One of the many blessings of pastoral ministry is that you get to know many people who all come from very different walks of life and as a result, engage in a wide variety of activities and occupations. Adam, my friend and part of our church owns a business called the Grizzly Lodge, which is a back-country, mountainous, snowmobiling experience. Once we got to know each other, he offered for me to come up for a visit and go for a ride on the snowmobiles in the mountains. So, as you can imagine, I’m all over that.
But, I’m a guy from the prairies. Any snowmobiling I’ve done has been on the level (literally). But no big deal, the snowmobile is there to do most of the work right? Wrong.
The first part of the ride is pretty easy and quite manageable. The scenery is amazing and I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere so quiet in all my life (once the snowmobiles were turned off of course), but we had to get further up before experiencing that, and the snow is getting deeper. The further we go, the more technique there is involved (learning to carve) if you don’t want to get stuck in the deep snow. Which I did, on multiple occasions.
When I inevitably got stuck, Adam would ride over and help me get the snowmobile unstuck (which on one occasion in particular wasn’t an easy task). Which was a humbling experience for me as well, to admit like, "hey I’m stuck… again… and need help getting out… again."
After getting stuck a few times I was feeling pretty physically worn out. I was huffing pretty good, and of course Adam does this sort of thing all the time so he’s fit as a fiddle and barely seems to be breaking a sweat. I remember when I preached that Sunday, I had a stool next to me just in case I needed to rest my legs because they were pretty worn out.
Going up to ride was a pretty tiring experience, but an experience that was definitely worth it and one that I will remember for a long time. As I’ve reflected on that experience, the Lord has been using it as something of an analogy for discipleship that I want to share with you because there are actually quite a few parallels to learning how to walk the narrow path of faith in Christ.
Matthew 28:19-20 – Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Our mandate as people who follow Christ is to make disciples of all nations. The marks that we are walking in obedience to that command is that we are baptizing in the name of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit and that we are teaching others to walk in obedience to Christ. As I reflect on my own experience in being discipled by other faithful followers of Christ, I see this pattern emerge that is quite similar to my snowmobiling excursion and it’s a pattern I want to share with you that you may have some tools, or a frame of reference when it comes to making disciples as Jesus commanded.
Disclaimer: This is not a “Six steps to make disciples every time” or anything like that. I’m not saying that if you observe all of these steps that I’m about to tell you that you will make disciples 100% of the time. Ultimately, that is up to the Holy Spirit, not you or me. Our job is to be faithful with the commands that our Redeemer has given us.
Observations from Snowmobiling
Observation #1 – Invitation
The first step in the ‘back mountain snowmobiling discipleship model’ (I haven’t come up with a better name) is Invitation; person to person discipleship begins with invitation in some form. In order for us to be walking with Christ as we are, we were first invited to do so by another person in one way or another.
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?
Now that we know Christ and are continuing to know him more and more, our role is also to make Christ known, to ensure that others are hearing about Jesus, in order that they might call on Him and be saved.
Observation #2 – Personal Background
The second step that I noticed, was considering my own personal background in the journey which is something we need to consider in effective discipleship. What have been the experiences that have shaped how this person views Jesus and the church and how has that hindered or helped on the journey ahead?
My snowmobiling experience on the prairies was pretty limited and neutral, it wasn’t bad but it wasn’t amazing either. But if one of my family members died on a snowmobile, that would probably be a factor in my mind; on the flip side of that, if we were a huge snowmobiling family growing up and went out often, then that would need consideration too. Some people have had positive experiences with followers of Christ, some people have had negative ones. The negative ones seem to stick with us more, but typically it’s a mix of both. And how do we address that? The biggest thing we can do is show them Jesus through our conduct and through our words; show them the real deal.
Observation #3 – Increased Difficulty
The third thing that really stood out was increased difficulty. There was an easier section at the beginning of the ride that had been plowed just to get you up the mountain and into the powder. This is important for discipleship because the temptation is to keep people on the plowed area because you don’t want to "scare them off the ride". When that happens, believers are spiritually stunted in their growth and don’t become effective disciple makers themselves. This is what the author of Hebrews was cautioning his audience on, because they were seeing how difficult the path of Christ was becoming and wanted to bail out.
