-Teaching as a student
From the very first Bible study I led it was clear, from my lack of knowledge of the Bible, that I was not there to teach but to learn. While I might be a facilitator of conversation or organizer of the group itself, there was no preconceived notion that I was there to impart knowledge, let alone “make disciples.” God had ordered me to lead with my Bible, but that’s where the job description stopped. Reality could not be avoided. I did not know the Bible. Therefore, my only role in that Bible study was alongside all the other members as students and seekers of the word of God. One of the most common and destructive positions a Bible study leader, or any Christian, can adopt is the position that knows all of the answers and never admits the need for answers. At my very first Bible study, the very first members were the Senior Pastor of the church, a visiting church’s Youth Pastor and his wife, a Children’s Pastor. That day I learned the most important three words for a leader: “I don’t know.” God virtually tattooed them onto my brain. However, with the knowledge that God was with me, not knowing wasn’t the end to the process. God led me to answers to questions in between meetings so that my knowledge and faith increased, while the groups and those asking the questions were edified. To God, all questions are valuable, and when I learned with the members, God established that he was in control, and welcomed us all as seekers of his truth.
-Teaching as a non-believer
While leading the Bible studies as a student, I also carried with me the experience of once strongly opposing the work of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That past was not to be overlooked, forgotten or unmentioned. My past opposition to God allowed me to realize that not everyone immediately understands, agrees or believes. Therefore, in responding to doubts, questions or objections I had to remember that I once said the same things, but by the patience, grace and love of God I was now in position to defend the Gospel with his patience, grace and love. Too many times objections or criticisms to the Gospel of Jesus are met with hostility, and not love and empathy. There must be a dialogue, and the only way for there to be a dialogue is if the leader of the Bible study fully comprehends their former alienation from and opposition to God. Only then can we begin to walk as Christ’s disciples, and in the process teach others what it means to be a disciple of Jesus as saved sinners, forgiven enemies and loved children of God.
-Following God’s Schedule/Plan
As I mentioned, the call of making disciples was not a fully recognized thought in my mind. It’s ironic that to effectively make disciples one must hardly ever think about the act of making of disciples. My time was committed to the work of God through the study of his word and the exposition of what we found.
That process was day to day and it often changed forms without any preparation or planning on my part. The act of making disciples is not so much about leading someone to profess belief in Jesus Christ, but leading people into a genuine walk with Christ. Belief in Jesus doesn’t guarantee following in his footsteps. To effectively lead people to a genuine walk with Christ, I had to listen to his directive to not take more than one day at a time, both in my walk and with the people I met. Their needs were in present tense, the word was applied in present tense, and the growth was occurring in present tense, even though at the time we might not notice. Disciple training often gets reduced to pre-planned steps and programs that assume that all people will be trained in the same way, according to the same timeline and to the same effect. The reality is different. God cares personally for very unique children in often very different ways. Therefore, the act of making disciples must be flexible, aware of the current state of those being led, and in tune with the direction of the Holy Spirit. This takes a great deal of self-sacrifice. But could anything less be expected from disciples of Jesus Christ?
-Investing with Empathy
Investing time and energy into the lives of others is a natural byproduct of evangelizing and leading others to Christ. This sacrifice can never be out of obligation or spite. To genuinely lead you must be led. Leading others to Christ requires Christ’s ongoing leading and sacrifice for all, including the leaders. Otherwise we simply lead for the sake of leading. By daily resetting to the cross we can lead for Christ’s sake. In Christ we are constant recipients of God’s grace, patience and enduring faithfulness. From this position we can lead others and not be annoyed with their lack of growth, lack of understanding and abundance of questions. We were them. We are them. As we invest in the lives of others we must always be attuned to our own need for Christ’s investment and the people that God has chosen to lead and support us. As Christians, none of us have arrived at the position of salvation on our own. We have all received the truest form of love from Jesus himself, along with the spirit of his love in the lives of others that have made us into disciples.
-Training to Sustain
The more I led others in the word, the more apparent it became to me that God’s desire in the individual Bible studies was much larger than I had originally thought. I began to see that leading someone to faith in Jesus Christ meant little unless it prepared them to lead others to Christ as well. The charge to all disciples is to make disciples of all nations. To become a Christian and not be prepared to make new disciples of Jesus opposes the Great Commission. It is all too common that an individual completes a discipleship-training course, feeling satisfied in their accomplishment and experience, but then does nothing with what they have learned. Many new disciples of Jesus Christ don’t know how to further the spread of the gospel by leading others to Jesus. Only by the leading of the Holy Spirit, God gave me discernment in providing opportunities for others to lead their own Bible studies. This opportunity gave members the experience of witnessing God move through multiple people, removing the potentially dangerous focus and reliance on one particular leader. It also gave new leaders direct experience with the leading of the Holy Spirit in real time, with real questions and real disciple making of their own. Often this is when the most growth occurred.
Disciple making is our charge according to the Great Commission. God wants all people to hear the message, and when the message gets bottlenecked by people, groups or churches, the gospel is obstructed, not allowed to save the world by the blood of Jesus Christ. As followers of Jesus, we must invest in making disciples and maturing servants to lead others to the cross of Christ.