It Takes Time by David Asscherick

It Takes Time

by David Asscherick  |  August 5, 2016

Discipleship is a bit of a buzzword right now, and that’s a good thing. As the church, and as followers of Jesus, we should be talking about discipleship. More than this, we should be doing discipleship.

But right there is the rub.

Because discipling people is hard. It takes time. It takes investment. It takes energy. It takes sacrifice. It takes wisdom. And did I mention time?

Here’s a confession: I spent years as a full-time evangelist (that’s not the confession part) bemoaning (here’s the confession part) the failure of many local churches to really disciple and grow their newly-baptized members who had been won through the series I (or some other evangelist) had just held.

The funny (and sad!) thing is that I’ve heard pastor after pastor complain that, really, it’s the evangelist’s fault that newly-baptized people don’t stick around. “They were baptized too soon.” “They weren’t adequately prepared.” “They should’ve been cleared more thoroughly.” And on and on.

So the evangelists blame the churches and pastors and the pastors blame the evangelists. I’ve seen this sequence dozens of times and heard it repeated by others (on both sides) more times than I care to remember.

It is impossible to fully disciple someone in four to six weeks.

And here’s the truth: blaming is easy, but discipleship is hard. My head elder is in the room as I’m writing this, so I decided to read him what I’d written so far. He listened, then gave it a moment of thought and said: “It’s definitely the evangelist’s fault.” So, yeah, there you have it.

It is impossible to fully disciple someone in four to six weeks. Not going to happen. Generally, modern evangelistic meetings last about that long. And, yes, all the doctrines may be covered more or less. And, yes, powerful and moving appeals have been made. But these do not constitute discipleship. They can get people on the path to being a disciple of Jesus, but these short-term successes can never take the place of the time, energy, and investment that genuine discipleship requires.

Perhaps more than any other verses in the New Testament, Mark 3:14-15 speaks to the essence of discipleship: “Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons.”

Did you see it? If not, read it again. Read it until you get it, I’ll wait…


***Still waiting***

So you saw it, right? Of course you did. Here it is: “that they might be with Him.” That’s it right there! The secret to true discipleship, as Jesus both understood and modeled, is to be with those you are endeavoring to disciple. At the risk of repeating myself: it takes time, investment, energy, sacrifice, and wisdom.

And it’s hard. I think I mentioned that already.

The secret to true discipleship…is to be with those you are endeavoring to disciple.

Why is it so hard? The short version is that people are messy and complicated. Not all people, just 99% of them. It’s one thing to say, “Happy Sabbath” while walking past someone in church, but it is an entirely different thing to really disciple and invest in another human being. And don’t miss this: the pastor cannot single-handedly disciple a whole church. Even Jesus, who was God incarnate, limited Himself to 12 primary disciples.

Presently, I find myself pastoring a church with between 400-500 on Sabbath morning. About 350 of those are members. Shortly after my arrival here two years ago, it became inescapably evident to me that, when it came to discipleship, I was in over my head. Way over.

So what’s the solution? The answer, I believe, is to create a culture of discipleship in the local church. For most churches, this will involve a complete reorientation of the church’s status quo. It centers on small groups and social connections. It prioritizes relationships and time, not just inspiring Sabbath-morning sermons and fiery short-term evangelistic meetings.

Here at Kingscliff, we’ve not figured it all out yet. Probably your church hasn’t yet either. But we’re trying, and I hope you and your church are trying too. This isn’t the pastor’s problem or the evangelist’s problem. This is the church’s opportunity and mission. It is your opportunity and mission!

And the essence of that mission is to spend time with others. Time praying, time studying, time laughing, time playing, time teaching, time eating, time crying, time witnessing, time crying, and time growing.

That is, time discipling. 

Just like Jesus.

David Asscherick Speaker
Light Bearers
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  • Brittany

    I have a lot of thoughts on this particular topic, especially post baptism after finally taking the plunge after 10 years in the Adventist circle. Post-conversion is not easy.

  • Samuel Bonello

    Evangelism is saying, “Lazarus come forth!”. Sensational, immediate results, clean.
    Discipleship is getting your hands dirty and helping Lazarus take the grave clothes off. Inglorious, protracted and dirty work.
    Maybe thats why we shy away from it.

  • Nicole Crosier Parker

    I developed a passion for discipleship my senior year in college, as a worked as a chaplain for a small youth group. That vision of God’s call continued to strengthen as I worked in small schools, and when I met my husband, we both had already discovered that this was our calling.

    Discipleship was the reason my husband and I chose to move to a university setting, away from a more public-evangelism-based approach. We both felt called to do deeper work with young people who had great potential. Despite the incredible busyness of having 3 children under the age of 4 when we moved, we chose 6 students we felt had potential for future in leadership and ministry, and invested in them our first year. We invited four of them weekly to our house (and met with the other two elsewhere). Most of them paid off very well–they’re in ministry and still strong in the Lord 9 years later. I’m still in regular touch with most of them, in fact, and with their spouses/significant others, and I pray for them regularly.

    Discipling these and other young people who God has put into my life in significant ways has probably been the most rewarding ministry (other than marriage and parenting) of my life. There are literally dozens of young people around the world who have made the investment well worth it. I see what God is doing through them and my mother heart swells with joy.

    But discipleship is painful. It’s hard. It has also brought me some of my most painful disappointments.

