The term “disciple-making” can be very, very intimidating…even off-putting. Here’s an example:
I was giving a talk recently on the topic of disciple-making when someone in the audience said that the disciple-making language didn’t feel very inviting to people who have yet to follow Jesus and is a big turn off to some followers of Jesus. My response wasn’t as kind as it could have been. I said something like this: “Well, that’s because for many, many generations we, the Church, have been totally okay with people not actually following Jesus.” I think my comment came across quite a bit harsher than I intended but I stand by the sentiment. And I do so because of passages like John 1.35-42.
Context for the First Example of Disciple-Making
So what is going on in this scene? Where are we in the story that John is telling? In John 1.19-34 John writes about John the Baptist. John the Baptist really plays one role in the story to this point: to point to Jesus, to testify (as I have written about before). And since John the Baptist was visible, popular, and seemingly charismatic, people listened to him, including the two disciples mentioned in John 1.35.
Though I’ve made this point before, it worth repeating that testifying, or pointing people to Jesus, is one of our chief jobs as followers of Jesus. If Jesus has truly transformed our lives, and if all that the Bible says about him is true, and if he has set us on paths of participation in God’s will on this earth, then how could we not point to Jesus as often as possible?!?
This is exactly what John the Baptist does. He points to Jesus, which the people within his circle of influence see and hear. We could stand to learn a thing or two about disciple-making from him!
Disciple-Making: Four Biblical Principles
The story in John 1.35-42 is very straightforward. John the Baptist points out Jesus. Two of his followers start following Jesus. Jesus turns to them and has a brief conversation, which turns into a longer one at the place where Jesus was staying. One of these two first followers, Andrew, told his brother, Simon, about Jesus the next day. When Jesus and Simon met, Jesus tells Simon that he’ll be called Peter. That’s it. But there are four important principles to be found in there that I want to tease out below:
- People Are Ready to Follow Jesus: Sure, not everyone. But lots of people are ready. Did you see how fast the first two followers of Jesus began to be his disciples when they met Jesus? It was immediate. Now we shouldn’t expect this response every time we engage in disciple-making. But sometimes it happens this way. Other times we have to be John the Baptist, spending time with folks, testifying about Jesus. Then, when the time is right, we point directly to Jesus and they will be drawn to him!
- Our Intentions Matter: Did you notice Jesus’ question to his first two followers? He said, “What do you want?” This question is important for many reasons, but here’s an interesting one: these are the first words that Jesus speaks in the Gospel of John. This fact gives them great weight. To me they reverberate down through the ages and confront each of us who wants to follow Jesus — what do we want? Are we in it for “fire insurance,” business contacts, to appease a loved one, or because we’ve always done church? Or do we actually want to follow Jesus as our Rabbi? The word “rabbi” literally means “my great one” and figuratively means “teacher.” Are we ready to submit to and learn from Jesus? If that’s not why we want to follow him, we may need to do some re-evaluation!
- We Can’t Follow Jesus by Standing Still: When the first two followers of Jesus ask him where he is staying, he says, “Come and you’ll see.” Then, later, Andrew told Peter about Jesus and “brought him to Jesus.” There’s movement in these phrases. Following Jesus isn’t something that can be done by idly waiting, biding time until the Second Coming, or letting others do all the work. No! Following Jesus involves – GASP! – following! This is an action word, a word dripping with movement.
- A “Made” Disciple Is Involved in Disciple-Making: In this passage Andrew meets Jesus, then immediately wants his brother to know about Jesus too. Here’s how DA Carson described it in his commentary on John: “The first thing Andrew did…was to find his brother and announce, We have found the Messiah. He thus became the first in a long line of successors who have discovered that the most common and effective Christian testimony is the private witness of friend to friend, brother to brother” (155). In other words, Andrew went about disciple-making just as had happened to him — he shared with someone else. An integral part of following Jesus means speaking and embodying the good news in our lives where we work, live, and play. This isn’t optional.
So, there are four disciple-making principles from this passage. What do you think? Did I miss any other important points? Let me know in the comments below!