By Greg Nettle
I don’t believe I can overstate that one of the most effective ways to be a disciple who makes disciples is simply to model what it means to be a follower of Jesus. In other words, to say to those in our sphere of influence what the apostle Paul says to us: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
How do we invite others to follow our example as we follow the example of Jesus?
How do we become disciples who make disciples?
The short answer is through relationships. But I believe it must be relationships that also involve shared experiences and, at some point, the transfer of information.
At RiverTree (the church God has entrusted me to lead), we call it R.E.I.: Relationships, Experiences, Information.
Let’s do a quick exercise. Take one minute to list all of the sermons or lessons or teachings that have changed your life. Just play the theme song from Jeopardy in your head. Go ahead . . . make your list right now.
How many did you come up with? Three? Five?
I’m a paid professional preacher and I could only come up with four!
Unfortunately, most of what we do as a church is invite our friends and neighbors to come listen to someone impart information for 20 to 45 minutes at a weekend service. And the truth is, we retain very little of what we hear, and even less actually changes our lives.
Now, let’s continue with our exercise. Take one more minute and list the relationships that have changed your life. Go ahead . . . write them down.
How many did you list? Ten? Twelve?
The power of personal relationships to transform our lives is absolutely amazing!
One more minute. This time write down experiences that have altered your life. It could be a mission trip, adopting a child, giving money away, serving those in need, etc. OK, write.
I would venture to guess your list of transforming experiences was in double digits.
As important as information is, relationships and experiences are far more effective in bringing about life transformation. But in most of our churches we spend the vast majority of our resources delivering information!
When I talk about relationships, I’m certainly referring to spending time with our friends and neighbors sharing meals, serving, and having fun. But if we want to be disciples who make disciples, then our relationships must move to a deeper, more intentional level.
We want to get to the place where we’re able to ask the two baseline questions of discipleship: 1. What is Jesus saying to you? 2. What are you going to do about it?
As a result of the answers to these two questions, we will encourage, hold accountable, and pray for one another.
As we eat together, celebrate birthdays together, work together, and simply do life together, we’ll be able to set an example of how a disciple does his best to follow Jesus. The real key comes when we begin to be “on mission” together.
Being on mission simply means that we find a common neighborhood or network of relationships where we share the words and works of Jesus. It could be in the local school system, on your street, at an assisted living center, among people who love to run—the options are limitless!
As we do this, we are laying the groundwork for biblical community together—a community of people who gather around and are defined by their common mission.
At some point, information becomes absolutely vital. If we are only in relationship together, then we have become very self-serving. If we are only serving together, then we are just nice people who do good things! None of this is bad in and of itself; however, if we want to be disciples who make disciples, we need to be confident and ready to share the content of our faith.
So when asked why we do what we do, we respond by explaining our faith in Jesus. This does not have to be a lengthy biblical exposition (though it probably will involve sharing from God’s Word). Most importantly, it is telling our story. The difference Jesus has made in our life. Why we became disciples of Jesus. How others can become disciples of Jesus.
Putting It All Together
I have an avocation. I climb mountains. Over the past several years I have climbed the world’s highest freestanding volcano (Kilimanjaro) and what many believe is the world’s highest active volcano (Cotopaxi). Serious adventure.
One of my most effective uses of R.E.I. to make disciples involved climbing. I invited eight guys to go on an adventure with me for one year. The adventure (as I described it to them) would involve meeting with me regularly through the year, learning to care for at-risk children, and going on a trip to Ecuador where we would climb a mountain—all together. All eight accepted my invitation.
For eight months prior to the trip, I gathered with this group of young leaders. We asked the questions: “What is Jesus saying to you?” and “What are you going to do about it?” We studied Scriptures about God’s heart for children. We got in shape together and prepared for the climb together.
Two months before the climb we began getting sponsors for the climb—commitments for each of the 19,000-plus feet we would be ascending. Every penny of the money raised would go to help at-risk children through our ministry partners in Ecuador.
Finally, the day arrived. We met at the airport, prayed together, and boarded the jet. After arriving in Quito, we spent three days visiting schools and Compassion International ministries. I watched as this group of guys played with, loved on, and in the end, sponsored even more children.
And then we climbed. It was arduous, freezing, and breathtaking (literally). But what kept us going was that we were disciples who were climbing “for the children.” In the end we raised more than $100,000 “for the children.”
After returning to the States, we spent the next several months debriefing our experience, how God had changed us, and what we had learned throughout our adventure. Relationships, experiences, and information all synergized to help us become better disciples who make disciples. And most of those guys are now leading groups of their own . . . disciples who make disciples.
Greg Nettle is the visionary leader of the RiverTree Movement and president of Stadia, an international church planting organization. This column is adapted from his ebook Disciples Who Make Disciples, available online at www.gregnettle.com.