As my sixth class of 25 Forge students arrived this past week, I couldn’t help but notice what I consider to be one of the most difficult obstacles in making disciples. As the students lugged their belongings into the apartments and began to get to know one another, I kept thinking about all that was involved in getting them here: a lengthy application process, an interview, then an acceptance commitment, then several packets of information, lots of phone calls, scheduled arrival times, and, finally, a welcome dinner for the students and their families (just to name a few).
That’s when it hit me:
Let’s say you wanted to disciple a young man. For you to do that, you’d probably pray about it first. Then, you would ask the guy to lunch and politely (and probably passively) suggest that you might want to be his mentor…, if he wanted one. He, of course, would tell you that he’d pray about it first. Then, perhaps weeks later, your discipleship of that young man could begin once you got your schedules worked out.
Yet, when Jesus calls Peter & Andrew the Text says that they “immediately left their nets and followed him” (Matt. 4:20). Immediately. Immediately? Yes, Immediately… and they followed him day in and day out for over three years. “Oh, well they lived in a different culture back then where that kinda stuff was easier to do,” we’d say. Certainly they did live in a different culture, but the cost to Peter (and his wife) was no less to him than it would be for us today if we did the same. It would cost both of us everything.
The fact of the matter is that, these days, disciple-makers have very little access to those whom they choose to disciple. At best, the most time a disciple-maker can typically get with a disciple is an hour-a-week meeting at a coffee shop – and sometimes even that much time is asking a lot. Neither one is at fault, of course. It is simply an obstacle that must be overcome.
So, if you’re done making excuses instead of disciples and would like to begin the process with a young man or woman (same gender as you, of course) and don’t have the luxury of that being your full time job, here are a few suggestions to overcome the obstacles of availability:
1. Ditch the regular meetings. Meeting with a guy on a weekly basis isn’t a bad idea – it just shouldn’t be the only meetings you have with him. They box you in and make you think that’s the only time either of you can meet together. The more quickly you get out of that rut – the better.
2. Be invasive. Instead of the regular meetings that are all on her schedule, don’t give her a choice on when and where she meets with you. She’s agreed to follow you, so you tell her when and where to be…and let her follow!
3. Get with them. The goal of being invasive isn’t to ruin his life, but to get him as much time in close proximity with you as possible. Who better to model what a follower of Christ should look like to a young man than an older man who is actually following Jesus outside of a weekly coffee-shop meeting.
4. Remember your responsibility. As the disciple-maker, it is your responsibility to pursue her and disciple her – often times at great cost to you. What Chesterton says about Christianity is also true about disciple-making: “It has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.”
The obstacle of availability is unavoidable. It doesn’t make discipleship impossible – it just makes it more difficult for the disciple-maker. Effective disciple-making can still happen even if a disciple doesn’t immediately leave his family, job and possessions to come and learn the ways of Jesus from you. But, at the same time, we cannot assume that our disciple-making will be effective if our disciples get the leftovers of our time each week. Disciple-makers must be just as available as their disciples.