Excerpted from Disciples Path: A Practical Guide to Disciple-Making. For more information about this 6-part study for new or maturing believers, visit LifeWay.com.
When Paul described his ministry as a church planter and disciple-maker in Colossae, he wrote these words, “We proclaim Him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28). The word “mature” means someone who is full grown, adult, or of full age. Paul was nurturing spiritual children toward spiritual maturity. In 1 Thessalonians, when Paul described his relationship with the people who make up the church in Thessalonica, he declared,
“You are witnesses, and so is God, of how devoutly, righteously, and blamelessly we conducted ourselves with you believers. As you know, like a father with his own children, we encouraged, comforted, and implored each one of you to walk worthy of God, who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:10-12).
There is a very telling statement in this passage, “like a father with his own children” (1 Thess. 2:11). The relationship a disciple-maker has with those he is discipling is that of a spiritual parent. And what does a spiritual parent do? A spiritual parent does as Paul pointed out he had done for those he was discipling: “we encouraged, comforted, and implored each of you to walk worthy of God” (1 Thess. 2:12a). Let’s take a quick look at how the relationship is defined as encouraging, comforting, and imploring.
In this context, to encourage is to appeal to the spiritual child you’re discipling. Children need to be both challenged and encouraged. They are the practices of every parent raising godly children wisely and the practice of every great disciple-maker. In this role, you are guiding the disciple to obey God’s expectations while offering reassurance throughout the process. The encouragement you give will allow the disciple to feel the confidence to press ahead in the process.
It is important that a disciple-maker also comfort the spiritual children he is discipling. To comfort in this connotation is to reassure the disciple so that he will stay the course. Comforting denotes the affectionate and compassionate counsel of a loving, caring father. When comforting, it’s important to exhibit a compassionate father’s love rather than exercising a stern father’s authority.
A parent will often find himself passionately and emphatically urging a child forward. Parents will authoritatively declare what the child needs to get done, how to live, and how to carry out his or her responsibilities. As spiritual parents, we know what is necessary for growth. As the word implore is used in this passage, it describes an authoritative tone and points to the earnestness of the appeal maker, the spiritual parent.
Every disciple-maker needs to remember that his or her role is primarily a relational one. You are not just fulfilling the role of a leader to the ones you’re discipling. Don’t fall into the trap of simply recruiting people to fulfill your own goals. Also, your role is not that of a boss. The disciple-making process is not the chance to simply drive people through a system so you can stand back and feel fulfilled with the work. Finally, you are more than just a friend. Though friendship is vital, your role goes deeper than mere sentimentality. Disciple-makers and disciples will become good friends but your place in their lives is something more in this time of life. Leading people through processes and befriending them are good things. But no child needs a parent who treats him in such a way.
Disciple-makers are spiritual parents to those they are discipling. They take pride in seeing that every disciple is taking steps forward toward maturity. They realize and accept that every child has his or her own personality and mature at his or her own rate. They nurture the ones they are discipling by encouraging, comforting, and imploring out of a heart of deep love so that the ones they’re discipling walk “worthy of God.”