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December 4, 2020

When I embarked on the adventure of discipling other men – or if you prefer, disciplemaking – I could not have imagined what God would be doing not only through me, but also in me. 

When I was asked to write a post about what my years of discipling men have taught me, I was reminded of the iconic Elizabeth Barrett Brown poem that starts, “How do I love thee, let me count the ways….” Similarly, I could write an entire book – or more – about the many things I have learned while investing my time and energy in helping others to grow spiritually. 

Even though it was nearly 40 years ago that I met with a man for the first time to go through Operation Timothy, I still feel like discipling someone is a continuing exercise in on-the-job training. Because in an effective, fruitful Paul/Timothy relationship, it’s a mutually beneficial experience. 

Since this is a blog, and not a book, I’ll highlight just a handful of the key lessons I have learned through the discipling process: 

Don’t worry about being qualified. In his excellent book, Spiritual Leadership, Oswald Sanders wrote that a person who seeks after a leadership position is thereby disqualified. I guess the same could be said about the privilege of being used by God to make disciples. Yes, the last thing Jesus Christ told His followers was, “Go therefore and make disciples…teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:19-20). But He didn’t say we had to do it in our own strength, through our own abilities. 

Jesus closed His Great Commission with the assurance, “I am with you always.” Earlier, in speaking about bearing spiritual fruit, He had told His followers, “apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). This humbling assertion is affirmed by the apostle Paul’s declaration, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). 

So when we first engage in the process of discipling another person, we don’t need to be haunted by worries such as, “I don’t know enough” or “I’m no spiritual giant myself” or “what if he asks me something and I don’t know the answer?” The fact that we feel – and know – we’re unqualified for such an important task means we’ll have no choice but to rely on the Lord and His Spirit. 

As a CBMC leader often said, God is not interested in our ability, but our availability. If we’re willing to be usable for His service, He will not fail to put us to use. He will honor our obedience as we step out in faith as He directs. 

Discipling is a long-term investment paying great dividends. I began my adventure in discipling others in 1981, and by the following year I was meeting weekly with two men. I remain in regular contact with one of them to this day. We occasionally meet for coffee or lunch or talk by phone. In some ways, he still regards me as his spiritual father. 

Some men I met with over the years drifted away after a few months, or a year, for a variety of reasons: their personal schedules precluded our continued meetings; they moved out of town; they started meeting with another person, and some simply lost interest. But no matter. We’re not responsible for the results; God is. Our job is only to be faithful, consistent and available – for as long as needed. Sometimes the Lord injects someone into our lives for just a brief time, and then takes them elsewhere on their ongoing spiritual journey. 

There are some other men, however, that have remained in my life for a long time, even though our relationships are no longer in weekly, or even monthly, discipling settings. However, it is exciting to know they are moving forward in their walk with Christ and ministering to others in a variety of ways. As the apostle John wrote, “I have no great joy than to hear that my [spiritual] children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4). 

One of the foundational verses about discipling that CBMC has embraced through the years is 2 Timothy 2:2, “And the things you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men who will able to teach others also.” In that single verse we find four generations of believers – Paul, Timothy, faithful men, and others. When we invest in the life of a man, there is no limit to the ultimate impact that will have: on his wife and family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, business contacts. 

And those people, having also had a life-changing encounter with Christ, will have an eternal influence on others. It’s a chain of spiritual reproduction that never ends. 

The importance of Scripture memory. Prior to becoming involved with Operation Timothy, I had been part of a two-year, small group discipling program created by The Navigators. One of the key elements in that series was Scripture memory, learning dozens of verses verbatim, including the “address” for each, so we could easily look them up if needed. 

It was always interesting to challenge a “Timothy” to memorize Bible verses. Often, they would say, “Oh, I’m not good at memorizing things.” But that wasn’t true. They could rattle off their home address, phone numbers, personal and family birthdays, and other information they used regularly. So, the real issue was not whether they could memorize, but being persuaded that the Scriptures were important enough to commit to memory. 

