Dennis McCallum and his daughter Jessica Lowery have been working for years at making disciples who can lead home churches in Xenos Christian Fellowship. This year, they are releasing their first book on the subject of making disciples. Organic Disciplemaking (Houston: Touch Outreach Ministries, 2006) is a comprehensive how-to book on making disciples in the modern setting. They recently discussed making disciples for RELEVANT:
Jessica: This book has so much material, can you give a case
study or example so I can see what the disciple-making process looks like?
Dennis: I tell the story in the book of my first experience with making disciples. As a 19-year-old, I challenged a relatively unspiritual friend to study with me. To my surprise, he began growing rapidly. I would hear him repeating things we talked about when talking to others. He became more and more influential in our small fellowship. Before long, he manifested a strong gift for teaching the Bible and won his own disciples. Over the next two years, he started home Bible study groups and God used him to reach a growing circle of people. He went on to become an important teacher and leader who has won hundreds to Christ and developed scores of leaders in our church. You never know when the person you disciple might turn out to be an important servant of God.
Dennis: Describe how God has used disciple making to enhance your ministry.
Jessica: Many of my friends know that they are sinners. They don’t question their guilt, they only question their ability to change. God can really do something in our lives, but this is difficult for some people to believe. Disciple-making is a process that looks at the promises of God, models a changed life, and joins two people together in regular prayer. It teaches a friend to believe in God’s power.
Engaging in this ministry has been good (though sometimes difficult and always time-consuming) because I have seen people’s lives changed. I have seen a promiscuous girl go from sleeping with a married man, to becoming a strong Christian, to becoming a faithful wife and mother. And I’ve seen many other amazing things.
Jessica: Is the disciple-making process the same or different for people outside of your peer group (i.e. children, high-schoolers)?
Dennis: It’s essentially the same. I often disciple those far younger than I, including high schoolers, my own kids when they were younger and college students. Younger kids appreciate being taken seriously and respected as though there were adults. They can learn just as well as adults, although we have to start with simpler material. When it comes to sharing their faith and winning friends to Christ, they exceed adults.
Dennis: What are some of the most common reasons you’ve seen for people failing to make disciples?
Jessica: Some people are not willing to truly love others. This is the biggest barrier in my opinion. Disciple-making may be alluring to us because we want to impart wisdom to others or receive glory for our willingness to do something difficult. This is not enough. People can see through us, and most people don’t feel inspired when they feel that they are our “projects”. If we remain self-protective, or self-righteous, or self-focused in general we do a disservice to the people we are trying to disciple.
I’ve seen disciples grow to resent the people who disciple them. I’ve seen disciples lose respect for people who are self-focused and insecure. I think what we all want is someone who is willing to be forthcoming about the truth—including the truth that we all need God’s grace—that we’re all in this together. Successful disciple-makers know how to exude humility, love, loyalty to God and fierce dedication to God’s mission.
Jessica: If this works so well, why aren’t more people doing it?
Dennis: I’ve wondered about this question for years. Let’s remember that missionaries and leaders in the developing world use personal disciple making extensively with great results. In the West, however, we see less interest. Several factors seem clear.
First, many Christians are unfamiliar with the approach except in the most general and vague way. Secondly, people have become suspicious of making disciples because of association with controlling cult-like groups who have misused the concept. Thirdly, Americans seem too focused on short-term results in ministry. Making disciples takes patience and persistence. But the results can be even more striking than those produced by mass meetings.
Dennis: What do you think about a disciple who seems to be growing, but who does not seem to witness much?
Jessica: I’m discipling a girl like that right now. She has been a Christian for 3 or 4 years, and had never brought anyone to a Bible study, let alone witness. We have been meeting for discipleship for almost a year now, and we’ve talked about evangelism and ministry a lot. We’ve prayed a lot. We’ve agonized over this topic as we watch brand new Christians succeed in ministry that she has never experienced. The tension-level was pretty high.
Just last week, she brought someone to Bible study for the first time. We celebrated! This act was seen as a huge victory and a huge answer to prayer. This week she brought two people to Bible study and witnessed to a girl at her work over lunch. I’m glad that she sees how exciting this is. I think that it is a mistake to glaze over something like witnessing and act like it’s not a big deal. We’re afraid that we will demoralize someone if we make an issue out of it, but we’re actually deflating any sense of joy they would experience if they kept trying over and over again until they saw fruit.
Jessica: I can see how studying with a young believer would be very beneficial, but isn’t it condescending to study with someone who’s been a Christian their whole life?
Dennis: It really depends how you put the proposition. I usually like to suggest we read and discuss the Bible together for mutual edification. I see no reason to mention discipleship in most cases, or to suggest that I’ll teach my friend the Bible.
Jessica: Does this process look the same in mission work overseas?
Dennis: It essentially is the same. We have noted some problems in certain fields, and probably the leading problems are excessive legalism and impatience. If we expect this process to work in six months, we are in for disappointment.
Dennis: What signs do you look for that show things are going well with a new discipleship relationship?
Jessica: An observable personal devotional time with God is very important in my opinion. I am always on the lookout for clues that someone is spending alone time with God. If a girl says, “I was reading this the other day and wondering what it means”, or “I was praying about that!”, or something like that, it gives me assurance that they will keep progressing.
I can trace many of the turning points in my walk with God back to a time when I was reading the Bible and praying. I know that God can curb and challenge our fleshly ideals when we stand in His presence.
Jessica: If you only had a limited time to meet with someone, what are the bare essentials that you would definitely try to address in your time together?
Dennis: First would come teaching the brother how to develop a personal walk with God. The Bible, Christian fellowship, prayer and serving others would be the main themes.
Dennis: What do you look for from longer term disciples?
Jessica: The main thing I hope to see from longer-term disciples is conviction. If someone is able to develop on-going personal convictions from the Lord, they will continue to progress spiritually for the rest of their life. As a pop singer in the 80’s put it “With the power of conviction, there is no sacrifice.” Living the Christian life will not be an inconvenience to a person with conviction.
Jessica: How do I know when I’m ready to begin discipling?
Dennis: If you’re serious about God and you have the desire to help someone, you’re ready to try. Disciple making is a skill that is best learned in process. I think most young Christians armed with nothing more than this book could do a credible job making disciples.