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The Practical Side of Discipleship (Part 1)

07.24.17 | by Larry Gates

    Issue three of the Disciple-Maker’s Forum introduced the reader to the VIM principal. VIM stands for Vision, Intentionality, and Means. Forum issues four and five discussed the first two concepts, Vision and Intentionality. This issue will begin a series of discussions on the topic of Means. The term Means refers to the practical steps, training, and tools the disciple-maker uses to help the growing disciple advance further toward spiritual maturity.


    The practical side of discipleship consists of the skills and abilities the disciple-maker brings to the disciple-making experience. In essence, they represent the basic practices of the disciple-maker. These practices include, but are not limited to the following:


    • Building trusting authentic transparent relationships
    • Reading and studying the Bible with a mentee
    • Asking probing questions and encouraging application of truth to life
    • Engaging in critical conversations
    • Living life on mission


    In this issue of the Forum, our discussion will be devoted exclusively to the topic of building healthy trusting relationships. In the months that follow, each of the remaining four practices noted will be discussed in detail.


    Building Authentic Relationships

    The vast majority of life happens in ordinary places – in the everyday routine of work, school, family, recreation, and community. Honest trusting relationships and personal ministry are often built in ordinary places – places where there are no crowds, no distractions, and no press on time. Oswald Chambers states, “All the time God is in the commonplace things and people around us …. One of the most amazing revelations of God comes when we learn that it is in the commonplace things that the Deity of Jesus Christ is realized.”[1] God often loves to work quietly behind the scenes in ordinary places – like in a conversation over a cup of coffee or in the midst of a leisurely walk with a friend. It is in the ordinary places where relationships are built and nurtured.


    Relationships are one of the most essential elements for disciple-making. They can exist in one-to-one venues, small group settings, or even in large group environments. When disciple-makers intentionally walk alongside a mentee in a trusting authentic relationship, they purposely open their

    lives and become transparent. Nothing is hidden, not even disappointments and failings. Disciple-makers are like everyone else – imperfect people. Nevertheless, they are called to be authentic, transparent, and yes even vulnerable.


    Disciple-makers intentionally walk alongside people in common places, demonstrating how to love God, and live a way of life that reflects the nature of Christ. Disciple-makers don’t simply teach people the ways of Jesus; they personally show others how to live like Jesus. The principle of “practicing” with a mentee happens when the disciple-maker:


    • Has a quiet time with the mentee rather than telling them how to have a quiet time.
    • Doing a Bible study with the mentee rather than encouraging him or her to study the Bible.
    • Inviting the mentee to see how the disciple-maker relates to his or her family, or to other people rather than explaining the values of relationships.
    • Having the mentee help the disciple-maker minister to the homeless and less fortunate rather than discussing the importance of helping those in need.


    Disciple-makers must love others and live authentically, be openly transparent, and expose their vulnerabilities. Living authentically in love involves unconditional acceptance of people and a personal decision to seek their highest good. Transparency involves a willingness to allow others to witness one’s personal struggles, fears, and life issues inside the safety of a trusting friendship. Vulnerability goes beyond transparency, it allows people into your life to support, encourage, and comfort in times of trouble. Jesus demonstrated each of these qualities. Consider the following examples.


    • Jesus became a servant and washed his disciple’s feet. “Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed the full extent of his love.” (John 13:1)
    • Jesus acknowledged the disciples faithfulness to him even when he faced persecution. “You are those who have stood by me in my trials.” (Luke 22:28)
    • Jesus exposed his vulnerability in the Garden of Gethsemane. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (Matthew 26:37-38)


    If Jesus was authentic, transparent, and vulnerable in his relationship with his disciples, are you willing to follow his example? Are you willing to live your life before your disciple authentically, transparently, and expose your vulnerabilities?


    In addition to being authentic, transparent, and vulnerable, disciple-makers must be able to enter the life stories of their mentee. The expert disciple-maker knows how to skillfully glean the life themes that have been woven into people’s journey. However, skilled disciple-makers know that they must not speak into another person’s life until they have earned the right to do so. This right is only won by building a trusting friendship based on a foundation of authenticity, transparency, and vulnerability.


    Disciple-makers begin understanding a mentee’s life story by simply asking them to prepare a timeline of their life. The mentee is asked to identify sequentially important events, friendships, successes, failures, or lessons learned that have shaped their life journey. At a subsequent meeting the mentee shares his or her story. For added impact, disciple-makers should prepare their personal life story timeline and share it with their mentee. This strategy allows both life stories to be unveiled simultaneously in an environment of friendship. This approach allows the disciple-maker an added opportunity to reinforce the importance of authenticity, transparency, and vulnerability in their relationship.


    The example below is an illustration of how one individual described the defining moments in their own life story. There are six clear phases in this person’s life journey and each phase is summarized thematically using a sports metaphor.


    Life Story Timeline of Anonymous


    Phase 1 (Age 0-32): Not My Game – no interest in spiritual things, far from God, no hope, no promise, no future


    Phase 2 (Age 33-42): In the Game – spiritual birth, spiritual growth, spiritual contribution, but ill equipped for spiritual warfare


    Phase 3 (Age 43-50): Disabled List – disillusioned, questioning, re-examining, and disenfranchised by organized church


    Phase 4 (Age 51-57): Recalled – back in the game, connecting with spiritually mature men, walking as a disciple, and discipling others


    Phase 5 (Age 58-62); On the Bench – a season of discontent, depression, oppression, suppression, caught in a rat race leading no where


    Phase 6 (Age 63 to Present): Starting Line-up – refocusing life, redefining purpose, reconstituting commitment, being on mission, desiring to leave a lasting legacy


    Summary: Life can be a roller coaster! More can be learned in the valley than atop the mountain.

    As a disciple-maker what does your life story timeline reveal? Are you willing to be as authentic, transparent, and vulnerable as the person whose story has just been unveiled? Mastering the practical skills of disciple-making requires the courage and willingness to be revealed unmasked. Lasting trusted friendships are always built on authentic, transparent, and vulnerable relationships.

    [1] Chambers, Oswald. My Utmost for His Highest. Westwood, NJ: Barbour and Company, 1963, p. 27.