Buried in the account of Paul becoming a Christian and a leader in the church there is a small phrase that I think has some fairly significant implications for how we understand discipleship:
Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, “Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.
When many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do away with him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death; but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket.
-Acts 9:19-25 (emphasis mine)
This story is about the tremendous transformation that happened in Paul’s (then Saul’s) life. Just prior to this, Saul had just been killing Christians and was finally stopped when the Lord knocked him to the ground, blinded him, and subsequently healed him. But one of the indicators of Saul’s total transformation was that within a few days (and possibly a few weeks) of his conversion, Saul had his own disciples.
Don’t miss this. These weren’t just random disciples. These weren’t disciples that already existed in Damascus. These weren’t disciples that were made by Paul after he had known the Lord for a decade or better. These were *his disciples*. Saul’s. They were disciples of a man who had come to know the Lord only days or weeks before.
Why is that significant? Well, when was the last time you expected a new believer to have disciples? When was the last time you saw someone who had just come to Jesus preach Christ in a way that caused others to gather around them? When was the last time you expected your new convert to begin pointing others to the Christ they had just received?
What this story tells me is that discipleship is not for the oldest believers or the most experienced believers in our midst. Discipleship is the responsibility and the inheritance of even the youngest believers among us. When we teach them to wait until they know more about Jesus, the church, and everything, we teach them discipleship is about knowing stuff. But discipleship isn’t about knowing stuff, it’s about obeying Jesus. Even relatively new believers can teach newer converts how to obey, if they’ve learned how to themselves.
My point isn’t that this is the story for every believer or we should expect this out of everyone who has come to Christ yesterday. Instead, I want us to be open to the possibility that the Holy Spirit can do this. The Holy Spirit can so transform a person’s life in an instant that they can make disciples quickly. There will be those that the Lord powerfully moves on and can start making disciples from day one or day two following their conversion. It’s not impossible.
More specifically, what if instead of doubting this possibility, we encouraged those who came to Christ to do this? What if we
stopped believing that God only works through those with seminary degrees started believing that Christ within someone is enough to point others to Jesus and help grow them into maturity? What if we encouraged people in this direction instead of encouraged them into immaturity and dependency on us?
Saul had disciples within days or possibly weeks. Not everyone you lead to Jesus will be like this, but I think we sell our disciples short when we don’t believe that it’s even possible.
Maybe it’s time we started encouraging our disciples to make disciples, even right out of the gate. Who knows? Maybe we might find a few more Paul’s that way.