Disciple-making is the Lord’s design. We will convince no one that we are New Testament assemblies if we are not engaged in this vital work. Why?
- Because it is the express will of God. ‘Go ye therefore, and teach (make disciples of) all nations’, Matt. 28. 19. You say you have no younger believers to disciple in the assembly? Start with the unbelievers around you of which there is no shortage. Disciple-making begins with the gospel, not merely arranging a gospel meeting but going out to the lost with this wonderful news, as our verse commands.
- Because it is the only way to accomplish the Great Commission. It cannot be accomplished through the work of a few preachers. The Lord designed the project so everyone could be involved. If you feel there are many things you cannot teach young Christians, surely there are some things you can teach. Can you show them how to pray for the lost, how to be hospitable, how to use a concordance? Can you introduce them to a good book, or to a divine principle which has transformed your life? Then by God’s grace, do that.
- Because it is the way to lay a sure foundation for the next generation. Of course we should live in the daily hope of the Lord’s return. However, He may wait a little longer, 2 Pet. 3. 9. How will you personally have prepared your young believers for such an eventuality? Is your generation passing on the sacred treasures which previous generations entrusted to you? As Paul enjoined Timothy, ‘The things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also’, 2 Tim. 2. 2.
Making the Arrows Ready
One illustration used of young people and the influence we have on them is the arrow. ‘As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: They shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate’, Ps. 127. 4-5. How apt this is! Every arrow, like every life, has a point. But the arrow must be prepared, then put for a time in the quiver. At the appropriate moment it is selected, aimed, and released, speeding its way toward the target. To be without arrows is to be ashamed, and at the mercy of the enemy. As the psalmist implies, our most effective message for our enemy is delivered by the next generation when we have prepared them for the day of conflict.
- The responsibility of the older generation. The older generation, spiritual fathers and mothers both, are the archers. Our first task is the preparing of the arrow. This will determine the quality of its flight later on. Polishing is the ‘effect’, just repeated contact, so in disciple making there is the need for regular close contact. We will not rub them up the wrong way if they fully know we are interested only in their good. It is often difficult for older Christians to make themselves available, to be both transparently honest and caring towards younger people. We need to be forgiving if they fail. Not handled properly, this may be the last we see of them.
- What are the practicalities? Notice the two reasons for the Lord gathering disciples: ‘And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach’, Mark 3. 14. Here is the secret, we need to convince young believers that whatever their faults and immaturity, we want to spend time with them. If they know we see potential in them for God, we will have won their loyalty. Just spending time; happy times, hard times, times in the word, in prayer, in visiting, at the table, in the work of God, this is the investment that pays rich dividends. You say you are too busy. More busy than the Lord Jesus? Then you are indeed too busy! But the beauty of the plan is that you carry on with your life and ministry but take young believers with you. It may be awkward at first, but you will find that not only the young people will benefit; you will benefit too. You will catch some of their enthusiasm, the freshness of their enjoyment of truths new to them and you will find encouragement in their progress, and gain new strength to accomplish this ministry.
Aiming at the target
One important question we need to ask is, ‘What would we like young converts to become?’ What are the spiritual skills we would like our disciples to acquire and how will we teach them these things? Here are a few suggestions:
- To be servants, Matt. 20. 25-28. In the world, the more servants you have the greater you are. In the church it is just the opposite. The Lord said, ‘So shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister’, Mark 10. 43. Most churches in Christendom have paid servants or ministers, and are designed for people who want to be served. But the original design was that everyone was to be a minister. The Lord wants to maximize the sacrifice in order to maximize the blessing. ‘We ought to lay down our lives for the brethren,’ 1 John 3. 16. Teaching our young people by example how to be servants could be the greatest thing we do for them.
- To be stewards, Luke. 12. 42. The Lord Jesus did not call us bondslaves, John 15. 15, but He did call us stewards. As such, every young believer must learn how to handle the Lord’s possessions. Their bodies are not their own, but temples of God’s Spirit, 1 Cor. 6. 19. Their material possessions are borrowed and will have to be accounted for: ‘As having nothing, and yet possessing all things’, 2 Cor. 6. 10. The use of their time is also a sacred trust, and will appear for final audit at the Bema.
- To be witnesses, Acts 1. 8. How strange to see a farmer throw one seed here today, another there tomorrow. He would soon be out of business. And are we teaching our young people that a tract left at the restaurant, a casual word here and there, good in itself though this is, is God’s idea of evangelism? The three pictures of evangelism in the New Testament are farming, fishing, and fighting. All are high risk, high energy endeavours. We need to teach young believers the essentials of the gospel, the critical role of prayer and the Spirit’s guidance, the skills necessary to win souls for Christ, and the hard work it entails. The New Testament does not treat evangelism as a hobby, nor should we.
- To be students, 2 Tim. 2. 15; John 8. 31. Diligence in studying the word should be taught, not learned by the hit-or-miss method. Unfortunately many older Christians were not taught how to study their Bibles, especially sisters in Christ, as if the study of the word is a men-only activity. This may mean swallowing some humble pie by telling your understudy that you were not taught good study methods but how would it be if we learn together? It could be the beginning of a rich time discovering truth for yourself rather than living off commentaries and hand-me-down truth from others. Teaching a young believer to rightly divide the word is of lifelong benefit to them and to others, protecting from error, preserving from sin, and equipping for service, 1 Tim. 4. 16.
- To be warriors, 2 Tim. 2. 3-4. Surely this is vital in a day when many believers are falling in battle. There must be a willingness to submit to authority, to take correction, to be accountable. One must learn how to put on the armour, how to wield the Spirit’s sword and how to battle on our knees in prayer. We must warn our young people about the dangers of premarital intimacy, internet pornography, social drinking, rampant materialism, and other wiles of the devil. But we must also provide wholesome alternatives to give them opportunity to enjoy the company of other assembly young people, to labour and learn together in the work of the Lord.
- To be fruitbearers, John 15. 8. What we are is more important than what we do. Your young people need to understand that what we want for them more than anything else is to be Christlike. This will involve time alone with the Lord, being wholehearted in our obedience to His Lordship, and allowing the heavenly Gardener to prune us all that we might bear much fruit and that our fruit might remain.
It isn’t easy, but what a thrill to the spiritually minded to see young arrows go farther than we have gone. Pity the archer who shoots an arrow to where he is himself. What is the good of that? No, we want our arrows to fly far, and the farther the better. It takes real strength and a steady hand to aim and then release smoothly. How often it is just at this point that the archer’s failure is seen. Unwilling to let go, he hangs on too long and the opportunity is lost. If we need grace to prepare and point our arrows, how much more is needed to set our young charges on their course, not too soon but not too late, either. Must we be incapacitated before others feel free to participate? (See Phil. 1. 14.) Let us share the load as surely as we have shared the vision. Let us be tender in our critiques, generous with encouragement, and willing to show confidence in those beginning to use their gifts. If we make ourselves available for this work, the Lord will bring young believers into our lives. And if we follow through in this ministry, it will give us a three-fold joy. There will be the joy of obedience, for we will see the divine pattern work. There will be the joy of multiplication as we see others flourish before our eyes. And there will be the joy of a job well done, as we share the delight of the Master disciple-maker Himself.