One day I received a phone call from a busy pastor. Could we get together, he asked, some place, sometime to talk about training people in his church? He was willing to fly anywhere in the United States to meet me and discuss his problem for half a day or so. He obviously needed help, so we set up a meeting.
As we spent some time together, I found his situation to be fairly typical. He was the pastor of a growing, healthy, and flourishing church. People were coming to Christ, attendance had increased, and he had to have two morning worship services. God was clearly blessing in many wonderful ways.
But he also had a problem. He knew that unless he trained some spiritually qualified workers among the men and women of his congregation, many people would not get needed help in the initial stages of Christian growth (adequate follow-up) and would not develop into strong, robust disciples of Jesus Christ. And the pastor knew he was the key to this. The whole process had to begin with him. He could not toss it to a “department,” nor delegate it to someone else. As the spiritual leader of these people, he had to lead the way.
He had another problem—he was already a busy man. Many things demanded his attention; many people demanded his time. Like many pastors, he spent a good deal of his time putting out brush fires in his congregation. No sooner had he dealt with one problem than another one arose.
To his consternation and frustration, he spent too much time with problem-centered people, trying to settle quarrels, make peace between members, deal with difficult family situations, and a 101 other things.
But he had a dream. At times, he would go into his study, lock the door, and think of his situation in a whole new light. Wouldn’t it be great, he would think to himself, if I had a dedicated, ever-growing band of spiritually qualified men and women who could help handle some of the “spiritual” problems that keep coming up in this church? He did not mean people who merely took tapes of his sermons to the shut-ins, delivered food, clothing, and financial aid to the needy, taught in the Sunday school, or helped him manage the business and financial affairs of the church. He meant people who knew how to win another person to Christ and then take that person from the time of his conversion and help him become a solid, dedicated, committed, fruitful, mature disciple who could in time repeat that process in the life of another.
He would smile there in the privacy of his study, for his dream was so vivid he could almost reach out and touch that which he envisioned. But then he would be jarred back to reality by the ringing of the phone. Another problem. And he was the only spiritually qualified person in the congregation who could help. So he would set aside his dream, pick up his Bible, and go out the door.
Disciples in Action
Let’s look at another scene. Four couples are meeting for a Bible study on a weeknight. They have been getting together for about four months, since three of them had been converted to Christ. One of the laymen in the church has been leading the study, and they have just settled down for one of their lively discussions. As they launch into their lesson, the phone rings.
“Is Joe there?” Joe is one of the four-month-old Christians.
“Yes, but he’s busy right now. He’s in a Bible study.”
The voice is desperate, “Please! I’ve got to talk with him.”
Joe picks up the phone and listens. “OK,” he says, “I’ll come right over.”
Joe comes back to his Bible study group and explains. His business partner wants him to come over and help him. There’s been a marital fight, and the man’s wife is walking out on him. The whole mess has been brewing for a long time, and Joe feels he should go and do what he can.
The leader of the study group says he thinks it’s the right thing to do, and while Joe’s gone the group will pray. So Joe, a four-month-old Christian, picks up his Bible and goes out the door to try to save a marriage. The Bible study turns into a prayer meeting.
That scene is a real situation with real people. The leader of that group told me about it a few days after it happened. At the time he hadn’t heard from Joe on how his meeting with his partner had gone. I saw that leader again about three weeks later and heard the great news. Joe had been used of God to lead both husband and wife to Christ. He was now in the process of leading them in a study of the Scriptures.
The leader, in turn, had begun to spend a little extra time with Joe to answer some of his questions now that he and his wife were leading new Christians in a study of the Word of God. Though Joe had always been eager, he was more so now. He needed a great deal of help and knew it. The leader was only too glad to do what he could. He could see that the Lord was using that time to deepen their relationship and to deepen Joe’s life in the Lord.
It was also a challenge to the other couples in Joe’s study group. It had become evident to them that sooner or later the Lord would give them an opportunity to share with others some of the things they were learning. It made the study that much more meaningful to all of them.
That scene, with variations, is being repeated in many places around the world. It is not an isolated incident. In fact, the story of the pastor who met with me, mentioned earlier in this chapter, has a happy ending. After we’d spent the day together discussing making disciples and training workers, he went back to his church and began putting into practice the principles which I shared with him and which are taught in this book.
