Are you a disciple making rookie?
Rook • ie /ˈro͝okē/ - a new recruit, especially in the army or police. A member of an athletic team in his first full season.
In sports, rookies represent hope. Some arrive to the team as hyped prospects expected to be the future of the franchise. Others are unknown players who have defied expectations to get there. Fans watch rookies eagerly because they each unfold a unique story. How will this one work out?
At some point every disciple maker was a rookie. I still remember the first meeting I had as a discipler. I had prepared and prayed a lot for my meeting with Brad and as we sat down together I was nearly shaking with fear!
Like most disciple making rookies, I was afraid of so many things: looking stupid, coming on too strong, and most of all, failing. I lacked what every rookie lacks: experience. And as you know, there’s no substitute for experience.
Experience is earned. It’s impossible to get experience by completing discipleship curriculum or listening to sermons. In fact, no amount of disciple making knowledge or understanding can make someone a disciple maker. Disciple makers are made by making disciples. And since the process of making a disciple is never without challenge, each experience has the potential to bring growth.
I’m no longer a disciple making rookie. Somehow, I’ve accumulated over twenty years of disciple making experience (I don’t feel that old!). My experience is broad and deep. I’ve discipled younger students and older adults, men and women (in triads), Americans and Asians (Africans too), new believers and seasoned Christians, extroverts and introverts; you get the picture.
Like a wily veteran on a sports team, I want rookie disciple makers to learn from my mistakes and the mistakes I’ve seen others make. It turns out that most rookie disciple makers make similar mistakes. So, this post is the first in the “Rookie Mistakes” series.
Let’s start with the biggest mistake made by rookie disciple makers. What is it? Rookie disciple makers are often driven by fear instead of trust.
Unlike other mistakes, the posture of fear drives rookie disciple makers to make decisions that are self-protective rather than Jesus modeled. Instead of discipling a person who is FAT, they disciple someone who is friendly. This protects them from being rejected. Instead of using the Bible as the main tool in discipling they use curriculum. This keeps them from being wrong. Instead of formally inviting someone to start being discipled, they keep the relationship loose and undefined. This keeps them from being accountable. Instead of opening up about their struggles, they hide behind tools. And there are still other ways that fear pollutes disciple making.
Fear may never completely go away in disciple making, but it doesn’t have to drive your discipling practices. Veteran disciple makers have learned to manage it by marinating in these two truths:
1. Failure is an Option
Are you ready to fail at disciple making? I’m not looking for an enthusiastic YES. No discipler should be eager to crash and burn, but veteran disciple makers know that sometimes it doesn’t work out like you hoped. Regardless of how spiritual you are or how prepared you are, there’s no guarantee of success.
Fear of failure can imprison rookie disciple makers. Instead of focusing on the needs of the disciple, she focuses on avoiding failure. If a disciple maker is grounded in Christ, she can handle failure. . .even if failure is largely her fault. As they say, failure doesn’t have to be fatal.
I’ve failed and lived to tell about it. I’ve discipled people who have never passed it on, who have ghosted me, and who have simply rejected the offer of being discipled. Each time, it’s hurt. But it’s also been a learning experience for me. Maybe I failed. So what? The ability to handle failure is part of maturity. And disciple making is the work of someone more mature helping those less spiritually mature. Don’t fear failure!
2. Trust Trumps Fear
There are plenty of other fears that rookie disciple makers carry. Some fear being exposed for lack of understanding or existing sin in their life, others fear their relational weaknesses being uncovered, others fear of giving bad advice, etc.
For a disciple maker the antidote to fear isn’t courage, it’s trust. Veteran disciple makers disarm fear by trusting deeply God’s call to disciple. Since Jesus has promised His presence as we disciple (Matt. 28:19-20) we can disciple from a place of safety. It’s okay if we look stupid, ill-equipped, weak, or incompetent because He is with us. He has sent us and so our power comes from Him, not in our sufficiency.
In fact, experience has shown me that our weaknesses have far more power in discipling than our strengths do. It’s as if when the Bible says, “His power is made perfect in our weakness” that it’s really true (because it is) (2 Cor. 12:9)!
Soaking in these truths disarm fear and allow us to surrender the results to God. When we disciple we are obedient to His call on our life. Since Jesus is with us, what can man do to us?
So, if you are a rookie disciple maker, beware of being driven by fear. Not only will fear cause you to make many less than ideal choices as a disciple maker, it will also weaken the power of a healthy disciple making relationship. If left untended it will obliterate both your disciple making relationships and your long-term survival discipler.
Those who disciple for the long haul have learned to make peace with failure and to trust God instead of wilting under their fears. I’m praying you will do the same!