Faithful followers of Jesus Christ are not to be sponges, soaking up the blessings of faith and all the things the Lord offers and never giving them away. Two things happen to a kitchen sponge when you use it to wipe the counters for a few weeks without wringing it out: First, that sponge is going to get saturated, which means it cannot take any more in. Second, it will start to stink. This can happen to us in the faith, too. We get all the goodies--the teaching, the spiritual understanding-- and we never get it out, so we become saturated. When we are saturates, we don’t want any more. We lose the eagerness to grow and gain more understanding of Scripture and the Lord’s will for our lives. When that happens, Christian life begins to be stale and unattractive. In spiritual terms, we start to stink.
I came to know the Lord as a teenager, and since then, my understanding of what it means to live the Christian life has been to give away what I’ve been given. I try to do that in my own life, to model it, and I try to encourage and challenge and equip other people to do that.
There are many different ways to make an impact on a person’s life, but to me taking seriously what Jesus said in Matthew 28,“Go ye therefore into all the world and make disciples,” has been my life’s work. I’ve spent many years trying to understand what the Lord’s words mean, and I don’t have a full understanding, but I’ve learned some things. First, I’ve learned that Jesus was not making a suggestion. This was a command by Christ. Second, I understand that he meant that command for every person who is a follower of Christ. Third, I believe it’s the most misunderstood of Jesus’ instructions to believers in the Scripture.
I’ve worked with pastors and Christian leaders all over the country for years, giving seminars and teaching on discipleship. When I ask these brothers how they understand and apply Christ’s commandment in their lives and ministries, most often I get an answers that suggests discipleship is a process of getting people to go through a certain amount of material or course work or reading so many books. That’s not a complete view of discipleship. It’s a piece of the puzzle, but there is much more to it.
What it means to be a disciple
The word “disciple” appears more than 260 times in the New Testament
The word “Christian” is only used 3 times. If you do a word study of “disciple,” and all of its derivatives, you’ll see that being a disciple breaks down to being three things:
A learner: That means that I am committed to be involved in the lifelong process of learning about Christ, who he is and what he wants me to do. Often people assume because they have been exposed to the truth of God that they have been transformed by that truth, and that is not always true. True learning only takes place when it changes how we live.
A follower: The follower is one who sticks to or adheres to Christ and does what he says. Following means humbly recognizing and submitting to Christ’s authority over your own life.
A reproducer: This is the element of discipleship that too many people miss. This is the process of taking what God is producing in you and by his grace seeing it reproduced in another. A disciple is a disciple maker. We need to be building our lives into others’.
Fidel Castro is no friend of the Christian life, but he does know something about commitment. He gave an interview after the revolution and takeover. The interview asked him, if you had to do it over again, how many people would it take you to succeed? Castro answered that he did it the first time with 84 core people who helped execute the plan, but if he did it again, could carry out the revolution with just four. Of course, the four would need to be willing to die.
The point is, it does not take a lot of people to make a huge impact, but it does take commitment, understanding what you are about and being committed to executing it no matter what.
John Tolson, a nationally renowned teacher and speaker, has spent more than 30 years making a profound impact on the lives of others. As Founder and Chairman of High Impact Life (formerly The Tolson Group), Dr. Tolson oversees a collection of ministries across the country that specializes in outreach and discipleship training for adults and students. Tolson was Chaplain of the Dallas Cowboys football organization from 2008 to 2011 and is the author of The Four Priorities: Life is Too Short to Get It Wrong.