‘Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means ‘sons of thunder’), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.’
– Mark 3:13–19
Dan Waspe, International Volunteer (UK), shares his experience with discipleship and the trusting relationship that he has built with Xolani Makwakwa, African Volunteer (South Africa).
These verses in Mark 3:13–19 beautifully describe discipleship. When Jesus picked 12 ordinary people to be his disciples he wanted to be with them, which is key to discipleship. I find that often people think of discipleship as something that needs to be taught in a course but from what I can see in the Bible and from personal experience, discipleship is being with people and walking through life with them. If I think back to the people who have discipled me, I think about the people who have spent time with me and have been a part of my life. It is the act of being together.
A massive part of discipleship is praying for the person that you are discipling. In the journey that I have been walking with Xolani, I try to ensure that I am not talking to him more than I am praying for him. It is important that we commit the people who we are discipling to Christ because, at the end of the day, he is the one who will transform them.
Sometimes it is challenging to have tough conversations because it could mean that we are unpopular but an aspect of discipleship is being willing to have those tough conversations and loving the person despite it all. When Xolani and I started walking together, we agreed that we would have no boundaries and I committed to genuinely loving him regardless of what came out of our conversations.
With discipleship comes great responsibility – if we want to take credit for the positive in a person’s life, then we also have to be willing to take credit for the negative. The gifts that Xolani has have been given to him by God, who has given me the responsibility of nurturing and celebrating them with him – but at the end of the day it is all God. At Hands at Work, we use the term ‘domino effect’. Xolani has seen the questions that I ask and the way that I have tough conversations with him, which can enable him to ask questions when he starts discipling someone and when he is out in the communities.
Ultimately, becoming a disciple of Jesus has changed everything because I put myself under his teaching and committed to doing things his way. Saying that I wanted to live his way has changed my life. People have invested time and energy into my life and asked the tough questions. Discipleship is as much about speaking the tough things as well as celebrating the good things.
In my experience, I have found that people think that they need to be discipled before they disciple but it goes hand in hand. Discipling is not about being perfect, but it is about being willing. Xolani can learn just as much from my mistakes as he can from my successes. I think a key part of discipleship is the sense of ‘letting people in on the act’ and being fully open and vulnerable because this is exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t simply allow the disciples to follow him around but he would explain the choices that he made and be fully vulnerable and open.
A couple of years ago, Busie (African Volunteer, South Africa) and I felt a sense of urgency to grow African leaders – ‘sons and daughters – the people who God has chosen to give us to journey with. So we started praying and asking God for people. There are moments when God clearly states that you are going to disciple someone and even shows you that person but that is not always the case. Sometimes God gives you someone and you don’t have an option. It may not be based on a natural connection or God directly saying that this person is a son or a daughter but it happens. Discipleship is about being willing to invest and speak into a person’s life. It is about loving someone like a son or a daughter and praying for them regularly.
Are you praying for someone to disciple? Are you urgently praying for a son or a daughter? If not, then start with who God has placed in front of you, investing into them and speaking into their life.