JESUS SAID TO MAKE DISCIPLES in all parts of the world. In fact, all other functions of the church—worship, evangelism, teaching, preaching, and fellowship—serve no purpose if they don’t result in disciples. But making disciples can be tricky.
In the business world, one of the first steps in manufacturing a new product, such as the Super Thingamajig, is to determine how a Super Thingamajig looks and what it does. In a similar way, it’s hard to make a disciple unless you know how one looks, acts, and functions.
Being a disciple isn’t a matter of adhering to a list of acceptable behaviors. In fact, it is the opposite of legalism. Discipleship involves transformed thinking, refocused vision, and recalibrated priorities. It involves inner beliefs and convictions so strong they change the way we act. It involves being rather than seeming. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ involves thinking and acting like Jesus Christ and following His teachings. It doesn’t mean perfection—not even the apostle Paul claimed to have reached that level—but it does mean working hard to reflect Him in everything we do.
What does a disciple really look like? Jesus listed several criteria for judging discipleship: total commitment, even at the risk of death (Matthew 10:38, Luke 10:3); humility (Mark 10:41-45); making Him our first priority (Matthew 8:21-22); serving others (Mark 9:41), slavishly if necessary (Mark 10:43-45); and willingly giving up everything (Luke 14:31-33).
While the Bible defines discipleship, culture impacts the way it is lived out. Although the core commitment is universal, a Christian’s culture will affect how discipleship is expressed where he lives. With North American eyes, we sometimes view discipleship as having only one acceptable form. If a person doesn’t fit the pattern of discipleship we have designed, we may even disqualify him as a true follower of Jesus Christ.
As missionaries, our goal is notto produce Christians who look, act, and sound like American Christians. We are to generate individuals who look, act, and sound like Jesus Christ living in their culture.
In 1980, Yannick Kermorvan quit a good job and moved to another country with his wife Dominique to attend Bible college for a year. He didn’t feel “called” to the ministry, but he did feel called to follow God. Since that time, they’ve worked secular jobs and are strongly active in the Free Will Baptist church in Nantes, France.
In the last three years Yannick has been unemployed more often than he has been employed, their 16-year-old daughter has developed an incurable disease that causes tumors to grow on her joints, and Dominique is suffering through chemotherapy after two surgeries for cancer. His brother simply cannot understand why Yannick brings his faith into every decision at work, or why he can’t just keep quiet about it. Yannick tells me they’re overwhelmed, but not destroyed. For him the most important thing is to be a living witness for Christ in spite of the suffering. “I wish I understood everything that’s happened,” he told me, “but I’ve learned to never look at the situation, but to look only to Christ.”
Kontin Paul was a well-known fetish healer in Doropo, Ivory Coast, who first heard the gospel as a grandfather. God transformed his life. Paul never learned to read or write, but that didn’t stop him. Until he died, Paul set up a spot every market day for years so he could tell the crowds of people about Christ, using pictures on flip charts. His love for God radiated from him. Making Jesus Christ known was his first priority.
Jeff Turnbough works with Jhon Fredy, who migrated from Colombia to Spain to find work and a better life. He found something (or someone) he wasn’t expecting. He found Jesus Christ, by way of the Free Will Baptist Church in Villalba. From the very beginning he seemed to immediately absorb everything missionaries taught him. Jhon quickly expressed a strong desire to give his life back to the Lord in any form of humble service. He was truly willing to sweep floors, run errands, or do anything else church leaders asked of him. No one had to tell him to talk to his family, friends, and coworkers about Jesus or the gospel; it was automatic. His service has manifested itself in genuine concern for the needs of other people. Because of his gifts, natural abilities, and humble service to others, Jhon has risen into spiritual leadership within the local church. He has passed through some excruciatingly painful times. But when he has fallen, he has admitted his faults and sin, recommitted himself to God, and continued. Through it all, he has been an example to other believers of what a true disciple should be.
One of the first people Dave Franks, Sr., led to the Lord after moving to Belo Horizonté, Brazil, was a teenager named Juliano Ribeiro. Over the years, the young man matured spiritually, became a policeman, and eventually married. God gave him and his wife Silvana a home near the Belo church. They were the only Christians on their street and wanted desperately to reach their community for the Lord. So they began classes in their home. Over the years this couple has seen people from at least 12 homes on their street come to know the Lord. Both saved and unsaved people in their neighborhood know they can go to Silvana and Juliano with their needs or problems and receive counseling. The couple has helped train teachers, worked with special programs, and taught classes. But most of all they have given others an example of what it means to be faithful to the Lord.
Yannick and Dominique, Paul, Jhon, Juliano, and Silvana—none of them claim to be perfect. None would even claim to be a good example of a disciple. Perhaps that’s because disciples stop looking at themselves and start looking at the Master. They do their best—imperfect though their best may be—to look like Him and to put His teachings into practice.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Living in France, Robert and Judy Bryan are developing a leadership training program for potential church leaders in France and Spain.