    Discipleship has driven me to the cross many times. I’ve gotten the “Mrs. Parker, I’m pregnant, how am I going to tell my mom?” calls. And the “Will you be on the phone with me while I take the pregnancy test?” calls. I’ve lost kids to death and agonized over whether I did enough. And gone through the ups and downs of watching young people I love go through cycles of brokenness that could so easily have been avoided. It’s hard.

    When I go through those battles on my knees, I sometimes come out the other side wondering if God sent me into these young people’s lives to bless them, or to teach me things I needed to understand about Him. Because like it or not, discipleship was messy for Jesus, too. It caused Him the deepest pain of any ministry on earth.

    Discipleship is painful because loving well is painful. It’s painful because we’re loving sinners, people who by definition violate relational laws. But it is following in the footsteps of Jesus, loving others deeply and investing even when we know we risk being hurt. And perhaps that’s the great battle–to love as Jesus loved, risking being hurt as Jesus was hurt, and knowing that ultimately, what matters is hearing that “well done” someday.

  • Ilona Sturla

    The evangelist has the privilege of introducing a person to Jesus. Not everyone is gifted to make the call to a crowd. Once a decision to accept Jesus is made the pastor and elders must have structures in place to nurture the foundlings. Evangelists are like town criers….to rally the crowds. Unless discipleship becomes a church priority people will fall through the cracks as church members are not trained in discipleship. Its a neglected area i have observed since my college days in 1991. One man in a church of 2000 was a discipler….usually meeting with 10 men individually at any time in his life. He taught me well….he passed on the burden of Christ to me…always pray the Lord will send a soul ready to be nurtured in faith and the Lord of the harvest has always sent me hungry souls.

  • Camila Skaf

    Very positive comments here so far. I like learning from others perspectives because just having one perspective is a pretty poor judgement in my opinion. I do sense a bit of frustration on this text, and given that I am now fully engaged in discipling people (maybe for the first time ever) I realize why we get frustrated. It is not only that you spend time, make huge investments of every sort, pray for them and with them, teach, listen, walk with, hold hands, watch their laughs and their cry (trust me this other centeredness happens only by God’s grace, no human merits here aside from the decision tand willingness to serve) But it is that you are dealing with people, sinful people like you and like me. And at some point they will do stupid things (sin makes us stupid) and we need to realize that without the Holy Spirit, the results are out of control. Truly. There is a risk factor in every disciple you and I cannot control. It is called heart… Every heart is the person biggest risk factor, because at the end of the day, you can do everything in the best way possible, but it is the Holy Soirit who converts people and their hearts. Yes! You can set them for success by providing attention, training, opportunities, but this will be 1%. The other 99% is the Holy Spirit. And we spend time doing everything else, and some time we lack Gods biggest gift that will make our job not easier, but possible.

  • Nicole Coley Stallings

    This was a powerful response thank you for sharing!

  • jschwirzer

    Thanks, David. So on the money. There’s not as much glory in the day by day investing required. Perhaps this is why we don’t gravitate toward it-why we need articles like this.

  • To become Jesus’ disciple and then to “make disciples” people requires nothing less than giving literally *everything you have, including your *all of your time…to God and to others. “Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be My disciple.” Luke 14:33. What I find more difficult is to decide to which person shall I give my time? Being involved in a full-blown mission project I face this question daily. But what I have learned is that we can best give our time to others while working “with” them for *others, and rarely just for *themselves (unless their needs really require it). Instead of burying my time in one person’s life, I try to think of each person as a branch of a tree, or as a shepherd of his/her ‘little flock’. They are the channel of grace to many unreached people beyond them, whom God wants to reach *through *them. Even the unreached can become very useful in His service. Its most ‘healthy’ to spend time ‘with’ a person primarily while reaching out to others with and through them. Thats what Jesus did with His disciples. He didn’t waste days on end, just hanging out only with those 12 people, making them into His ‘project’, but He did spent all His time with mainly just 12 people whom He was helping to reaching everyone else. There is a huge difference between these two approaches. Its easy to let unconverted people steal your time. We need to focus on those most receptive. This realisation has helped me to understand that discipleship requires us to have ‘circles’ within circles. John was closest, James and Peter next, then there were the others of the twelve, (of whom several where closer to Jesus than the others). Outside the 12 disciples were the 70 (see Luke 10), and besides all these, there was the group of family members and women, who followed Jesus. Then beyond all these were all the multitudes, some individuals of whom Jesus paid special attention to, like Nicodemus. So Jesus created a “matrix” of discipleship all around Him, in which everyone become a channel to everyone else. This complex fabric of relationships has since spread out across the planet to reach you and me! So all we are doing is joining the same matrix. And in the middle of it all, yes, was Jesus, spending *time, very purposefully, *with His disciples!

  • Ray

    Just read David’s blog. Awesome! Discipleship needs to be the cultural mindset of a church, not just another program. Otherwise it becomes ineffectual like so many of the other things we do. There is no quick fix, it’s like turning a large lumbering ship around, it takes time!

  • A_T_T

    I’m not an expert. From my humble experience you have to plead with God to put a burden in your heart for others. That’s the only thing that drives me. Some people I just can’t stop thinking about and I feel compelled to reach out to them– I really can’t explain it.

  • Alison Brook

    I used to blame the pastors and evangelists. 😉 Then I started to stop seeing descipleship as someone else’s job. Thanks for this.

  • Benson Nyanoti