As I started high school, I needed a “real” job. I knew the owner of a McAlister’s Deli in Fayetteville, AR, so I was able to get a job serving and bussing tables there. On my first day, I was assigned to follow around a guy who had been there for years. He had a lot of experience. My only instructions were, “Follow him around, do what he does, and you’ll be fine.” He took me under his wing, taught me all of the nicks and twists of the job, and encouraged me to do it well and work hard. Soon enough, I was able to train someone else. We always need a more experienced person to show us the ropes before we can do our job well, let alone teach someone else. As we study Biblical discipleship, God does not call us to lead first, but to learn. We are not a shepherd first, but a sheep.
“And Jesus came and said to them,“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
According to the great commission, our biblical mission is to go out and make disciples and baptize them. It is fairly easy to focus on the outreach programs, events, mission trips, etc., to make this possible, but the third command is often neglected. It demands harder work. It says we are to teach the new disciples all that Christ has commanded us. It requires more dedication and intentionality to walk alongside our new disciples. But if we desire to cultivate growth in any ministry we are apart of, discipleship is the catalyst towards sustainable growth. We are not simply called to make disciples, but we are called to practice discipleship.
One of the greatest biblical examples of discipleship is found at the heart of Paul’s ministry. In the opening of Acts 16, it tells us of a young man named Timothy who joined Paul for his second missionary journey. During Paul and Barnabas’s first missionary journey, he traveled through Lystra, where Timothy was most likely converted to Christianity. Embarking on his second missionary journey, Paul brought Timothy alongside him. He had a good reputation and clearly passionate about His relationship with the Lord. He desired to learn and grow in his faith, so Paul took him under his wing. By the time Paul’s ministry had come to an end, Timothy was no longer a disciple, but a ministry partner. Timothy was a strong, faithful leader of the Church, who took over his own ministry in Ephesus. Paul shows a great example of a mentor in scripture: He made a disciple, took his new disciple -a faithful one- with him as he did ministry, gave him the opportunity to lead, and intentionally followed up to see how he was doing in his two letters to Timothy. Paul was a great shepherd to a young sheep who needed direction.
“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 Timothy 2:2
In this verse, Paul explains his intention behind building a good soldier for Christ. Discipleship did not stop at Timothy, he also taught others. Biblically speaking, discipleship is best modeled by the lives of Paul and Timothy. We should always have three types of people in our lives at all times, no matter what stage of life we are in.
1) The Paul: Someone more mature, wiser, who teaches us how to be a faithful
disciple of Christ. They hold us accountable to truth, setting the expectations for us.
2) The Timothy: Someone younger than us in the faith who needs encouragement. They are already faithfully following Christ, but they need someone to mentor them
and guide their growth. They live up to the expectations set by their Paul.
3) The Barnabas: If you notice, Paul was not alone in his ministry. He took a ministry partner with him as an encouragement. Barnabas did life with Paul as they did ministry. He was not more faithful or wiser than Paul, but they were in similar stages of life. We need people in the same place as us spiritually to challenge and encourage us, like Barnabas and Paul did for each other.
When all of this is done well and faithfully, God uses a Paul to guide us, a Timothy to mature us, and a Barnabas to challenge us. It is a beautiful picture of Biblical community, with the end goal making our Timothy into a Barnabas. The guy who trained me at McAlister’s did not remain my trainer forever, but we became coworkers. We are called to teach our Timothy how to be a faithful follower of Christ, so they can join us in our ministry.
Although we are called to be mentors and good shepherds to the flocks God has given us, we tend to over emphasize our role in the process. While it is a command for us to practice discipleship, we are not the ones giving the commands. We are called to be shepherds, but it is not our primary calling. We are first called to be a sheep to the great Shepherd. We tend to think the spiritual well-being of those we mentor is entirely in our hands, but we are not the Holy Spirit. We can teach truth and walk alongside someone very well, but the main goal is not to make someone into little versions of ourselves. Our goal in discipleship is to make someone look more like Christ, the great Shepherd.
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” John 10:27-30
Our first calling is not to be a shepherd, but a sheep. The only reason we can be called a shepherd is because the Lord is giving us the opportunity. If we desire to practice discipleship and be a mentor with a lasting impact, it is crucial for us to understand our primary role in the process. Our primary calling is to surrender and be a sheep, allowing the great Shepherd to take care of His flock. He does use us in the process, but we are never the ones receiving the glory. The first step in creating deeper disciples is to acknowledge the humility God requires of us. It takes humility to be ask someone to mentor you, but it takes greater humility to be the mentor. In order to be a mentor, it’s important to surrender to your call to being a sheep and the Lord will take care of the rest.