When we’re building a ministry team or pushing our church to grow, how do we strategically develop a purposeful and driven group of mature believers?
Ravi Zacharias traveled around the world, ‘helping the thinker to believe and the believers to think.’ He often brought several apprentices with him, young apologists who would work alongside him on these trips. One of these was a young man who had recently converted from Islam to Christianity. His name was Nabeel Qureshi.
In his tribute to this bright young man, Ravi recalled, “I invited him to join our team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) four and a half years ago. He placed one condition, and I placed one condition. His condition was that after he joined, he’d travel with me for one year, to observe and learn. I asked that after the year, he’d go to Oxford. I wanted him to complete his doctorate to be better prepared to answer the toughest questions a Christian apologist faces—and to do it with gentleness, respect, and learning. He agreed.
“He called me ‘uncle.’ He became part of our team. Everywhere he went, they wanted him back. After every talk we would have a meal together, and he would ask me, ‘Uncle, how did I do?’”
All too soon Nabeel Qureshi received his shocking cancer diagnosis that quickly began to erode his health. Zacharias said, “Within a few months, the handwriting was on the wall. But he remained firm that he was in God’s hands.
“In May, he said to me, ‘Uncle, can I do one more trip with you? I miss that time of being on the road with you.’ I said, ‘Nabeel, if your doctor approves, yes, please come. We will cover your cost.’
“I took him with me to Malaysia. His body was weak, his passion undiminished, his speaking, powerful, his messages reaping a harvest of followers of Jesus. His answers to people’s questions were profound and persuasive. They would applaud with each answer. He would talk one on one; he would pray one with one. His belief in God being One and the answer to salvation being One were all part of his spiritual DNA.”
Nabeel’s preaching and ultimately his passing was marked by faithfulness and compassion for the lost, all virtues he witnessed in his mentor’s life.
The Making of Many Disciples
In his Power of Preaching session, Dr. Tony Evans talked about discipleship as the true purpose behind preaching. “My job as a preacher is to bring heaven into history. Then he [Christ] gives an imperative: make disciples. You see that he tells them what they are to do. This is the purpose of your proclamation: make disciples.
“Now, this often gets watered down to mean ‘make converts.’ Now, obviously, you need to be a convert if you're going to grow to become a disciple.
“The other commissioners emphasize that, but this one doesn't. It emphasizes a deeper concept. That's a kingdom concept, and that is discipleship. What is discipleship, which is the purpose of your preaching…? Not just tell stories, not just even the Word — although exposition is critical — but it is to create people who become visible, verbal followers of Christ. A disciple is a Christian who is progressively learning to live all of life underneath the lordship of Jesus Christ.
“Let me say that again. A disciple is a Christian who is learning to progressively live all of life under the lordship of Jesus Christ…. Jesus says in Matthew 10 that a student should become like his teacher and a servant like his master.
“In other words, there's a transfer in this case of conduct and character, of attitudes and actions that reflect the lordship of Jesus Christ. Unless that is occurring through the proclamation, then the purpose of the scripture is not being realized, which is a kingdom purpose. In fact, let me define ‘the kingdom’ again. It's the visible manifestation of the comprehensive rule of God over every area of life….
“Now, why does he tell them to make disciples? Because he says ‘All the authority has been given to me.’ Why do you need to know that he gives a command to make disciples? Because he's in charge, and he's going to transfer authority to disciples, not to Christians in general.
“Why do we have so many weak Christians? Because…they have become disciples, [but] they don't have authority being transferred to them, and oftentimes that's a problem in the pulpit.”
Without purposefully learning how to submit every part of daily life and work to God, believers will not grow and mature, and that learning is best done with a more mature believer who can correct, offer guidance and support the newer Christian through setbacks and tough situations that require nuanced advice. The only problem is that discipleship is a long road.
Growing Up in a New Identity
Talking about the challenges of discipleship, John Piper reflected on Matthew 28:19-20 where Jesus commands his followers, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
“That is a very long process,” Piper said. “That is like a lifetime of process. So get them converted. Baptize them. And then spend a lifetime teaching them to obey all that Jesus said. That is what the verb “disciple” in the New Testament would include….
“There is no limit to the ways a person can be told the good news of Jesus. So, ‘discipling’ in that sense is as varied as there are ways of saying the gospel or living the gospel in front of people to draw them in.
“As far as training Christians how to think and feel and act as a Christian — that is, discipling in the sense of growing them into more and more maturity — that happens in so many ways in the New Testament. Here is just a grocery list of possibilities:
Titus 2:4 — Older women are to train younger women.
Second Timothy 2:2 — Paul trained Timothy to train others to train others.
Ephesians 6:4 — Fathers are to train their children.
Matthew 28:20 — Missionaries are to teach the nations everything Jesus commanded.
Hebrews 3:13 — All Christians are to exhort each other every day to avoid sin and to stir each other up to love and good works (see also Hebrews 10:24–25).
First Peter 4:10 — All Christians are to use their gifts to serve others.
Acts 18:24–26 — Priscilla and Aquila, on the spur of the moment it seems, explained the way of God more accurately to Apollos.
“And we could go on and on.”
Obviously, as a church leader, we cannot mentor everyone who attends our church. Here we might follow Christ’s model with his closest circle of three (Peter, James and John) and the inner circle of the other nine disciples who in turn discipled other believers and spread out to start ministries and evangelize. We cannot and should not attempt to disciple everyone we meet, but we can purposefully work to develop new leaders so that they in turn can help others grow too.
This is when our ministries transition into much larger movements that are not about a single personality or leader. This is where God’s presence is seen in the actions of the church and its impact.