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
We need to disciple with wisdom to what people can handle, but there needs to be an increase of difficulty over time.
Observation #4 – Getting Stuck
The fourth element, and one that I believe is very important and is the one that really inspired me to think of discipleship in these terms is getting stuck. When we are walking with others in the faith, I think we come with this expectation that they aren’t ever going to get stuck, that they aren’t going to fail. That is an unfair expectation and one that I hope nobody has because even the mature get stuck at times. It’s at this point that we as disciple makers are tempted to bail on those whom God has given us to disciple. I got stuck my fair share on the mountain, but there was another brother there who saw that I was stuck and came to help get me out.
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves… May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(Romans 15:1, 5-6)
This stage of discipleship requires a higher level what we may call "buy in" from us as disciple makers. Buy in means that you are invested in what God is doing in the life of another person and when it gets difficult, you aren’t going to walk away, but help dig your fellow brother or sister out.
There are different ways that we get stuck. Whether it’s in personal life circumstances and wondering about God’s sovereignty, maybe its something that God has said that you don’t understand, maybe its just a lack of spiritual fervor. Have you observed a brother or sister in that situation? How may God use you help dig them out?
Observation #5 – Building Stamina
The fifth observation in snowmobiling discipleship (maybe that’s a better name?) is that getting stuck and helping others get unstuck builds spiritual stamina. Yes, it’s tiring, but both of you as disciples are having your spiritual muscles built up by that experience. I don’t recommend that you go out with the intention of getting stuck, but be encouraged that when you as a disciple and disciple-maker get stuck, that that takes place for your good.
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
This is another reason why increased difficulty is important because we need people in our fellowship who have greater strength and stamina to help others get unstuck, who don’t break as much of a sweat as we might.
Observation #6 – Reflection & Encouragement
Lastly, there is reflection and encouragement as we walk in obedience to Christ making disciples. What did Jesus promise as we go make disciples? Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Walking as disciples and disciple makers, we are aware of Christs presence and power because we acknowledge that any spiritual growth that we may receive or sow into another person is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit. This is where I want to land with all this because we, as disciple makers must recon with Jesus’ words in John 15:4-5:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
This is why I gave that disclaimer at the beginning that this isn’t six steps to so and so… because that kind of teaching so often doesn’t make room for the role of the Holy Spirit. We need to be wary of putting all of our hope in a system rather than in Jesus who calls his disciples. Again, Jesus said in John 6:44:
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
My prayer for us in this is that we would consider how these principles of Invitation, Background, Difficulty, Getting Stuck, Stamina, and Encouragement may aide our understanding as we walk in the Spirit desiring to make disciples of our kids, grandkids, parents, friends, family, and neighbors. Understanding that yes, they are going to get stuck, and that’s why they need you. That’s why Jesus commanded us to go make disciples.
If you are reading this and honestly don’t have a desire to make disciples, I want to challenge you with something that challenged me, because as an energetic new believer, I attempted unsuccessfully to make disciples and struggled with being ‘gun-shy’ afterwards. The thing that challenged me, was coming into a greater understanding of the Gospel. The grace, mercy, peace that passes all understanding, joy, fellowship, hope, love, freedom, and fruit of being in Christ. I think the more you mature in your understanding of your relationship with God by faith, you’ll understand the need for discipleship, and desire to do it.
The snowmobilers I saw at the lodge didn’t begrudge being there. Were they tired? Sure. Were their muscles sore? Sure. But they loved it and invited others to come and be part of it because of the joy that they received from it. As followers of Christ, are we tired? Sure. Are we spiritually sore? Sure. But are we taking the time to partake of the joys of walking with Christ in freedom? If we aren’t, no wonder we aren’t inviting others to be part of it; but if we are partaking of the joys of spiritual freedom and hope, we do invite others, not just because it’s what a good Christian should do, but because we actually believe it.