Today, there is a steady stream of disciples and workers who emerge from his ministry to affect their neighborhoods and friends for Christ. These people from his church are being used of God to win others to Christ and to help their converts, in turn, repeat the process.
This concept of multiplying disciples has not always been as widely accepted as it is today. At one time, in fact, not too long ago, relatively few people were doing it. But many more today are returning to that biblical process.
The Crucial Element of Personal Help
Shortly after my wife, Virginia, and I became Christians, we met Waldron Scott, a young man about our age who took a personal interest in us. He had been helped in his Christian life by a fellow serviceman while he was stationed on Guam with the Air Force in World War II. We were classmates in college, and he came over to our home once a week or so to share spiritual truths with us and to help us in our spiritual growth.
His actual working with us began on the day I asked him why there seemed to be such an obvious difference in our Christian lives, why he was like he was and Virginia and I were like we were. He was able to quote the Scriptures like he knew them by heart; fairly regularly he would share how God had answered his prayers; he seemed to know his Bible well.
He came over that night and asked me some questions. Did I read my Bible regularly? No, hardly ever. Did I study it? Again, no. Did I memorize it? Aha, here I had him. The previous Sunday our pastor had preached on Matthew 6:33, and I had been so impressed by the verse that I memorized it when I got home.
“Great,” Scotty said, “Quote it for me. Let’s hear it.”
I couldn’t remember it. I realized then that there was something lacking in my Scripture memory program.
Then he asked, “Do you pray?”
“Well, yes,” I told him. “At meal times I repeat a prayer I have memorized.” We were just sitting down for some refreshments, so I said my prayer: “Bless the food which now we take, to do us good for Jesus’ sake. Amen.”
During the course of the evening it became obvious that there was much more to prayer than that. He offered to meet with my wife and me and share some of the things that had been of help to him. We were eager to do so.
We began. Scotty taught us how to read the Bible and get something out of our reading. He taught us how to do personal Bible study and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, apply its lessons to our lives. He taught us to memorize the Word so that it would be available to the Holy Spirit 24 hours a day. He taught us how to assimilate the Scriptures into the spiritual bloodstream of our lives through meditation on the Word. He taught us how to pray and expect answers from God. That was a blessed year for us. We were eager to learn, and Scotty was willing to spend time with us.
The next year I began my sophomore year and Scotty continued to meet with us. We were continuing to grow and my Christian life was full of new discoveries. We had discovered the high adventure of abundant Christian living, as the Lord was becoming more personal and real in our lives.
Midway through the first semester, a classmate came up to me and said, “You know, LeRoy, I’ve been watching you. Your Christian life is sure on a different plane than mine.” And he began asking some questions, essentially what I had asked Scotty the year before.
I smiled and asked, “Well, do you read your Bible regularly?”
“Do you study it?” No again.
“Do you memorize the Scriptures?” No, he didn’t do that either.
“Do you pray?” Still no.
I suggested we get together and talk about these things. He was eager and enthusiastic, so we began. I shared with him the things Scotty had shared with me, and he began to grow in his Christian life. He began to dig into the Word, pray, witness, and the Spirit of God worked mightily in his life that year.
The following year I transferred to the University of Washington, and my friend transferred to another school. A few months after school began I received an interesting letter from him. He had been attending a Christian fellowship on campus and a fellow student had come up to him and asked him about his Christian life. It seemed this student had noticed a difference and wanted to find out about it. So my friend asked him some questions that had to do with Bible reading, study, memory, and prayer. He had shown a keen interest in doing these things, so my friend had begun to share with him on a regular basis the things he had learned from me and which I had learned from Scotty.
Meanwhile, a Christian student had come up to me on the University of Washington campus … and so it goes. For many years now I have been involved in helping others personally in their Christian lives. I’ve watched the interest pastors, missionaries, dedicated laymen, college and seminary students, and servicemen have shown in helping others individually as well. Today a growing groundswell of interest in multiplying disciples is to be seen in many churches and by many people.
Eims, LeRoy, and Robert E. Coleman. 2009. The Lost Art of Disciple Making. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.