… and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 2 Timothy 2:2
I became a Christian in 1991 during the nationwide spiritual revival in my native Bulgaria. This was a time of great excitement. I was only fourteen. I quickly connected with the Christian community and almost immediately got involved in ministry. I was growing in my faith by developing strong friendships with other Christians, attending church services every day of the week, and participating in Bible studies. A few years later, I sensed a deep need to learn more about God, to continue develop in my spiritual walk with him, and to become an even more faithful follower. In the first years of my Christian life, the strong Christian community of which I was part played a crucial role in all these areas, but now I was at a different point. I needed a more personal example, guidance, and encouragement. Simply said, I needed someone more mature and experienced in the Christian faith to be my mentor. I came from a family and an environment in which no one was a Christian. I could not benefit from that as a possible resource. In the following years I had encounters with Christians who definitely influenced my life for good, yet something was missing.
Discipleship became much more meaningful to me after I moved to the United States for my studies. Yet, I also quickly discovered that discipleship is probably one of the most used, but also abused words in the Christian community. When you hear people talking about discipleship, it could really mean everything and nothing. When I started my seminary journey at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary-Charlotte, I began getting a better awareness about the different aspects of the Christian faith and my own calling. In 2009, I registered for an Evangelism and Discipleship course which was part of my degree’s curriculum. I took a brief look at the professor’s bio. It was someone whose name I had never heard before, who appeared to be a world-renowned scholar in the field. And this course became the turning point in my seminary education and my whole life.
From the first words of Dr. Robert Coleman in the class, God was speaking to me like never before. I actually felt the presence of God in the classroom. It was so tangible, so close, so intimate, and so powerful. Before this class, my understanding of ministry and my own calling resembled a room full of good but disorganized furniture. This encounter with Dr. Coleman and this new experience of God’s presence were like putting everything in order. It all made sense. I knew exactly what discipleship means. And I knew what God was really calling me to do- simply to fulfill the command of Jesus: make disciples of all nations in direct fulfillment of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Not only that, but I also learned how I am supposed to do it. And the answer is much simpler than you may expect – the way Jesus did it! And so, in that class, we explored the different principles, straight from the gospels, that guided Jesus in his own ministry of making disciples. I realized there was a big gap between what discipleship has been turned into in the Christian community and what I had just discovered from the Word of God itself. In the church discipleship is mostly conceived and practiced as programs, complicated strategies and charts, mere Bible studies, a discipleship seminar, and focus on numbers. Don’t get me wrong. Some of these play a good role in the disciple-making process, but can hardly be representative of the whole picture. In the example of Jesus, according to the Gospels, discipleship was marked by simplicity, personal relationship and availability, divine example, long-term investment, long-lasting results, and focus on quality. Jesus selects disciples, spends time with them, challenges them to consider the cost of following him, demonstrates to them a pattern of life and ministry, allows them to apply in practice what they have learned by delegating to them responsibilities and by supervising their work, intends for them to multiply and to reach out to the lost world, and last but not least, imparts to them the Holy Spirit in order to empower them to do ministry. True discipleship is only possible when it is done the way Jesus did it. This was Jesus’ strategy for evangelism and reaching out to a lost world. Disregarding Jesus’ own example in making disciples and placing our bid on human schemes and strategies is a brutal neglect of the true call of the Great Commission and direct offense against our Lord himself whose example we claim to follow. Discipleship is nothing less than a lifestyle!
After my last class session with Dr. Coleman was over, I got back home, but my heart was heavy. I could not wrap my mind around the simple yet profound command to make disciples and the overall failure of the Christian community to fulfill it the way Jesus himself did it. I finally went to bed and prayed to God. I made a commitment to God that for the rest of my life I want to live the lifestyle of the Great Commission and make disciples of all nations the way Jesus did it. And the rest is history.
Soon after, Ellie and I planted a cherry tree in our front yard as a reminder of this commitment to God. For years, every morning when I woke up and looked through the window of our bedroom that was the first thing I would see – the Tree of Discipleship. In the following years, Ellie and I had an opportunity to live out our commitment and to make long-term investments in the lives of others. God gave us the privilege of seeing lives being transformed, people growing in spiritual maturity and getting involved in local and global ministry, and disciples starting to make disciples.
Please feel free to contact us if you would like us to share with you personally, with your small group, or your church about our experience and disciple making. We are also available for providing a full teaching as well as practical training on discipleship.
Remember, discipleship will only fail if you never start it!