by Ben Sobels: A Navy Seal, a horseshoer, a former drug addict who was homeless a few years ago, and a pastor sit around a table . . .
Sounds like the start of a great joke, doesn’t it? Actually, it’s the make-up of my current discipleship group. We have been meeting for the last four months, reading Mark’s Gospel each week, and putting Jesus’ teaching into practice together. Two of us are married, two of us are single. I’m in my forties, one guy is in his thirties, one is in his fifties, and another is in his sixties.
As I drove away from our discipleship group last week, Acts 4:13 came to my mind. It speaks of Peter and John being “ordinary men.” As I reflected on this, I realized every man in our discipleship group is very ordinary—and it’s good.
They are ordinary in the same way that Peter and John were ordinary. And after being discipled by Jesus and filled with the Holy Spirit, God used Peter and John to ignite a movement that “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).
Over the last several years, as our church has been doing the deep work of becoming a disciple making church, we have learned a lot about what God can do through ordinary men and women. Specifically, we have learned that ordinary people make great disciple makers. This has been a break-through insight for us—and I was freshly reminded of it this week with my discipleship group. It reminded me that we have to be ordinary disciples, who make ordinary disciple makers and be disciples whose ordinariness demonstrates Jesus’ extraordinariness.
1. Select Ordinary People to Disciple
There’s such an emphasis in our culture on those who are best, most important, smartest, most talented, most accomplished, and most influential. In this kind of culture, those of us who are ordinary often get overlooked. Sometimes this happens in the church. In the process of disciple making, this can show up as we select people to disciple. Dr. Robert Coleman observed that Jesus chose “a ragged collection of souls.” As you consider who to disciple next, it’s easy to fall into the trap of only thinking about people you know, people you like, or people who are like you. Jesus’ scope of selection wasn’t so limited. He prayed all night about who God wanted him to disciple, and God led him to a ragamuffin group (Lk. 6:12-16). The men he chose were all ordinary and very different.
Just as Jesus prayed about who to disciple, we should too – really pray. “Lord, who would you have me disciple? Please open my eyes to those you want me to share my life with over the next year? Would you show me those who I can pour myself into and who you can use to stretch me?” As you pray these kinds of prayers, don’t be surprised if God leads to you to people who are outside of your regular relational box.
Several weeks ago, as our discipleship group gathered, Kevin exclaimed, “Look at us! Who would put the four of us together?” And Steve chimed in, “Nobody but Jesus!” They were both was right. Honestly, our first month together was a little awkward. What do a Navy Seal in his thirties and a horseshoer in his fifties have in common? But after four months of following Jesus together, we’re gelling and it’s a joy.
2. Design Discipleship for Ordinary People
A number of years ago I heard a lady talking about the discipleship curriculum they use at her church. She said, “Our curriculum is on par with a seminary class.” I looked at it, and sure enough it was! It required a lot of reading, a lot of book work, and it was set at an in-depth, graduate level. After this, I had the opportunity to observe a couple of discipleship groups at that church. What I observed was a lot of talk and very little action. There are two problems with this:
Talking about Jesus’ teaching isn’t the same as obeying it together – and Jesus constantly challenged his disciples to put his teaching in practice.
Does a person need a seminary-level course to be equipped to follow Jesus and make disciples?
If you look at regions of the world where disciple making movements are breaking out (e.g. Global South), disciple makers are not using seminary-level curriculum. They are using the Bible, and specifically the Gospels. We encounter Jesus himself in the Gospels. His teaching is challenging enough. At my local church, we lead people through Mark’s Gospel chapter-by-chapter, putting one aspect of Jesus’ teaching into practice before the next time we meet. Love your enemies, renounce all you have, forgive everyone who have anything against. These commands challenge all people – lawyers and laborers, professors and plumbers, brand new Christians and people who have walked with the Lord for years. The focus is not more knowledge-based information but obedience-based life transformation.
3. Expect Ordinary People to Make Disciples
D.L. Moody once said, “If this world is going to be reached [with the gospel], I am convinced it must be done by men and women of average talent.” Today, some church leaders (maybe more than we’d like to admit) expect little from men and woman of average talent. People in the pew are expected to attend weekend services and give faithfully, but not much more. This has left a majority the church unmotivated, disillusioned, and spiritually sterile. In stark contrast, Jesus expected a lot from his ordinary disciples. He expected them to proclaim the gospel, heal the sick, serve the poor, cast out demons, and love people deeply. He expected them to do what he did, and “even greater things” (Jn. 12:11). Jesus had a high bar of expectation for his very ordinary disciples. We should too.
Among Jesus’ expectations for his disciples was that they multiply disciple makers (Matt. 28:18-20). The guys in my discipleship group – the Navy Seal, the horseshoer, and the former drug addict who was homeless a few years ago – reached a tipping point in our discipleship process a few weeks ago. Up until then, I had led our group through Mark 1-8. Now, they are taking turns leading the group through Mark 9-16. They knew this was coming. They committed to it upfront – not only to leading our group halfway through but also to leading their own discipleship group once we are done. Tim, who led our group last week, said, “I thought this was going to be easy, but it is a lot more involved than I thought.” We prayed, he led, and he did a great job! But he learned an important lesson – it is a big step-up to go from being discipled to making disciples. It reminded me that I must not expect less of Jesus’ people than he did.
As we have focused on being ordinary people and discipling ordinary people in our local congregation, men and woman of average talent have become the champions of disciple making for our church. Bob, who is a retired salesman in his eighties, is leading four discipleship groups and is constantly recruiting people to join other groups. Mickey, Bob’s wife, discipled Dalila last year, and now Dalilia is on fire leading her own group of ladies this year. Jason, a young husband and dad who works as a carpenter, is discipling two men this year after being discipled himself last year. Their enthusiasm is infectious – and disciple making has begun multiplying in our congregation because of them!
Our church has been learning about the importance of the ordinary over the last few years. And it was a breakthrough moment when the veil was lifted and we realized Jesus discipled ordinary people, we are ordinary people, he is calling us to disciple ordinary people, and ordinary people make great disciple makers. So, how about you? Are you open to discipling people who are different from you? Are you helping people learn to hear Jesus’ voice and obey his teaching in the power of the Holy Spirit? Are you clearly communicating to those you disciple that Christ calls them to be multiplying disciple makers? The beautiful thing about being an ordinary person and making disciples of ordinary people is that Jesus’ extraordinariness shines most brightly through humble ordinariness (2 Cor. 12:9). May God richly bless you as you make disciples of ordinary people.
By Ben Sobels
Ben Sobels is Senior Pastor at Cypress Community Church in Salinas, California. Ben and his wife, Joni, have five children. He graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary with a Master of Theology degree. Cypress is committed to being a discipleship community who worships Jesus, loves one another, and serves the world.
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