"Therefore go and make disciples" (Matthew 28:19).
All Christians are called to be disciple makers. But exactly how do we make disciples?
In recent years, Gallup researchers have reviewed decades of data on the topic of followers. Why does a person follow the most important leader in his or her life? Gallup's research uncovered three universal needs: trust, compassion, and hope.
"What is one thing that is common to every individual, relationship, team, family, organization, nation, economy, and civilization throughout the world-one thing which, if removed, will destroy the most powerful government, the most successful business, the most thriving economy, the most influential leadership, the greatest friendship, the strongest character, the deepest love?" asks author and leadership consultant, Les Csorba.
The answer? Trust.
And yet, perhaps we have never lived in a more cynical time. We have witnessed pedophile clergy, government escapades, disintegration of the family unit, destruction of major evangelical ministries, the HIV pandemic, and the narcissistic greed of free market capitalism. For many, mistrust has deteriorated to contempt.
Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin states that "trust, once broken, is seldom restored . . . no leader can afford to take his word lightly."
Leadership is built on trust. Disciples require it. Scripture points this out in 1 Corinthians 4:2, "Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful."
The world is looking for leaders of character and conviction.
Moral leadership is:
- Martin Luther at the Wittenberg door
- Churchill standing in the gap between Hitler and freedom
- Gandhi refusing violence
- Abraham Lincoln freeing the slaves
- Mother Teresa taking on bureaucrats to fight for a new AIDS center.
Trust is the air that a disciple maker breathes. Without it, he or she suffocates and the followers gasp. How do we build trust? By being ourselves and walking our talk.
The chorus of a hymn begins, "The Comforter has come!" I was raised in the northern winter. I remember some nights Mom would get out a heavy but soft quilt she called a "comforter."
This word is used in the King James Version to describe the Holy Spirit (John 16.25). The Greek word paraclete means "the one who comes alongside." Isn't that what disciple makers do?
Too many "should-be" disciple makers believe they need to have answers. What we need to have most, in the process of making disciples, is not an answer, but compassion to listen. Great listeners hear what is said, what is unsaid, and what would be said if the person knew how to express it. A cup of cold water, hot coffee, or a warm embrace goes a long way when given in Jesus' name and with genuine caring.
A casual "I'll pray for you" is inadequate to touch a broken heart. We cannot fake compassion. Like the Levite, are we so busy rushing to church that we have no compassion for the person in life's ditches? Look for someone who has recently experienced one of life's four Ds: death, divorce, disease, or downsizing. There you will discover a person in need.
Study Jesus' miracles. All reveal great need and Jesus' great compassion. Compassion takes no special talent, but it does require time to be with the person and listen and love unconditionally.
Disciple makers have compassionate hearts and lack judgmental spirits. We need to come alongside and help people in emotional need.
Global consumers are a vital cog in the world's economic machinery. When economies diminished, 20 million Chinese manufacturing workers were sent back to rural poverty areas. Oil prices dropped, causing some governments in oil producing countries to fear losing power. Agricultural commodities fell in such a way that already poverty-stricken developing nations may again fall below life support.
"Where there is no vision [read: Hope], the people perish," Proverbs 29:16 (KJV) tells us.
Leaders deal in hope. Disciple makers can point the way to the grand dream of life - Jesus the Hope.
Conversely, there is hopelessness.
The futures of children who grow up in fatherless homes are grim. These children account for nearly:
- 63 % of all youth suicides
- 90 % of all homeless and runaway children
- 85 % of children who exhibit behavior disorders
- 71 % of all high school dropouts
- 75 % of adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers
- 70 % of juveniles in state-sponsored institutions
- 85 % of all youth in prison
And even worse are young girls sold or stolen and forced to be slaves in the brothels of Thailand, and babies dumped in Swaziland by HIV-stricken parents too weak to care.
As a disciple maker, if you are not creating hope and a way forward, the enemy of your soul will fill the void. Jesus is the Hope; disciple makers are the conduit. Can we settle for anything less?
What can disciple makers do to help turn a crisis into someone's defining moment? People are more anxious now than at any time in decades. Will you step up and point to the Hope-Giver, or step back and let others wallow in fears and defeat?
Trust, compassion, and hope: These are the keys for successful disciple making. Let's use these keys to open the doors to human hearts.
Jerry Duff, a leadership consultant, is a member of Tipp City, Ohio, Church of the Nazarene.