Following Christ means making disciples. His words echo in the back of our minds, “Go therefore and make disciples . . . ” (Matthew 28:19). Not first and foremost “have daily devotions” or “give to the poor,” but make disciples. We don’t become a Christian by making disciples, but once we are in Christ, few things come closer to capturing the heart of our calling while we’re still here on earth.
The reality, though, is that we have always been involved in disciple-making, even from birth — just not always disciple-making for Jesus. You are a disciple. The question is: Who are you following? You have disciples. The question is: How are you influencing the people watching you?
Every one of us — young or old, American, African, or Asian, believer or unbeliever — is engaged in some form of discipleship. Every one of us follows someone, and every one of us carries significant influence over someone else. As Mark Dever writes in his book on disciple-making, “To be human is to be a disciple. God didn’t present Adam and Eve with a choice between discipleship and independence, but between following him and following Satan. We are all disciples; the only question is, of whom?” (44). Christian disciple-making — or “discipling,” as Dever refers to it — wields the universal human patterns of influence, modeling, and formation for the fame of Jesus.
What is discipling? Dever says, “At its core, discipling is teaching.” He goes on, “Your discipling should help people understand more. . . . Through discipling, you want people to know why Christians pray, why we share the gospel, why we join the church, why knowledge of God’s sovereignty impacts how we live, and more” (83).
Discipling is a ministry of how, but it should be even more so a ministry of why. Discipling others absolutely involves modeling faith and godliness with our lives (Philippians 3:17), but effective discipling also imparts the reasons for believing in and living for Jesus (2 Timothy 2:2).
Anyone can imitate Christianity for a while without any real conviction, but that kind of “faith” won’t last, and won’t save. The younger men and women looking up to us need the truths we believe — the truths behind how we live — far more than they need a good example to follow. You can never teach anyone all the how’s, but when you teach them the why’s, you prepare them to exercise wisdom and generate their own how’s long into the future.
To be clear, it matters how our disciples live (Hebrews 12:14), and we should be training them to live rightly before God (Matthew 28:20), but it will not matter how they live if their lives are not shaped and motivated by the word of God and his gospel. All discipling should involve teaching — stopping to tell those over whom we have influence why we believe what we believe and why we live like we live. Discipling doesn’t just walk them around the car; it pops the hood and shows them the engine.