False Beliefs about Discipleship

By James Rochford

When we begin to invest in people, it’s easy to encounter many false beliefs of our role in their lives. We should consider many of the false-beliefs which we might encounter in disciple-making.

“I am totally responsible for the growth of my disciples.”

This is false, and this belief can lead to many problems in discipleship. Every individual person will need to account to God for their own lives. The people we invest in are adults, and they need to make decisions on whether they want to dedicate their lives to Christ or not. We can persuade them that this is the right way (2 Cor. 5:11), but we cannot coerce or force them to do so. Disciple-makers who blur the lines of spiritual authority often fall into using excessive rebuking, manipulation, or other methods which over-step their bounds. This inevitably leads to failure and discouragement for all involved. While we want to be faithful in helping our friend grow with God, we also need to give them the freedom to make their own decisions. They are the ones who are going to have to deal with the results of their choices—not us.

“Stay away from my disciple.”

We’ve seen examples in the church where one member talks to another about a sin issue or complicated problem in their lives, only to find the disciple-maker saying that they shouldn’t do so. This sort of territorial or possessive attitude of the people we mentor is ungodly, and it is usually held by insecure disciple-makers. For one, a person is not truly “my” disciple. Instead, we are all truly disciples of Jesus Christ. Disciple-makers are just here to help. Moreover, anybody can interact with anybody in the Body of Christ. The “one another” passages are given to all members in the Body of Christ—not just disciple-makers.

“I’m a spiritual loser, because I don’t raise up leaders as effectively as so-and-so.”

This mindset is fertile soil for accusation from the Enemy. It springs from a comparison and performance model of ministry success. When we start thinking this way, we know that we have drifted into legalism. We need to learn the lesson of “no little people” from Francis Schaeffer, and learn to be content that our work pleases God, trusting him for the growth and results. First and foremost, our goal in serving Christ is to be found faithful (1 Cor. 4:2), rather than fruitful (1 Cor. 3:5-9).

“I can’t handle the ungodliness of my disciple.”

Negativity and impatience usually accompany deeply investing in people. However, we need to remember that Paul says that Christian love “believes all things” (1 Cor. 13:7). We need to learn to identify even micro-movement in the person we are studying with. Even small movement is worthy of praise and encouragement.

Moreover, constant reproof doesn’t do much to motivate someone. Would you be eager to follow Christ if someone kept reproving you, week after week? Remember that vision works better than rebuke! Good leaders know how to deliver a rebuke, only when necessary. They typically lead via vision and persuasion. Avoid nagging and stick to essential issues. Don’t inflict your personal frustrations on the person, but instead, deal with these quietly before the Lord. Ask him to give you love and patience for the person.

Sometimes, it is helpful to reflect on your spiritual progress at their age in the Lord. What were you like at this time? Very often, we realize how our lives were a total mess! This can help bring compassion for someone in a similar situation.