Last summer our family made the trek north to Acadia National Park. This was new territory for us. The journey between central Pennsylvania and New York City has been well traveled, but beyond that we had no idea what the region would hold for us. I believe in my abilities to navigate most situations while pulling an RV, but you’re never quite sure until you have to put those skills into action. When put in a precarious situation you will know where your’e strong and where you’re weak.

Due to a routing error, we found ourselves in desperate need of fuel as we crossed the George Washington bridge in New York City. We had no choice but to exit the expressway to find fuel in the Bronx. Yes, you heard that right. I pulled my 34 foot RV into the inner city to fuel up at any gas station we could find. The alternative of being stranded on the middle of the Bronx expressway clogging traffic for hours was not going to happen. This was the best and only option. With the dash saying 20 miles past empty, I knew I had to act. The BP on Webster and East 176th Street was my proving ground. I had one choice open at the tiny station leaving the tail end of the rig hanging precariously close to Webster Ave. There would be no pulling forward to exit the station. This would require strangers to stop traffic in both directions, backing out with a 90 degree swing, narrowly missing several signs, all while impatient New Yorkers laid on their horns and told me what they really thought of me. My Chicago-born blood would not boil because we all know which big city is better. Needless to say, I learned that day if my skills had progressed enough for these kinds of situations. Now if I could only be better at backing an RV in at night…

All of life’s skills are learned. We don’t begin with the ability to speak, or walk or even take care of ourselves. As we mature, development happens to the point that we are not only speaking words, but using words to communicate complex concepts. We not only can eat, but we are able to create incredible meals and enjoy them with others. Our abilities grow from depending on others to take care of us to doing things like constructing a home with our own two hands to provide shelter and comfort for our families. Life is full of opportunities to grow and mature and there are milestones all along the way that indicate we have arrived at one destination and are ready to strive toward the next in our development.

The same is true in discipleship. We don’t enter into a relationship with Jesus bearing all the maturity and skills we need to handle the complex issues of life. We lack the knowledge and expertise to navigate the road ahead. Each of us is required to learn and grow until we reach full maturity in Christ. This mandate is echoed all throughout the New Testament. We hear it from Paul in reference to running the race and clothing ourselves with the attributes of God and letting the Word of God take more and more ground in our hearts and minds. James points us to persevering in these things to bring maturity and completion. Timothy is compelled by Paul to continue in what he has learned and become convinced of. We all know that we need to progress in our walk with Jesus and the progression leads to maturity. The mature believer should not only know what it means to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Christ, but to also help others do the same.  

But what are the marks of a disciple?  

How would one know the next step toward maturity?  

What are the milestones that indicate our progression?  

How do we know if someone is following Jesus and growing in their love for him?

When is someone ready to invest and lead others?

Some have made disciple-making overly complicated. Others have just left it to chance. But the more we look at the New Testament and the life of Jesus, the more we see a few categories that characterize his followers.

It’s impossible to grow in our knowledge of God and grow in our love for Him without being in His Word. Not only do we get to know God, we also have our view of ourselves recalibrated by what He says to us. In any relationship, two way communication is key. If a believer is going to know God and make sense of this life, it’s necessary that one talk with the Heavenly Father, but also discern His voice by the Spirit in prayer. The Word and prayer shape the believer. In combination, these two direct, correct, train, prompt and inform a believer’s journey toward maturity. The inflow that these two practices provide become the fuel for the journey ahead. But it does not stop there.

Time after time we see an overflow happen from the life of a Jesus follower. Jesus said that the world would know his disciples by their love. Love for one another and for those far from him. The love that a disciple has for others is the beacon on a hill that guides others to Jesus. Along with love is a radical way of life that views everything from the mundane to the monumental as an opportunity to worship God. The Jesus “way of life” flips the world’s standards on its head and makes servanthood the highest calling. Every activity and effort in life can now be an offering of worship in gratitude to the servant of all who sacrificed everything at the cross that we might gain everything in Him.

Study the Scriptures to know God.

Pray expectantly to hear God’s voice.

Love extravagantly to point others to Him.

Live all of life as worship in honor of Him.

If these are the marks of a disciple, shouldn’t our aim as leaders be to clarify for those in our care what these marks are and how to make progress in maturity? 

There is a stark difference between someone who will thank God for a meal and one who hears God’s voice in prayer. The same can be true for someone who reads their Bible everyday in a reading plan and one who has hidden God’s word in their heart to live, and help others live, according to it. Self sacrifice for the good of others is down the road from volunteering. Likewise, someone choosing to use their giftedness to worship God over just showing up to work on time serves as an indicator of spiritual maturity. We would all agree that taking steps of maturity in these areas is what Jesus has called us to. And the result is each one being built up to maturity and completing the work.  

Those who take the great commission seriously must recognize the call to teach and lead others to a disciple-making way of life. If that was Jesus’ preferred method of taking the gospel to the ends of the earth, what does it mean to progress and mature in these areas? While the pursuit of Jesus is lifelong and its final destination set in eternity, one would benefit from identifying some key milestones along the way.

Leader, how will the people you are leading to Jesus and discipling know where they are in the journey and what their next step is? Make it your priority to Biblically define for yourself what a disciple looks like and identify some concrete steps of progress. When you do, you provide the clarity for next steps and direction for those who follow you as you follow Christ.  

I’d like to recommend to you a simple, yet profound read: The Disciplemaking Genius of Jesus by Bill Allison. Bill, and our friends at Cadre Ministries, have been instrumental in helping many think through what it looks like to make disciples like Jesus did, but in our day and age.

May God be glorified in us as we continue to learn and grow as followers of Jesus.It’s my hope that we progress in our skills to be disciple-makers and foster ministries that produce more and more disciples.Sometimes our skills will be tested.Uncertainty and struggle are sure to come.In the testing, deficiencies will be apparent.Don’t despair.See them as an opportunity to hone your skills and grow in you disciple-making efforts.

The hardship of backing out of a tight spot is far better than being stranded on the side of the road. Keep making progress and enjoy the journey with those God has brought close to you. Point out the milestones along the way and celebrate the progress together. 

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David Boerema

David Boerema

Director at Apex
David and Shawna Boerema serve as Directors for Apex Missions. For 20 years they have served in local church student ministry and are passionate about helping students take the next steps in their walk with Jesus. David also serves as the Director of NextGen Ministry for EDA Move. David and Shawna live in Central Pennsylvania with their two boys and love to be outdoors, travel and appreciate a cup of finely crafted coffee.
David Boerema

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