Discipleship happens, not just by sharing the gospel but by sharing our lives with others. Writing to the Thessalonians, Paul comments: “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess 2:8). Paul and Silas shared the gospel and their lives with these men and women. Paul lived with Jason, worked with the Thessalonians, ate meals with them, had an affection for them.
They shared life in the rhythms of working, eating, suffering, and serving, like a family.
So how do we go about making disciples?
Paul describes discipleship through two primary relationships:brother to brother and father to son. Perhaps most people are familiar with brother discipleship relationships, where you have shared life and the gospel with your peers. All too often, however, these Christian relationships stop at sharing life. They don’t go deep into the gospel, mining grace through conflict, suffering, and mission.
The other disciple relationship God has given the church is thefather to son or mother to daughter. This relationship is not peer-based but mentor-based, sharing not only life but also gospel wisdom.
I’ve had the privilege of sharing life and wisdom with some great mentors. There was a couple who shared their lives and the gospel with my wife and me our first year of marriage. We lived on the first floor of their home, and we would pop in on one another, talk in the front yard about life, and occasionally share meals. This couple gave us an example of marriage during our first year, praying for us and sharing wisdom with us. The husband taught me that husbands should be students of our wives’ needs, hopes, fears, and dreams. We should know them intimately, not just provide for them financially. This insight has compelled me to love my wife over the years by asking her questions about her joys, fear, concerns, hopes, and dreams. I’ve passed it on to many.
HOW TO SPEAK WISELY
Mentors speak wisely in a variety of ways. There’s not a one-size-fits-all way of sharing wisdom. Paul discipled through speech by exhorting and encouraging. He wrote to them saying, “You know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:11–12). A fatherly mentor observes his disciple and takes time to exhort, encourage, and charge others in the faith.
That husband exhorted me to understand my wife as a display of the gospel to the world. I had another mentor who encouraged me in seminary. We met together regularly, but he also took the time to attend the Sunday School classes I taught, in both my first year and my last year. Then, after each class, he would pull me aside specifically to tell me how I had improved. When I began writing, there was a published author and mentor who encouraged me to keep writing even when my articles were turned down. He insisted that I had a voice and something to say, and that one day I would get published. Exhorting and encouraging can and should happen in peer discipleship relationships too, though exhortation and encouragement from a mentor carries a particular weight. Use it wisely.
The discipleship crisis can be redressed if we will simply take the time to be disciples who share the gospel and our lives with others. If this kind of discipleship had stopped with Paul and Barnabas, Christianity would have gone nowhere. But Barnabas discipled Paul; Paul discipled Silas, who discipled the Thessalonians, who discipled others. Four generations of disciples. The church grew, in depth and number, through the multiplication of shared life and wisdom.
What if this kind of discipleship had stopped with the Thessalonian church? Where would we be? If it had stopped with me, my now-friend and fellow pastor would not be discipling others. When I first met him, he was a burned-out musician and recovering alcoholic in need of shared life and gospel wisdom. After taking in some gospel steroids, sharing life, and devouring wisdom, he’s discipled others. Now he’s not only a peer disciple but also a mentor to others.
LIFE AND GOSPEL
What would happen if you and your community took the opportunity to share life and the gospel, not just as peers but also as mentors to one another?
Good discipleship relationships share life and the gospel. Sometimes they take the form of brotherly relationships, and other times they take the form of mentor relationships: father to son, mother to daughter. Everyone needs a mentor, but not everyone is promised a mentor. However, everyone can be a mentor to others. If you know Jesus, you know more than enough to disciple someone.
It is these discipling relationships that cause the gospel to spread, for disciples to multiply. Who has God placed around you? Are you being intentional about making disciples? Who could you deliberately share life and the gospel with? Jesus gave you life so that you could go and share that life with others.