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How to Choose Disciples Wisely


by Craig Etheredge: Making disciples begins with people, but the question is who? This is a crucial question, because you may never have invested your life into another person or you may not be sure how to get started. If either of those is you, don’t worry. God is preparing you right now to make a lasting investment in others’ lives, one that will result in their spiritual growth. You are about to have a front row seat to God working in a powerful way to build another person up!

So how does one choose a person to disciple? Selection is really important, because you don’t want to choose a person who will not be committed to the process. What’s the way to find the right person? As you move forward, let me encourage you not to just look for the most holy person you can find. Sometimes the greatest disciples are pretty rough at the beginning.

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Think of how Jesus chose the twelve. They were not the brightest and best of their day—that’s for sure. Most likely these men had been overlooked or discarded by the religious leaders of their day. They were common men. So don’t let external signs deter you. Instead, we should look at Jesus’ example and what he did. Here are some things we learn from Jesus.

Pray for Disciples

First, pray. On the night before Jesus chose the twelve men he would invest his life into, he spent the night in prayer (Luke 6:12-13). I’m sure Jesus prayed for the Father to make it clear to him who he should choose. At the very least, he was praying for specific people he had in mind. What else was he praying for that night with such a major decision? So should you start with prayer.

I remember one man telling me, “Craig, just ask God to give you one man. Then, when God gives you a man, pour your life into him.” That’s good advice for those just starting out. Don’t worry about the number of people you disciple; worry about your faithfulness with those God’s given you.

When I was a young pastor, I began to pray for God to give me a man to disciple. One Sunday afternoon a young man named Gibson, whom I had never seen before, walked into our church. He was a young new college graduate. We met in the hallway, and I felt a strong impression to spend more time with him. Before long, I asked him if he would like to get together to read the Bible, pray, and grow spiritually. He immediately said, “Yes!”

Over the following months I met with Gibson and a few other young men in our church for Bible study and prayer. I invested my life into them and each of them began to grow.

Years later, Gibson joined our staff, helped us launch a new church campus, and eventually planted a new church in Philadelphia. One day we were talking about that first meeting in the hallway, and I told him that I had been praying for a man to disciple. He said, “Well, I had been praying, too. I was just driving by the church and I felt the Spirit of God tell me to go inside. That’s when I met you.” As we recalled this encounter, we both sat there amazed. I prayed for a man to disciple, and God brought him to me. I’m convinced that if you, too, begin to pray for God to bring you a disciple, he will.

Look for Persons with Spiritual Interest

Second, look for those who have an interest in spiritual matters. As Jesus prayed about whom to select, he chose men that had already shown a high interest in spiritual things. Jesus didn’t have to twist their arms. After all, it was Andrew and John that pursued him in the very beginning (John 1:39). After this meeting he spent almost two years with them, watching their behavior and seeing their hearts. Out of his relationship with them, he was able to choose men who were eager to grow.[2] When the Apostle Paul chose Timothy, he noticed that Timothy had a good reputation and was eager to grow (Acts 16:1-3). The best disciples are those in whom the Spirit of God is already at work, which is often seen as a hunger for spiritual things.

We call those people “poppers” at our church. Just like popcorn, when the spiritual temperature turns up, they are the first to pop! Their spiritual light is on. They are showing up to church regularly, asking great questions, and applying what they learn. They are honest in their struggles, joyful in their life, and thankful for all that Jesus has done for them. They’re going for more of God’s truth in their life, responsive to instruction, and eager, ready, hungry, and quick to respond. Start looking around you. Ask God to show you the ones that are eager and ready to grow.

Find the Faithful, Available, and Teachable

Third, look for F.A.T. people. That’s right, F.A.T. people who are faithful, available, and teachable (the first letter of each word makes F.A.T.). Paul told Timothy to invest his time in “faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). Choose people who are faithful to do what you are training them to do. You certainly don’t want to put time into a person who will not be faithful to do what call them to do. That’s why Paul told Timothy to look for faithful men. Jesus chose faithful men.

Also, choose people who are available, who will create time in their busy schedule to meet with you for training. I have been discipling men for many years and I will often see a man who is eager and faithful, but he is not available. He has too many demands and too many distractions in his life to grow. Jesus said that these people are like a seed sown among the weeds. They hear the Word and they begin to grow but the “care of this world, the deceitfulness of riches and the desire for other things” strangle out the potential for growth that God is working in their life (Mark 4:19). Therefore, they don’t really bear lasting fruit in their lives. Choose people who are teachable, not those who argue every point or play the critic. Look for those who are teachable and eager to learn.

Over the years, I’ve found that people who fit this description are those that quickly take what I’m saying and put it to practice.

The last thing I’ll say about how to pick persons to disciple is this: don’t be afraid to disciple people older than you. I’ve noticed that many people are reluctant to disciple anyone older than them. They reason, What do I have to offer a person that should be teaching me? But remember that spiritual maturity and physical maturity are not the same. If God has brought people into your life to show you how to walk with God, then why would you keep that from others? Timothy was a young pastor, yet he was called to invest in faithful men. Don’t worry about the age of the person you are discipling—look for the heart of the person. If they are faithful, available, and teachable, then pour your life into them. There is no telling what God will do with a person like that!

Written by Craig Etheredge

[2] Dann Spader articulates this separation of approximately 18 months to two years between Jesus’ first meeting with John and Andrew in John 1:39 and when he recruited them for discipleship training in Matthew 4:18-19 in his book, Four Chair Discipling (Moody Publishers: Chicago, 2014) 48. See also Robert Thomas and Stanley Gundry’s A Harmony of the Gospel (Harper and Row Publishers, San Francisco, 1978) 348.

A gifted communicator, author, and Bible teacher and the Lead Pastor at First Colleyville, a thriving church in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, Craig Etheredge is the host of Morning Thrive, a radio program that covers central Texas. He is Founder and President of discipleFIRST ministries and a regular speaker at the FlashPoint Conference across the United States. Craig is also Adjunct Professor of Discipleship at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas and is actively involved in his local community serving on various boards.


Source: How to Choose Disciples Wisely