Are You Making Disciples or Just Influencing People?



In my own life, I’m recognizing there’s a difference between influence and discipleship. I’ve spent the last 12 years influencing people. Influencing from the pulpit, influencing in meetings, influencing in counseling, in weddings, at gravesides – influencing people toward Christ. But you typically influence people broadly and from afar.

Discipleship, however, is few and up close.

Pastors, myself included, are notorious for confusing the two. So a pastor will have a Bible study on Tuesday morning and have 50 men, and think he’s discipling 50 men. You’re not discipling 50 men. You’re influencing 50 men. Now that’s good. But what’s better is to get two men and to pour into them up close and personal.

When I talk about discipleship, I go back to 1997 when I discipled Mike and Shea. That’s a long time ago. The busier I get, the broader my reach gets, the more elevated my position gets, and the harder it is to find time to disciple up close. I’m becoming more and more convicted of the fact that I don’t think that’s an excuse.

I’ve thrown the gauntlet out to our staff team. I want us to get a select group of people and pour into them, and move beyond influence to discipleship. And if I’m going to ask them to do it, I need to do it.

I got a call yesterday from a buddy who said his son is in need. “I need someone to help disciple him. Do you have anyone on your team who can do that?”

And I said, “Yes, I can do that.”

“You? You have time for that?”

“No. But yes, I’ll do that.”

So we’re going to start meeting and I’m going to do life with this kid. How do you do life with someone or disciple someone? Most people think discipleship is being Gandalf or Yoda, being able to dispense wisdom in all things at all times in any situation. I don’t think that’s the case. I think you have to be one step ahead of the person you’re discipling, and you must have a lifeline if you need it.

Here’s the beauty of discipleship. When I started meeting with Mike and Shea, I was teaching them the Bible. They wanted my advice on issues. They met with me because they needed me to share something with them. But over time we began to talk, and as I shared with them, they shared stuff with me. You could argue it moved from me discipling them to us discipling each other, and I think we are better men because of the mutual contribution.

Stay one step ahead of the person you’re discipling, but recognize you don’t have to have all the answers. You just need to enter in with someone over time. You’re not going to disciple anyone in 12 weeks, but you are going to disciple someone over time.

People grow in crisis. So you’re going to spend 6 months discipling someone, you’re going to meet with someone, hey, how’s it going. What are you learning in the word? What’s God showing you? And then, bang! Tragedy strikes and now you’re discipling someone. They’re going to have a death in the family, or illness, or lose a job, or their marriage is going to hit the rocks. Now they’re open, and now they’re listening. And you’ve earned the right to speak into their lives – and you become a pastor of the moment.

So find people who you have affinity with, people you connect with, and spend time with them regularly. Spend time over time, and above all else, teach them to be self-feeders; don’t make them dependent upon you. One of the best tools I’ve seen in discipleship is daily devotions. Get someone to read their Bible on their own and just talk about what they’re reading.

Be aware that discipleship can become so dependent on the Yoda, that people never realize that the real Yoda is Jesus. They’re waiting for advice from you: tell me what I should do; tell me what I should say… It creates spiritual dependence. So be cautious because it’s like a narcotic. You want my opinion? Well, let me tell you what I think. Maybe the best answer is, I’m not sure. Maybe we should pray about that and see what the Lord lays on your heart. So 10 years later, when you’re not around anymore, they’re going to be able to pray about something and make a decision without you.

Brad Bell

Brad Bell

Founding pastor of The Well Community Church, international speaker, and author of Walking With A Limp.

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