Follow Up vs. Discipleship

“I am so frustrated!!!”  My friend exclaimed, “Sometimes she does what I ask her and other times not!  I never know what to expect!”

One thing that can help eliminate this frustration is understanding the difference between follow up and discipleship.

When someone first becomes a Christian, Jesus uses the analogy of a baby to describe them.  What do babies need?  To be fed, cared for, protected, given lots and lots of love… and to have their diapers changed!

In Ephesians Paul describes young Christians like infants tossed on the waves, not very stable and steady.  But in Hebrews 4:12 the believers are admonished, “Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of God.  You need milk, not solid food.”  Unlike physical babes, maturing isn’t guaranteed for believers!

This is why we are encouraged to grow (Ephesians 4:15, 2 Peter 3:18)  and 1 Peter 2:2 points out how critical God’s Word is for helping us do this.  A basic fact for both physical as well as spiritual growth – you need to eat for this to happen!  But babies often won’t eat on their own.  What a difference it makes when they have someone help them eat and then learn to feed themselves.

When Billy Graham’s crusades started taking off and thousands upon thousands were coming to know Christ, he became concerned.  What was happening to all these people afterwards?  Dawson Trotman also encountered this same dilemma after picking up a hitchhiker.  When he shared the gospel, the guy prayed to receive Christ!  A year later while sharing the gospel again Daws realized this was the same hitchhiker from the year before – his life hadn’t changed one bit.  That’s what got Dawson on the track of seeing the need for follow up.  What a difference it made when someone came alongside a new believer helping him!  Hearing of this, Billy Graham came to Dawson and asked for help developing a plan for “following up” those who became Christians at his crusades.

So follow up is helping a young believer grow.  But what’s the goal?  What are you shooting for as you do this?  And how will you know when you’ve accomplished this goal?

You want to see them become a disciple of Jesus!  The Greek word for disciple, μαθητης literally means a follower and a learner.  Not just one who acquires head knowledge, but one who takes what is being learned and makes it the conduct for her life!  We want her to follow Jesus so she can learn from Him and increasingly become like Him, joining in with what He’s doing, bearing fruit for the Father’s glory!

Now in countries where there is extreme persecution of believers, when someone becomes a Christian, they have to be a disciple because to openly declare they are following the Lord, they have to be ready to die for Him.  But here in cushy, materialistic America that’s a bit more difficult.  Usually there is a process people go through before they are ready to die to themselves and commit to follow Jesus wherever He goes, doing whatever He wants them to do, whenever He wants them doing it.

Also, before someone is ready to say to the Lord, “Not my will, but yours be done” she needs to be able to trust His way really is better!  And that He is able to do a better job guiding her life than she is!  In our broken and fallen world, where people’s trust has been violated and hearts have been wounded this can be hard to do!

So here’s the kicker – you have to be a disciple before you are ready to be discipled!  A disciple is a follower and learner.  To follow someone you have to go where he goes and do what he does – and not just when he happens to be going the way you want to go!  But you won’t come to the point of surrender, where you’re ready to follow Jesus even when your heart is screaming to go the other way, until you learn to trust Him.  So follow up is not only helping someone lay a solid foundation for a lifetime of relating with Jesus, it’s helping her grow in trusting Jesus so she will become His disciple!

This takes us back to our analogy of a baby.  All babies need to eat.  But not all food is equally nutritious!  This is also true spiritually!

Think of devotionals as watered down food. They are akin to someone sharing what God’s been teaching them.  You can learn a lot from listening to others share, but don’t let this take the place of feasting on the pure milk of the Word!  Even brand new baby Christians can do this!  The key is how it’s served!

I don’t think I ever bought a single jar of baby food.  When my son was ready for solid food, I took some of what we were eating, pulverized it with a food processor and fed that to him.  The same food in small bits can be so nourishing to a child!

This is why I love having shared quiet times with new believers.  We’ll start with a sweet psalm of adoration (as opposed to the psalms of lament – which are wonderful!  but harder to digest!) and just select one verse to camp out in.  After they’ve done this for a while, and started incorporating it as a daily part of their life, then they are ready for some meat!

How do you grow in trusting someone?  By experiencing them doing what they say they’ll do.

This is where we realize how very great and precious God’s promises truly are!  God never had to promise us anything!  But he does.  And a key reason why is so we will have opportunity to experience Him being faithful to do what He said He’ll do ~ and grow in trusting Him.  One of the best things you can ever do with someone is help her learn one promise each time you meet, discuss it so she truly understands what God has and hasn’t promised and then encourage her, how will she take God up on this offer so she can experience Him?  Then the next time you meet ask how it went as she did this.

I am telling you folks, this is like miracle grow!!!

(for more specifics on how to do this, see the article in the Helps section entitled “Promise based Follow up”)

Now as she grows at times she may look like she’s following Jesus, but where the rubber meets the road is what does she do when God leads in a different direction than where she really wants to go?  This almost always involves a crisis, where she reaches a fork in the road and a key decision has to be made – will she go Jesus’ way or her own way?  It’s a crisis because it usually involves something very dear to her.

For me, it happened when the Lord asked me to give up my major in college and follow Him studying whatever He wanted me to (and He didn’t tell me at first what that would be!).  Now I’d always been one of those people with a ten year plan.  I was studying broadcast journalism and already hosted a television show for two years and had just been appointed the Assistant Programming Director for a radio station.  How I wrestled as the Lord made it so clear He wanted me to walk away from all this.  Then one day, in July of 1983, I came to the point of surrender, left that job and became “undeclared” in my major.  At that moment I became Jesus’ disciple.  I didn’t know where we were going, but I was committed to following Him each step of the way.

That was one big, “Yes!” that every day needs to be followed by smaller yeses!  And it doesn’t mean I always get it right. But it’s a direction I’m heading and by the grace of God I pray I keep heading throughout the rest of my days!

So you follow up someone until she is ready to follow Jesus wholeheartedly!  And then the adventure of discipling begins, of helping her learn what it means to follow someone she can’t see and helping her persevere even when all hell breaks loose because Satan is so not happy about this!

But oh the joy it brings Jesus!!!  :0)