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How to Sustain Momentum in Discipleship

By Tim Howington

One of the most difficult parts of disciple making is sustaining momentum.  Even the most committed disciple makers have moments of doubt that this is really a worthwhile endeavor.  There are a lot of obstacles

  • It is hard work
  • it takes a long time to see fruit
  • you have absolutely no control over what someone else does
  • not a lot of people are really focused on it
  • if you get too focused on discipleship, inevitably you are criticized
  • you have a sin nature that won’t seem to go away
  • and there are unseen forces that fight against you (spiritual warfare)

Let’s face it, there is a reason that the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few- this work is not for the faint of heart.

So, what can we do to keep moving forward and not lose heart.  Here are a few ideas.

Remember Whose commission it is.  This is not something you made up to keep yourself busy and in everybody’s business.  The Great Commission is Jesus’ idea.  Let’s look again to His interaction with the disciples in Matthew 28:18-20 (NASB)

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20

Jesus utilizing all of His authority that had been given Him, commissioned the disciple to have a worldwide impact by making disciples in every nation (ethnos) and promised that He would be with them through all the challenges.

I don’t know about you, but that gives me comfort that I am attempting something that God is for.  And expects me to do.

Don’t Listen to Critics.  This is difficult for me as I have a sensitivity to criticism.  No matter what you do, somebody has a problem with it.  If you are sharing the gospel, someone doesn’t like your method.  If you have a discipleship system, then it is too rigid, or too soft or maybe even just right (reminds me of Goldilocks and the 3 bears).  The folks who are discipling spend too much time evaluating other systems and folks who aren’t discipling have an opinion about everything.

Just like Covid, where everyone was a medical expert after a while, the philosophers and the procrastinators want to give the practitioners advice about how to run their ministries.

Which reminds me of my favorite joke about discipleship.  A philosopher, a procrastinator and a practitioner walk into a bar.  While the philosopher and the procrastinator are embroiled in a heated discussion about how to make the perfect martini, the practitioner has another round.

Don’t listen to people who are not actually doing something.  If they don’t have men who are discipling men, then maybe they are not your best source of input.  Theodore Roosevelt had it right in his classic Man in the Arena quote

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

~Theodore Roosevelt~

Do Put Yourself in the Company of Disciplemakers. This may be the biggest gaffe in our modern discipleship culture.  The disciplemakers don’t talk to one another enough.  Without fail as I talk with other laborers, we eventually get around to the concept of isolation.  We are spending all our time chatting and ministering with people who are still growing in their thinking about ministry and the great commission.  We feel like we are the only ones committed to this task and we feel lonely.

It does not matter how fruitful we are being.  We all struggle with Elijah syndrome.  Elijah, after a major spiritual victory, felt isolated.  He said, “I alone am left to obey the word of the Lord and they seek my life to kill me”.  But that is just not true.  The Lord revealed to Elijah that there were some 7000 others who had not bowed to Baal.

If you put yourself in the company of other disciplemakers you will garner strength from their vision and experience.  Just like they will do from you.  Just like logs that burn brightly together, a log that attempts to burn on its own will eventually smolder out.

If there is not a gathering like this in your community- start one.  That’s what we have done here in our ministry.  We have a monthly meeting of the disciplemakers and the aspiring disciplemakers.  We call it the Disciplemaker Forum.  It is a simple meeting.  Pizza.  Someone tells a discipleship story.  Someone introduces the discussion topic for the evening (5 minutes) and then we break out and share ideas of how to implement that topic.

It is a very encouraging meeting.  We hope it adds years to ministry for the laborers.

You Have to Create Margin in Your Schedule for Disciplemaking.  One of the things that gets in the way right away is not having time to focus.  This is not the kind of ministry that you do on the side or on the fly.  If you are going to be a disciplemaker this has to be the primary thing you do.

Several years ago, my son was feeling a little cluttered in his room and it was really frustrating for him.  Honestly, he just had too much stuff in the room.  So, we took everything out of the room and reorganized it from scratch.  It is amazing when you have a clean space and then you say what do I want in there.  So, he started prioritizing what went back into the room.  A bed.  A dresser. His clothes. Etc. Etc.

If you want to be effective in discipleship you need to do that with your schedule.  Throw everything out.  Empty your schedule. Add discipleship as your primary ministry.  And then start adding everything around that ministry focus.  Said another way- reorient the way you think about your calling in life.  Be a disciplemaker and then add the other elements.  Disciplemaking, then family, then job, then church, then service, then friends, then fun, etc, etc, etc.

This reorientation will give you a fresh vision about how God will use you to impact your world.

Step up and do something.  There is a saying that I love, “do something, even it’s wrong.”  There is a call to action that we need to hear and heed.  We keep waiting and waiting.  It’s kind of like my garage.  I walk through there every day and say someday I will clean this place up, but I never quite get around to it.  In discipleship, we will never have it all together.  You will always have something to work on.  Whether that be in your own life or with your approach to disciplemaking.  You cannot allow the search for perfection to sideline you.  Do something.

My favorite space of discipleship is FIELD TESTING.  What I mean by that it instead of sitting around trying to figure out everything, I try something and see if it works and if it doesn’t, I tweak and try again.

Even yesterday, I was working on a new idea for my disciplemaker group.  I am rolling it out next Wednesday.  Will it be effective?  I don’t know.  But the guys are looking to me for the next steps, so I am putting together the next steps.

Conclusion

Listen, I know that this stuff is not easy but oh don’t you love the fact that Christ has a vision of reaching the world and He lets us be involved.  To me that is awesome.  So, I persevere.  There is no plan B.  Burn the ships.  Storm the Bastille.  Throw in your own motivational platitude about staying in the battle.  Let’s let the one and only C.T. Studd speak into this situation.

Only One Life, Twill Soon Be Past
by C.T. Studd

Two little lines I heard one day,
Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,
And stand before His Judgement seat;

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, the still small voice,
Gently pleads for a better choice
Bidding me selfish aims to leave,

And to God’s holy will to cleave;                                                                                                                          

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, a few brief years,
Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears;
Each with its clays I must fulfill.
living for self or in His will;

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

When this bright world would tempt me sore,
When Satan would a victory score;
When self would seek to have its way,
Then help me Lord with joy to say;

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Give me Father, a purpose deep,
In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;
Faithful and true what e’er the strife,
Pleasing Thee in my daily life;

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Oh let my love with fervor burn,
And from the world now let me turn;
Living for Thee, and Thee alone,
Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Now let me say, “Thy will be done”;
And when at last I’ll hear the call,
I know I’ll say “twas worth it all”;

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

__ extra stanza __

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
And when I am dying, how happy I’ll be,
If the lamp of my life has been burned out for Thee.

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