As Christians, we know that we’re told to “make disciples.” Oftentimes, though, we don’t know exactly what that looks like. We call a lot of things disciple-making that aren’t really disciple-making at all. At its simplest, disciple-making is one Christian helping another Christian to know and follow Jesus. The process is simple, but people are complex. As a result, disciple-making can be hijacked easily—and even morph into something else altogether.
Here are some common disciple-making hijackers we need to avoid becoming or following:
The Therapeutic Discipler. Christians aren’t immune to emotional pain. And, a number of legitimate reasons exist for counseling, therapy, and even medication. But, disciple-making isn’t another form of therapy. A disciple could easily expect his or her mentor to be a spiritual therapist—someone who will simply listen to all their struggles. Conversely, a discipler might wrongly assume it’s his or her job to “fix” the other person or his problems. Though it’s completely appropriate to share struggles with those we’re following, disciple-making isn’t therapy—it’s the process of learning to obey Jesus in order to help others obey Jesus.
The BFF Discipler. Friendship is great. Many guys I’ve discipled have become some of my dearest brothers and friends. Believe it or not, it’s actually biblical. Jesus called his own disciples “friends” (John 15:15), and Paul called Timothy his “true son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2). But, the goal of discipling is not to simply gain friends—it’s to make disciples and other disciple-makers. Jesus and Paul spent considerable time with a select few, but don’t miss the fact that both of them loved their friends and trained them for mission. So, if we’re spending more time “just hanging out” than we are training and growing, we’ll lose focus. We hijack disciple-making when we love our friendship more than the mission.
The Helicopter Discipler. Most of us have heard of helicopter parents—the moms and dads who constantly hover over their kids keeping them close, making decisions for them, shielding them from consequences, and even doing assignments for them. Even the best parents are tempted to do these things. Disciplers face the same temptation towards those we’re leading. We might conclude “they’re not ready” or “they need more time,” but every disciple must experience responsibility, risk, success, and failure in the mission of God. Even the best disciple-makers want to keep their strongest leaders as close as possible for as long as possible. But, we hijack the disciple-making process by unnecessarily hovering over those we’re leading.
The Co-dependent Discipler. Disciple-making is a deeply personal experience—both for the discipler and the disciple. Think about it. You’re studying matters of eternal significance, sharing deeply personal information, praying with one another, and probably meeting together on a regular basis. It was designed this way, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The challenge comes in that, though the biblical process is healthy, the people who go through the process sometimes aren’t. Consequently, we must guard ourselves against unhealthy attachments with those we’re leading or following. An inordinate amount of time together or feelings of exclusivity, jealousy, dependency, or attraction are all red flags signifying that the disciple-making relationship has been hijacked and might even be morphing into something else.
The Dead-End Discipler. We must never forget that the goal of disciple-making is not simply to make disciples—it’s actually to make disciple-makers. Scripture teaches us, “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also”(2 Timothy 2:2). Did you catch that? We’re taught in order to teach. We receive in order to give. Someone invests in us so that we might invest in others. The Christian mission is not adding more disciples; it’s multiplying more disciple-makers. When we don’t give that challenge—and give it early in the process—we hijack the disciple-making process and risk erecting a dead-end sign on the missional pathway of our personal ministry.
Let’s beware the temptation of becoming a disciple-making hijacker. Grow significant relationships but stay healthy. Enjoy the process but keep the mission of Jesus central.
Chris James serves as Boston Collegiate Coordinator for the Baptist Convention of New England where he serves as Pastor of Mill City Church & Christian Student Fellowship, a multi-site ministry reaching students at UMASS Lowell. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi (BA) and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv).