“God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20 MSG).
by John David Hicks
This command of Jesus, often called the Great Commission, communicates some of His final words before His ascension. It is as though He wanted to impress this instruction on the disciples and make sure they wouldn’t forget it. Jesus envisioned that discipleship would be the main ministry of the church. It was one of the main thrusts of His ministry on earth—training others to do the work He could not finish: “Do this, day after day, right up to the end of the age.”
Discipleship can be compared to a plant’s life. An apple tree’s purpose, for example, is not to bear fruit but to produce seeds to get another apple tree. It’s a commitment to future generations. The delicious fruit is the by-product. When you plant the seeds, you get more fruit. Each person has value and potential to produce more life and “seeds” if he is discipled.
In Scripture “The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11). It is a life-giving “word” to the plant/person. “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). Again, Paul says “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph. 1:13).
The metaphor of the “seed” as the Word, the Gospel, and the Holy Spirit all are at work in the life of a plant/person. Thus, it is the person who has received the implanted seed of God that needs mentoring in order to produce fruit and to implant the life of God in other believers. For “God’s seed remains in him…he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9).
The three stages of growth in plant life are germination, growth, and reproduction. Germination starts with a seed that is buried in the soil. The plant’s embryo then develops its roots and begins to grow. From its environment, it draws nutrients and other elements. With sunshine, the right temperature, and water, the plant becomes rooted and grounded. The more nutrient-rich the soil, the better the plant will grow. The tree continues to grow and puts forth blossoms. These flowers fade and die away as the tree puts its energy into producing fruit containing seeds.
Christian growth as a disciple can be seen to have the same three phases. In 1 John 2:12-14, the apostle uses a metaphor with three phases to illustrate the stages. He likens it to children, young men, and fathers.
John says the children know that their sins are forgiven and that they are in the family of God. The task of the child, i.e. the new Christian, is to become rooted and begin to grow. Paul in Ephesians 3:17-19 said, “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
God uses the Word and your experiences to teach you so you can learn from your failures—I call that wisdom. Mentors are good for pointing out healthier and more productive ways to come into maturity…sometimes warning you, if you are open to receive that. Applying God’s Word and the fellowship of other believers is what helps feed the plant. Keeping an eye on your plant in discipleship is an essential part of growing and catching problems early.
John says that the young men are those who are beginning to show some maturity in their Christian lives. They are strong and into the Word of God and have overcome the evil one. It is like the second stage of growth in plant life, as we continue to see flowers open, each one a potential piece of fruit. As in the first stage, fertilization in the truth of God’s Word is vital for growth in grace and knowledge of Jesus. Jesus prayed for this in John 17:15-17, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”
These first two stages are best accomplished through small discipleship groups. The spiritual children and young men need the input of other Christians into their lives. God never intended for you to live the Christian life by yourself, but instead to live a lifestyle of relationship with Him and other Christians. The New Testament model of the church is a small group of Christians, encouraging and ministering to one another.
For the sake of your own growth and effectiveness, get involved with an inner circle of Christians, sharing God’s life and love and your faith. A small group is God’s perfect place for working out love in everyday relationships. As the body of Christ, the church is an organism; it has life in it. It functions and moves by the Holy Spirit. God works in each of our lives as we minister to one another.
John says that the final stage of spiritual development is to be a father. These are mature Christians who cry out, “Teach me your ways, O LORD, that I may live according to your truth! Grant me purity of heart, so that I may honor you” (Psalm 86:11 NLT). Paul says that the mature walk in wisdom and the counsel of God. They are like apple trees in the final, fruiting stage. The plant has grown into maturity and it produces and manifests its own fruit and seeds. Seed dispersal is essential for the next generation.
Fathers are leaders in the church of God. They are soul-winners and discipling new converts. The mature are complete in Him. Mature leaders in the church are given “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:12-13).
The Lord was first to establish a mentoring relationship in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:26-32; 2:15-25). But their disobedience to God’s guidance led to the fall of mankind. They found that their wrong thinking and pride can distort your judgment. Even fear can make you reject a helping hand from others and God. Jesus said that a disciple of His would be like a child, teachable, humble, open, and willing to receive guidance and godly counsel. Mentoring has been a part of God’s plan from the start.
Germination and Growth
The seed of the gospel, when planted, will “conform you into the image of Christ.” Christ-like character is revealed by concentrating on who you are in Christ, not worrying about what others think. Godly character begins when you give the Holy Spirit complete control of your life (Rom. 12:1-2). When you make mistakes and mess up, you make amends and deal honestly with them. “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). That is how to maintain integrity with God and man.
Discipleship is nothing more than striving to model the heart and character of God and demonstrate God’s power by faith (1 Thess. 1:5-6). In the seed of plant/person the Holy Spirit works within you to take on the character of Jesus and reflect His power and presence (John 14:12-18). By grace, you will say, like Jesus, “Not my will, but thine be done.”
This seed of God within you is nourished by the Word of God. Jesus said, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matt. 4:4). Jesus quoted Scripture to overcome evil because He recognized its power—power to make you holy and to set you free. He tells us in John 8, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). And later Jesus prayed, “Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth” (John 17:17 NLT). Learning and studying Scripture and biblical precepts in a discipleship group should be a high priority in your life. For “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130).
But there is a cost to discipleship and Jesus admonishes you to count the cost. Too often the church has settled for an attitude of, “Just believe in Jesus or God.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer declared that “cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.” This has made the gospel irrelevant in the world according to Bonhoeffer. A.W. Tozer said that this heresy has made “Vampire Christians” that take the blood of Jesus for forgiveness of their sin, but then want nothing more to do with the body of Christ until they get to heaven.
Why Does the Plant/Person Need Mentoring?
