Whenever I am asked the question, “How has being discipled changed my life” I find that my answer always begins the same way, that I have been in the church my whole life but now know that God has given me a specific responsibility and task. It is imperative that each of us who desires to move toward the worthy goal of accomplishing the kingdom work that God has predestined for us to do makes that same realization (Ephesians 2:10). After twenty-eight years of desiring to live the life God has called me to live I found myself feeling less equipped and having less clarity than ever in understanding what God wants from me in this life. After spending a year walking closely with Larry Watkins through the process of discipleship I can say with full confidence that asking him for help was one of the most life-changing decisions I have ever made.
Why was asking Larry for help such a life-changing decision? To answer that question, I will digress to a former season of my life as a professional flight instructor.
It was my job for many years to take aspiring pilots and teach them the art and skill of an aviator. In general though, students had a combination of time spent in the classroom and time spent in the field. The time invested in the classroom had two purposes: teach the student basic fundamental lessons preparing them for their next milestone as well as to prepare them specifically for their next flight. It was clear to each student from the beginning that our time together would be strategic, educational, and exciting. However, it was also clear to students that our time together would be limited. My job was not to hold their hand forever, but simply to spend time in a process where I would mentor that student by slowly transferring my knowledge and skill through time spent together.
As we walked through the process of transformation, the students’ rate of growth and ultimately their success depended almost entirely on one thing: the hunger factor. In other words, how bad did they want it? In my early years of teaching young aviators I gained enough confidence in my success rate that I was sure that I could teach anyone how to fly. While I was never arrogant enough to say it out loud, I definitely thought that it was true. After several more years of training students I found that my previous proclamation was not, in fact, entirely true. Over time I realized the only people I could teach how to fly were those who wanted to learn how to fly. If an individual didn’t want it, there wasn’t much I could do for them. They may piddle around with it for a while, but the track records spoke for themselves. Those who didn’t really want it, for one reason or another, never got very far.
The very first time that I approached Larry he asked me to tell him about what I had been doing with my life. When I described my work as a flight instructor he looked at me and said something that changed my life forever. “Do you realize you are already making disciples?” Larry asked. “We just need to take what you already know about discipling and train you to use it for God’s kingdom.” Figuratively speaking, my jaw hit the floor. It was so obvious after he verbalized it.
After processing this information for several days, I began to make a life-changing realization: the work God has given me to do in this life is perfectly illustrated in the work that I had already been doing in flight training. Let’s imagine that we were to take an inexperienced student pilot and enroll him or her at the local flight school with the condition that they were not to be assigned a flight instructor — specifically that they would only attend the classroom studies. Each of us would easily see the absurdity of having any expectation that, without any actual flight training, the student would one day be able to fly an airplane.
Without being engaged in an active process where an instructor trains and mentors the student, the best possible outcome for the student is to simply become an aviation enthusiast: only head knowledge with no actual ability to carry out the mission. The whole process is dependent on that student pilot being assigned a flight instructor who transfers practical experience, knowledge, and skill during time spent together in the field. The classroom is to prepare the student for the time with the instructor, not to replace the time with the instructor.
The process is called discipleship, and without it the church is left with congregations full of individuals who are not fully trained to carry out the Great Commission in which most will, like the student pilot, eventually lose interest and drop out. Can any of us truly expect to be effective for God’s kingdom if we haven’t had any official training in carrying out the Great Commission in which we were commanded to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19-20)? Can we also see the absurdity in expecting new converts, who are not given any means of being trained, to ever be effective for God’s Kingdom? Luke 6:40 says, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher”.
Don’t skim over those words too quickly. Understand that those of us who desire the worthy goal of being “like Jesus” in training and equipping other men as Jesus did while he was here must first have gone through a formal process of training in which we learn how to skillfully reach, teach, and train men who are lost or stagnant in their faith. Each of us learned the hard lesson in our adolescent years that we as individuals will become like those we hang around. Apply this fundamental truth to your life as a follower of Christ. If you want to be effective for God’s kingdom, find another man who is fully trained, equipped, and effective for God’s kingdom and have him disciple you.
In other words, find a man who can walk through the process of discipleship with you in which he transfers both life and truth specifically within the context of a reproducing relationship. Know this, though, that just like the student pilot, your rate of growth and ultimately your success is dependent almost entirely on one thing: the hunger factor. How badly do you want it?
After twelve months of sharing life with one of the most effective men for God’s kingdom that I have ever met, I have a clear mission for my life going forward: to mobilize men to obey Jesus and equip them to be reproducing disciple makers. I would rather have the honor of spending my life serving the King, locking shields next to like-minded mature men who are looking to their reward in heaven, than to live a life of worldly comfort seeking temporary pleasures instead of the will of the Father. In the process of losing my life I will find it (Luke 9:24). How has being discipled changed my life? Because of the time I spent with Larry in training, I am sure that I will stand before the Father someday in judgement confident that I will hear, “Well done my good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).
I desire to live the rest of my life seeking men who are lost or stagnant in their faith and train them to do the same. My life will be completely different. Will yours?
This is a guest post by Bryan Waddle. Larry has been teaching Bryan all that Jesus commanded throughout the last year and a half. Some fruit from this relationship manifested itself during the early part of 2018 when Bryan was able to lead a friend of his to Christ. Brian is married to Sydney and lives in Northwest Arkansas.