It’s difficult to decide what strategy is the most effective for making disciples in the midst of many options. How about a biblical one? Paul, in his final letter to Timothy, shares a disciple-making strategy that works.
2 Timothy 2:1-2: “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 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.”
The first step in the discipleship process is to Abide in the Power of Christ: “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus…”
The second step in the process is to Implement the Principles of Christ, “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses…”
The third step is to Invest in the People of Christ, “Entrust to faithful men…”
A disciple is someone who invests in the people of Christ. Paul writes to Timothy, “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.”
In this verse, Paul gives Timothy a command. It’s not an option; it’s not a choice. Entrust. Disciple. Timothy had been given a gift and Paul wanted to be sure he realized that the only way to safeguard and protect the gospel was by giving it away. If God has worked in your life, you need to give the investment away. The goal of Christianity is not to show up at church every Sunday morning and simply be fed by the pastor; the goal of Christianity is to be fed in a way that allows and encourages you to give it away. Are you giving it away?
Think of the Christian life as being a metal chain made of individual links. Every Christian is either connecting links or breaking links in the chain. You are either making connections, discipling people, and passing the baton to others in the faith or you’re breaking links. And that destroys the chain.
Who are we supposed to invest in? Paul says, “faithful men.” Unfortunately this doesn’t apply to everyone because not every wants to be discipled. In many churches, probably less than half of the attendees really want to be discipled. They are happy simply showing up at church on Sunday morning and staying in a comfortable spiritual place.
In the ten years that I’ve discipled men in my ministry and my life, I’ve seen about 60 percent of them continue the spiritual journey for the long haul. I think that Paul is emphasizing the need for Timothy to find men who have a heart for God and a passion to not only make disciples, but also to be discipled.
Sometimes we think Jesus had only twelve followers to choose from, but the truth is that He had to turn away more men that he chose. Jesus had thousands of men to choose from. Of the thousands who wanted to follow Him, He had to choose twelve who would be devoted to the cause.
He had to exclude many men, and I’m sure a lot of them were faithful. Jesus did not pick His disciples because they knew everything or because they were wealthy, brilliant, well-schooled, or talented theologically. Far from it! I believe that the one characteristic Jesus looked for in His disciples was that these men were teachable.
I can work with somebody if they only have one talent, but I cannot work with them if they don’t have the characteristic of being teachable. In fact, you can even have little talent but still be teachable, and I can work with you. We must to get to the place where we desire to grow and learn. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:1–2: “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh.” Let’s grow up and mature from being infants to those who are ready for solid spiritual food.
John Wesley, the great evangelist, said, “Give me a hundred men who fear nothing but God, hate nothing but sin and are determined to know nothing among men but Jesus Christ and him crucified, and I will set the world on fire with them.”[i] Do you realize that if the apostles had only evangelized and hadn’t discipled anyone, none of us would be here today? Think about it. The call to faith is a call to teach people to pass on the gospel and the legacy of Christ.
What if twelve of us had been chosen to be the twelve apostles? Would you and I be able to pass the message on for thousands of years? The weight of that responsibility rested upon those men.
Paul discipled elders and deacons and prophets and leaders of the church. Eventually, he discipled Timothy. He tells Timothy, “You’ve been invested in; now go and make an investment in another person. Not in a 401(k), not in any retirement plan; invest in people. That’s the only way your legacy is going to live on: by investing in people.”
I would rather invest in a thousand people who become faithful followers and disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ than have a church of five thousand people who are a mile wide and an inch deep. I believe we can change our cities; I believe we can change the world. I love preaching, but this kind of change is not going to happen by preaching alone. We must invest in people.
[i] John Wesley, quoted in “The Haystacks Effect,” Prayer Magazine, https://www.prayermagazine.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=231:the-haystacks-effect&catid=49:features&Itemid=43.