Trying to disciple some people is a waste of time—yours and theirs. No matter how skilled or committed you are, some people just can’t be discipled. That’s an uncomfortable thing to say in our ultra-inclusive society, but I’m not writing anyone off. A person who is “undiscipleable” now could be a great investment a year from now. I know because at twenty I was undiscipleable. A year and a half later, my heart was full of fertile soil poised to produce a great crop!
So, what makes someone undiscipleable? Here are four traits that, if any one is present, will prevent someone from becoming a disciple maker:
1. Unfaithful – Before discipling someone observe how he engages with the opportunities he already has to grow. An unfaithful Christian proclaims a desire to grow and help others but doesn’t follow through. For example, if someone's in a small group, does he attend regularly? Does he prepare beforehand? If not, chances are he’ll treat the time with you the same way. Preparation and commitment reflect a hunger to learn and grow. Luke 16:10 uncovers this important training principle, "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”
An unfaithful person is tempting to select because of how convincingly he proclaims his desire to grow. Yet, a person who’s unfaithful has an integrity problem. He says one thing but does another. Proverbs 30:6 shows us that unfaithful people have been around for thousands of years, “Many claim to have unfailing love, but a faithful person who can find?”
2. Unavailable – In our culture, the biggest obstacle to disciple making is busyness. Many are faithful and desire true growth, but simply don’t have time for the depth a disciple making relationship requires. If a person doesn’t have time to go deep with you, she won’t have time to go deep with another. Of course, we all have the same twenty-four hours, but an unavailable person doesn't see any need to reorient her schedule.
An unavailable person is tempting to select because she's often faithful to what she's are already doing. However, margin is necessary to invest in another's life. An unavailable person has committed her time to other things (work, kids, participation in other groups/activities, etc.), so she simply doesn’t have the bandwidth needed for disciple making. In our culture, the difference between a fruitful disciple and an unfruitful one is often the willingness to say "no" to the good and "yes" to the best.
3. Unteachable – "Unteachables" are out of balance and lack perspective. He is interested in understanding, but not in learning. Despite pursuing knowledge and understanding, he doesn't apply truth to his life. Others are dominated by their heart and big emotions. He's convinced that nothing can separate him from his intense feelings. As a result, he's powerless to change.
An unteachable person is tempting to select because he may exhibit the hunger of a faithful person and have an open schedule. It takes careful thought and prayer to accurately identify an unteachable person. God has made some people naturally confident and others naturally emotional.
4. Unbelievers –Though some argue that discipleship begins with non-Christians, I strongly disagree.
Prior to a saving relationship with Jesus, we walk alongside others and share the Gospel. This is the process of evangelism, not discipleship. While we hope and pray that evangelism someday leads to a discipling relationship, the two are not the same. Calling a relationship with a non-Christian discipleship confuses many about the nature of discipling. To me, it makes as much sense as calling a dating relationship marriage! For a small percentage, the term will be technically correct, but for many, it never develops into that. Just like marriage can’t begin without mutual commitment, disciple making can’t begin until there’s a commitment to becoming like Christ.
Jesus knew the importance of choosing wisely. Before He selected His Twelve disciples, Jesus spent all night in prayer (Luke 6:12-16)! Disciple makers cannot be effective investing in those who are undiscipleable. As many have learned, discipling an undiscipleable is a frustrating experience for both people. Trust me, I know. I have tried to disciple unfaithful, unavailable, and unteachable people! Not only that, once upon a time I was unfaithful, unavailable, and unteachable (and an unbeliever). As God and others influenced me, I became a person who was ready to be discipled.
Don’t forget, being wise in selecting someone to disciple is NOT about writing people off, it IS about joining in the work that God is already doing. When we do that, we’re able to select people who are ready to reproduce their lives into others for the purpose of reaching the nations!