When we think about how Paul ministered we often think about preaching, because he did a lot of that. But he did not only show people how to follow Christ through his preaching but also through his life.
He was big on setting an example for people to follow.
We see that for example, in 1 Thessalonians 1, verse 5 and 6.
“You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord…”
Paul intentionally lived in a way that people could do what he did and be following Christ.
He thought about this. It was part of his strategy for helping people live as Christians.
I think maybe it comes out more clearly in 2 Thessalonians 3 where Paul says in verse 7 and 8, “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we did not have that right, but to give you an example to imitate.”
Here is Paul with the Thessalonians and he sees that there is a problem in that community with laziness and so he decides that he is going to give up his right to be paid, and work while he is with them, even though it is going to make his life more difficult, for the purpose of setting an example that they can follow.
That’s what a discipler does.
He shows people how to live life for Christ. He shows them what it looks like to pray. He shows them what it looks like to work. He shows them what it looks like to be a church member. He shows them, he shows them, he shows them and sometimes he has to make sacrifices to do that, he is intentional about this, he looks and he sees areas in that person’s life that need to grow, and so he thinks what can I do to give him an example that he can follow.
So, maybe you are talking to someone about having devotions, and you give them the steps and they go away and they try and then you say, you know what, why don’t you have devotions with me, come over and I will just do what I do in devotions with you there, and I am telling you the difference between the two for most people would be huge.
Now to do this, there needs to be a kind of transparency about you and your life with the people you are discipling.
They need to see you.
One of my absolute favorite things about the first couple chapters in 1 Thessalonians is how often Paul says these two words, you know.
Verse 5, right there in the middle, “You know what kind of men we proved to be.”
Chapter 2:1, “For you yourselves know…” Verse 2, “You know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.” Verse 5, “We never came with words of flattery, as you know…” verse 9 a little different but the same idea, “For you remember…” Verse 10, “You are witnesses…” Verse 11, “For you know…” Then chapter 3:3, “For you yourselves know…” 3:4, “just as you know…” And chapter 4:2, “For you know…” And obviously if Paul says this so often to them about so many different things in his life, it’s because he is convinced that they do know.
You do not disciple people simply by teaching them a class or even having a Bible study. That may be part of what needs to happen, but it is only a part. People need to see you and to see you so often, that you can without blinking say to them later, you know how I am.
I think one great example of this is in terms of parenting. If you are a young lady and you are wondering how to be a parent, you need to go over to someone’s house who is a godly mother, and you need to just hang out with them and watch them and get tips from them and especially from what they are doing about how to be a mother.
It’s good to ask yourself every once in a while, what have I learned from watching someone else? Because some of us, just aren’t paying attention and so we aren’t learning much; on the other hand, I know of some people who are, it’s like they are constantly watching in order to learn, and man those are the kinds of people that move forward spiritually so much more quickly.
When you are discipling others, find ways to be with them and it may be that you do that just by finding ways to invite them into your everyday life.
If you are going to the grocery store, you invite them along or if you are going to watch a game on television, you have them over or if you have to make a trip down to visit someone somewhere you see if they want to come with you as you do that.
As disciplers, I once heard someone say, you want to try to find ways to make your every day life, visible, accessible and reproducible.
And, I like those three terms, visible, people can see the way you live, accessible, they can get to you, and reproducible, they can in a sense do what you do. Now there’s no way of course your life can be visible and accessible to everyone, as one author explains, “— your life and home are just not that big, but is your life visible and accessible to the people you are deliberately trying to influence for Christ? Can the people you are intentionally discipling see your marriage, your parenting, your interaction with neighbors and others? From watching your life, can they see what their life would look like if they loved Jesus and lived for him daily? Do they see you struggle as a parent, work through tension with your wife, repent from your idolatry and regularly share how in need of grace you are?”
They need to.
We need instruction through teaching and through life example if we are going to grow.