Avoid Making Disciples of Yourself

Those of us who take seriously the Great Commission recognize how Christ’s charge compels us not to make converts on a superficial level but Christ followers in every area of life. This rightfully includes a healthy obedience to Jesus Christ, the head of the church, and a deep love for Christ’s body, the local church. We cannot create missionaries without making disciples. But we who make disciples must remember our own fallen state. Though pure in motive, without great care we may—in the name of disciple making — focus on making those we disciple like us rather than like Jesus. True, Paul told those he discipled to follow him as he followed Christ, and there is a sense in which one of the best ways to show a disciple how to follow Christ is by demonstrating such a life. But we must be aware of our own biases as we lead others.

As we make disciples, we need to take care to be balanced and holistic in our training. All of us have personalities and passions that make us unique, but our goal in disciple making is less to note our uniqueness and more to spotlight Christ. If we are not careful, we will inadvertently push those we follow to pursue our personal passions more than Jesus. The goal is to make Christ followers not us followers.

Three areas represent how to balance the heart of our disciple making and mentoring:

  •  Orthodoxy, or right belief — we must affirm and guard fundamental teaching of Scripture.
  •  Orthopathy, or right affections — we must have a deep love for God and for others.
  •  Orthopraxy, or right actions — we must demonstrate our faith effectively in how we live.

In other words, we should be discipling others (and ourselves) to give glory to God through our head, our heart, and our hands. This is hinted at in Luke 2:52 where we read our Lord grew in wisdom, stature, and favor with God and man. We see this in the earliest description of life in the church in Acts 2:42-47:

  • Orthodoxy: They gave themselves to the apostles’ doctrine.
  • Orthopathy: They were praising God and having favor with the people.
  • Orthopraxy: They sold their possessions and distributed to those in need.

Here is how we must take care not to make followers of us rather than followers of Christ. We all have a tendency to favor one of these areas — doctrine, affection, or action — more than the others.

You probably know some believers who love to study doctrine or some subset of theology, from apologetics to a specific theological trend (eschatology, for instance). Sometimes folks given to such interests display a less-than-gracious capacity to relate to others or to practice their faith in the real world. And, sometimes they would rather argue their theological convictions than take time to hear yours.

Others have a great heart for people and really love God, but the idea of a doctrinal study gives them chills. They have affection but do not adequately value truth.

Then again, some just want to know how to “do” the Christian life. These are the activists, jumping from one cause to another, sometimes running over people who do not share their fondness for said cause, and often not able to articulate biblically why they have such an activist bent.

You may be given to one of these three tendencies more than others, but take care: If you focus on one in your disciple making to the neglect of the others, you are not making followers of Jesus. You are making followers of you.

Consider these unbalanced approaches:

Orthodoxy + Orthopraxy – Orthopathy = legalism.

The Pharisees were keen on preserving the truth and on doing their religious duties. But they did not love people. Modern-day Pharisees still don’t.

Orthopraxy + Orthopathy – Orthodoxy = liberalism.

You have heard the expression a “bleeding-heart liberal.” Liberals love to talk about their love for people and causes, but loathe to talk about doctrine and changeless truth.

Orthodoxy + Orthopathy – Orthopraxy = monasticism.

Monasteries seek to preserve a pure faith. They love those inside their safe walls. But their focus is on what goes on inside their sanctuary far more than what happens in the surrounding culture. I know many churches who function this way, gathering together regularly, loving their fellowship, standing on the promises while they sit on the premises of their church facility, but who do so little in their communities that if they vanished no one would notice.

We must be aware how we as individuals and churches focus on one of these to the exclusion of the others. We need balance. Not a milque-toast, generic version of each, but a bold, unashamed passion for truth, for God and people, and a burden to live out our doctrine and our affection effectively. Students need to see where they are strong and where they are weak in these areas, and student ministries must as well. Most student ministries focus primarily on affections, and then to some degree activism, but give far too little focus to doctrine. I want to dig deeply into the riches of God’s Word, have a heart for my Savior and the people for whom He died that is apparent to all, and be able to live the faith in this culture in such a way that believers and unbelievers alike see there is no better way to live. Or to think. Or to love.

Understanding this not only helps us disciple those who have come to follow Christ, it can help us evangelize as well. Some people need to be shown theologically the truth of the gospel. But some also need to see and sense the great love of God for them in addition to the propositions of the gospel. Further, some need to see how our faith actually works in the real world, how following Christ affects our daily lives and decisions. The effective gospel bearer will learn to explain the gospel in such a way that one sees its truth, senses its heart, and realizes its practicality in a broken world.

Be busy making disciples. Just be busy making disciples of Jesus, with all of our hearts, minds, and activity. Such disciples may make people take notice. They did in the early church. And they will today.

The following is an excerpt from Alvin Reid's new book, As You Go: Creating a Missional Culture of Gospel-Centered Students (Navpress). Continue reading As You Go.

Alvin L. Reid is husband to Michelle and father to Josh and Hannah. He is a professor of evangelism and student ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary as well as a popular speaker and author. He has written numerous books on student ministry, evangelism, missional Christianity, and spiritual awakenings.  Follow on twitter: @AlvinReid.