In Scripture mentoring is the foundation of servant leadership—leadership that serves others unselfishly (Matt. 20:25-28; 22:37-40).
Mentoring will stretch you and help you to grow (1 Peter 2:1-5). Mentoring will give you a vision of your destiny and calling (Jer. 1:5; 1 Cor. 12:4-11). Mentoring will encourage you to seek and obey the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Joshua 1:5-9; Luke 12:12; John 14:26; Rom. 8:5). Mentoring will help you activate your spiritual gifts and see your potential (1 Cor. 12; Rom. 12; Heb. 5:12-14). Mentoring will provide godly wisdom and support (Psalm 1:1-3; Eph. 5:20-27). Mentoring will motivate your thinking and bring your behavior in line with God’s Word so you can achieve supernatural success (Jer. 29:10-14; Matt. 4:17; Rom. 12:1-2). A mentor will be honest and realistic with you, giving you positive direct feedback.
If the plant/person does not produce, there will be no future fruit. Likewise, the purpose of the church is to produce more disciples. A seed is the reproductive part of the plant which can grow into a new plant. The seeds are inside the fruit—you. “Jesus used a show, tell, deploy, and supervise method of training,” said John Wimber. “After calling the disciples he took them along with him, teaching and healing the sick as he went. Then, after he thought the disciples had seen and learned enough to try for themselves, he then commissioned, empowered, instructed, and sent them out to do the same things.”
A good mentor will impart his character, values, and faith into your life (1 Cor. 4:16–17; 2 Tim. 1:13). His coaching will give you permission to succeed and fail; to try new things; to be different and not conform; to ask questions; to cast a vision. Through his guidance and wisdom, you will grow spiritually. Watchman Nee said, “Every time I have grown spiritually another brother has provoked me.” By that he meant that a brother motivated him to go deeper spiritually.
Jesus modeled discipleship by spending time with His disciples—getting to know them, relaxing with them, sharing with them. Intimate sharing and caring love that is expressed in loyalty, commitment, and mutual acceptance will bond you to others. This is where you can pray and care for one another and focus on the Word of God. It is where you find your place in the body of Christ and learn to play your role in God’s story.
A mentor’s function is to release the individual to be his own unique person. When a person is loved, accepted, and respected, true character can be established. Before beginning the relationship, both parties should clarify their expectations. For mentoring is about growth, purpose, establishing a vision, and development of the plant/person within us with wisdom, teaching, and support. Someone has described mentoring as helping people with their career, specific work projects, or general life guidance out of the goodness of their heart. Mentoring is about developing leadership and long-term development.
An important principle of mentoring is to “shut up and listen.” Otherwise you will be giving answers to questions that no one is asking. You need to know what they are experiencing.
Another principle is fellowship around a table. Food, trust, and security go together; that’s what connects you and earns your right to be heard. The purpose of discipleship is not getting someone to profess a certain doctrine but applying the under-standing of Scripture to life in the kingdom of God here and now.
Discipleship mentoring is a process not a program. Paul gives us an example of a mentor when he says, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Mentoring is a process by which a mature, older Christian commits himself for a period of time to a few individual Christians for the purpose of equipping them to reproduce themselves in others—to become fathers spiritually. Every Christian knows that they need accountability and discipline for this, but few crave or seek it. This is why you need a mentor. Look for a mature Christian you admire, respect, and trust. Then spend time with them; most of what you will learn comes through your association.
The mentor’s insights, reflections, questions, and perspectives will advance fathers into deeper maturity. A good mentor does not need to offer all the right answers, but it is essential for him to ask direct questions and offer discernment. When you see fatherhood modeled, it will lay the foundation for greater spiritual development. This is how a mentor empowers leaders for ministry.
Mentoring Produces the Grace, Knowledge, and Authority of God in the Christian’s Life, Resulting in Obedience to the Great Commission
Before He ascended into heaven, Jesus encouraged the disciples to wait for the gift the Father promised: “In a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4-5). In verse 8, Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The sign that you are filled with the Holy Spirit is that you are a witness to what Jesus said and did (John 14:12-14).
When the disciples received the power of the Holy Spirit, they could then fulfill the Great Commission, which was to teach and to disciple new converts to carry on the work of the gospel. The fire of the Holy Spirit will release the seeds of truth and guide you into the life of God that is in you (Eph. 3:20-21).
Did you know that pine trees are dying in our national forests because of lack of forest fires? Man has tried to prevent forest fires, which pine trees depend upon. The main thing that kills the trees are pine bark beetles, which infest the trees and lay their eggs. Insecticides are ineffective on infested trees. Only forest fires can kill the bugs and release the seeds of the tree for new growth.
Likewise, you need the fire of the Holy Spirit in your life to kill the bugs that have infested you spiritually and to release the seeds of life into your life.
Paul affirms this: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power” (1 Cor. 4:20). For “Our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake” (1 Thess. 1:5).
Jesus devoted most of His ministry to discipling His disciples to do what He was doing (John 14:12-14) and molding the righteous nature of God into their lives (John 14:9-11). This was His intentional plan—discipleship.
Never forget that for mentoring to take place there must be a bonding in your relationship. This happens when there is security in your relationship. You know that there is a commitment to confidentiality and trust. So, you can be direct, share yourself, and be comfortable with feedback. You have permission to be real, open, and vulnerable and still be loved, accepted, and seen as a maturing, growing person.
Over my many years in ministry I have seen that those Christians who excel in their walk with God were connected to a loving and caring discipleship group. They answered the call to discipleship.
Discipleship is so important to Jesus that He promised, “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matt. 18:20). Discipleship and mentoring is what produces the seeds in the plant/person in God’s kingdom. No wonder it is God’s priority and should be yours and the church’s priority!