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The Practical Side of Discipleship (Part 4)

09.11.17 | by Larry Gates

    The life of a follower of Jesus is a journey of change or transformation. It is a journey of becoming more like Christ (Romans 8:29). As Dallas Willard notes, “the aim of transformation is not first to act differently, but to become different in our inner being.”[1] In essence transformation is an inside out process. It is an inner change that is manifest in outward behavioral change.


    Disciple-makers journey with their mentees through a process of life change. More times than not, this journey involves entering into the life story of the mentee to intentionally encourage transformation. This process often starts with purposeful conversations that exhort the mentee to follow Christ. Life changing conversations are an essential tool in the disciple-maker’s tool box.


    Engaging in life changing conversations requires disciple-makers to know and understand the essence of God’s design for transformation. In Ephesians 2:1-10, the Apostle Paul gives a vivid explanation of the before and after life change God administers in the life of each follower of Jesus.   Disciple-makers should become familiar with this passage of scripture and reference it frequently in life changing conversations with their disciples.


    Disciple-makers recognize that some transformation happens immediately. With the new birth, the old guilt, condemnation, penalty of sin, and alienation from God is passed away (2 Corinthians 5:17). However, wise disciple-makers know that much of life is a process of transformation – change occurs over time. Consider what the Apostle Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (ESV). The transformation Paul is speaking to this verse of scripture is a continual process of changing a person’s character.


    Wise disciple-makers are sensitive to God’s timing and His seasons of change that He brings about in another person’s life. God always works in a timely fashion; therefore timing is essential in mentoring other people. Two Greek words are used in the New Testament to express the Hebrew concepts of time – chronos and kairos.   Chronos time is chronological time or quantity of time. Kairos time speaks to a “right” moment in time or the moment of opportunity. God always orchestrates life change in kairos time. Therefore, disciple-makers must recognize the “teachable moments,” the time when the mentee is open to learning. These times are divine moments of discovery that can lead to change.


    Time for the Hebrew was also measured by seasons or rhythms of life. There is seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night (Genesis 8:22). King Solomon expressed the rhythms of life in the following manner. “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2, NIV). The New Testament describes spiritual growth as seasonal rhythms. There’s a time to sow and water, plant and harvest (John 4:35-38; 1 Corinthians 3:6-8).


    As disciple-makers live alongside their mentee, they must learn to recognize the teachable moments and observe the rhythms of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit works in the life of the mentee. Disciple-makers can only do this if they have developed a deep trusting relationship with the mentee that opens the way to discerning how the Spirit is shaping the mentee’s life story.


    Thinking in biblical time and seasons has significant implication for disciple-makers. Consider the following:

    1. Disciple-makers look for teachable moments in people’s lives, knowing they may not be the results of a ministry timetable.
    2. Disciple-makers use wisdom knowing that the right time for a penetrating question, an appropriate verse, or a word of encouragement are not scheduled like an appointment.
    3. Disciple-makers don’t get discouraged by an idle season in the life of their mentee. They know that life is a journey, with rhythms of stopping and starting, and the last chapter in the mentee’s life as yet to be written.
    4. Disciple-makers share what the person needs to hear, not what the disciple-maker needs to say.
    5. Disciple-makers customize their approach to suit the person they are discipling.
    6. Disciple-makers are always listening for the timing of a teachable moment.
    7. Disciple-makers recognize the growth phases in the life of their mentee and design learning experiences that appropriately fit the season the mentee is in.


    God often uses a simple but effective tool to bring about life change. The tool is engaging conversation. The Bible is full of stories of how God relates to man through engaging in conversation. We only need to look at a few examples such as Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and the Apostles Paul and John to see the impact that an engaging conversation can have on a person’s life.


    Disciple-makers must be intentional about encouraging change through engaging conversation. Such conversations are marked by love and truth, authenticity and discovery. Life impacting conversations start with authentic relationships built on love, transparency, and vulnerability. Based on a sound relational foundation, the disciple-makers can create conversations around Scripture and help others discover truth by asking questions and discussing the Word together. From discovery and discussion emerges wisdom – insight about living in the present. Wisdom is then transferred to real life through application, accountability, and affirmation. It is through application, accountability, and affirmation that life change is actualized and made real. Without application there is no transformation – no growth, only stagnation that leads to an unproductive and unsatisfying life.


    [1] Willard, Dallas. (2005). The Revolution of Character, pg 18. (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.