Paul discipled Silas, who discipled the Thessalonians, who discipled others. Four generations of disciples. The church grew, in depth and number, through the multiplication of shared life and wisdom. What if this kind of discipleship had stopped with the Thessalonian church? Where would we be? If it had stopped with me, my now friend and fellow pastor would not be discipling others. When I first met him, he was a burned out musician and recovering alcoholic in need of shared life and gospel wisdom. After taking in some gospel steroids, sharing life, and devouring wisdom, he’s discipled others. Now he’s not only a peer disciple but also a mentor to others.
Life and Gospel
What would happen if you and your community took the opportunity to share life and the gospel, not just as peers but also as mentors to one another? You could stave off the crisis and advance the church.
Jesus wasn’t born, crucified, and raised just so you could go to church; he came so you would go make disciples.
Good discipleship relationships share life and the gospel. Sometimes they take the form of brotherly relationships and other times they take the form of mentor relationships, father to son, mother to daughter. Everyone needs a mentor but not everyone is promised a mentor. However, everyone can be a mentor to others. If you know Jesus, you know more than enough to disciple someone.
It is these discipling relationships that cause the gospel to spread, for disciples to multiply. What would it look like for you to invite one person into your life, to share just 25% of your time with? Who has God sent you to? Are you intentionally making disciples? Who could you deliberately pursue to share life and the gospel with? Jesus wasn’t born, crucified, and raised just so you could go to church; he came so you would go make disciples. Don’t just go to church; go make disciples!
Jonathan K. Dodson (MDiv; ThM, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) serves as a pastor of Austin City Life in Austin, Texas. He has written articles in numerous blogs and journals such as The Resurgence, The Journal of Biblical Counseling, and Boundless. Dodson has discipled men and women abroad and at home for almost two decades, taking great delight in communicating the gospel and seeing Christ formed in others.