Personally and professionally, this proved of priceless value for me. Whether in the course of a conversation, writing an article or chapter of a book, or simply seeking God’s wisdom and guidance for an important decision, having a storehouse of Scripture passages in my mind was phenomenally helpful. 

I didn’t have to stop whatever I was doing and find a Bible, then fumble through the pages to find what I needed. It was already stored in my mind, like a spiritual filing cabinet readily accessible to the Holy Spirit. King David captured this so well when he wrote, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word…. Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I may not sin against You” (Psalm 119:9-11). 

Discipling is not a matter of ownership. Early on I would hear some men talk about “my Timothy,” almost as if the man being discipled was his personal property. As if the spiritual growth and well-being of the Timothy were his sole responsibility. Pride is at the root of most, if not all, sins – and it can spill into the discipling process as well. We all would be well-advised to avoid this. Discipling isn’t about “ownership.” 

God may have brought a particular individual into my life, but I’m nothing more than a steward: serving this man with the biblical insights and wisdom God has entrusted to me, and seeking to use every possible way for helping him to grow and become the person God wants him to be. 

To this end, I quickly learned that one way to escape the fear of not knowing everything the Timothy might bring up in the course of a meeting is simply to admit – to myself and to him – that I don’t know everything. For instance, if he talks about a marriage or family problem he is struggling with, I don’t have to pretend to be a professional counselor. I can listen and perhaps offer some feedback, but then I would direct him to someone with expertise in that particular area. 

The same applies to personal finances. I learned a lot about the right and wrong ways of handling the money and material resources the Lord has entrusted to me, but I never pretended to be an expert when financial matters came up. I would refer my Timothys to a financial advisor I trusted or some other pertinent resource. And it’s the same for career and workplace challenges. 

Beyond this, I learned that the more committed, godly people I could introduce to the men I was discipling, the more their growing faith could be confirmed and strengthened. Having the opportunity to know other men who have dedicated their lives and work to Christ and being able to observe how they do that in real, everyday ways, is a wonderful resource for spiritual growth. The teaching of Hebrews 10:24-25, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another,” is not limited to traditional church gatherings. 

Discipling others promotes your own spiritual growth. The last point I’d like to mention is how the process of discipling others has enhanced my own walk with the Lord. When we talk about stewardship, it’s often in terms of money and material resources, but it also applies very much to the spiritual riches God entrusts to each of us. 

One translation of Philemon 6 states, “I pray that you will be faithful in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of everything you have in Christ Jesus.” We might interpret that in terms of evangelism, but in reality, whenever we talk about what God has taught us – even with fellow believers – we are sharing our faith. 

I have come to regard this as “God’s spiritual sponge principle.” Once a sponge becomes saturated, we don’t discard it – we simply squeeze it out so we can absorb some more. I believe this is true spiritually as well. The Lord will only entrust us with as much biblical truth and understanding as we’re willing to put into practice and share with others. 

Jesus alluded to this in His parable of the talents, in Matthew 25. There we see the story of three men given different amounts of talents. The ones that put them to use were given more; the one who hid his talent wasn’t. The Lord said, “For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away” (Matthew 25:29). 

When I first came to CBMC in 1981, I would marvel at seasoned believers who displayed a depth of knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures. “How did they learn all that?” I would wonder. There wasn’t any secret formula, I discovered. They were simply faithful to use what God had been teaching them, applying it in their homes and where they worked and passing it along to others. Because they were trustworthy stewards of His spiritual riches, He entrusted them with more. 

So, if you have been thinking about going through Operation Timothy – or taking someone else through the studies – I strongly recommend it. As the old TV commercial used to say, “Try it. You’ll like it!” You’ll find it’s the investment of a lifetime – with wonderful, eternal dividends.


Robert J. Tamasy is a former publications director for CBMC, and writes for The Connector newsletter. He has written numerous books, including Marketplace Ambassadors: CBMC’s Continuing Legacy of Evangelism and Discipleship; Business at Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace; Tufting Legacies; The Heart of Mentoring, coauthored with David A. Stoddard; and has edited other books. Bob’s biweekly blog is: