Disciple Makers Play Both Offense & Defense

Are you ready for some football? Cheering on your favorite team is a passion of many Americans. If you enjoy watching the NFL, you may be surprised to know that the first NFL game actually took place here in Dayton, Ohio.

Dayton Triangles 1920.jpg

On October 3, 1920, the Dayton Triangles defeated the Columbus Panhandles 20-0.  That year the Triangles had a strong team. After defeating the Panhandles, they battled Jim Thorpe’s Canton Bulldogs to a 20-20 tie. It was the first time in five years any team had scored three touchdowns on the Bulldogs. After six games the Triangles were undefeated, but unfortunately dropped two of their final three games to the Akron Pros who took home the first NFL championship.

Digging up history on the Dayton Triangles isn’t easy, but I did learn that one of their best players was future Hall of Famer Greasy Neal. Like Jim Thorpe and the other great players of his era, Greasy played both offense and defense for the Triangles. The stars of each team worked hard to develop skills on both sides of the ball. Two-way players were essential in Greasy’s time. It was the path to success. The same is true in the game of disciple making.

Greasy Neal

If disciple making had stars today they’d be doing what those gridiron greats did in 1920, playing both offense and defense. Defensive disciple making means the discipler is responding and reacting. On offense, he’s seeking to move the disciple forward in an area of need. Both are essential.

Most disciple makers only play defense. They engage the disciple without an agenda or intentional plan. She doesn’t know what will come up. Conversations begin as a result of questions about life, ministry, or goals carried over from the last meeting. Often life sets the agenda, sickness, marital strife, career problems, etc. As she listens she responds to what’s happening in the life of the disciple. Though most play defense, being skilled in it isn’t easy. To be a defensive star, she must develop key skills such as listening, curiosity, questions asking, flexibility, coaching, and encouraging.

You may ask, what is the discipler defending against? Consider that the Bible instructs everyone to be on guard against such things as the love of money, Satan’s schemes, living an idle life, etc. The same is true in the lives of those we are discipling. Disciple makers know that the struggle to live a fruitful life is real for themselves and those they are discipling.

Defense only disciple makers tend toward the relational end of the disciple making scale. They make disciples who focus on their own growth but not on helping others. They’ve been counseled and coached, but not trained or equipped. As a result, few ever reproduce.

Disciple makers need to be active on the other side of the ball as well. A disciple maker plays offense when he intentionally tries to move the disciple forward in a certain area. Whether the focus is a life skill, a ministry skill, or character development, it’s virtually always pre-planned prior to the interaction. It may begin with a specific question, observation, or by sharing a lesson from Scripture, but it’s not an accident. When a discipler sets the agenda, he engages in an area of need.

Most commonly a discipler is seeking to score points around areas of application. It’s one thing to understand the importance of having a devotional time, it’s another to develop consistency in that area. Regardless of the area, the discipler has a vision for what’s next and a plan to help get there.

Jim Thorpe

Offense only disciple makers tend toward the intentional end of the disciple making scale. They make disciples who are strong in methods, but weak in people skills. They seek to educate people into change. For these disciples, rejection is as likely as reproduction.

This weekend when you’re watching your favorite football team, consider the importance of playing both offense and defense in disciple making. Like Greasy Neal and Jim Thorpe, the best disciple makers excel on both sides of the ball. Taking the time to become excellent at both ensures that our spiritual offspring will develop into strong, healthy disciples who will reproduce again and again.