From Growing to Going
Anatomy of a Disciple
By Carla Williams
When we surrender our lives to Christ, we begin an epic journey. Each time we pursue Him more deeply, it will come with more sacrifice, more faith, more endurance, and more spiritual growth. Our relationship with Him will involve a lifetime of refinement, and as we trust Him more, He’ll ask us to take greater risks. But ultimately, there’s nothing better than living fully engaged in our ultimate purpose—knowing God and making Him known.
As believers pursue Christ more deeply, four stages of growth mark our walk with Christ.
- EXPLORING: Our journey begins when we start to ask important questions: Who is God? What is the church? What does that mean for me?
- ENGAGING: Once we’ve surrendered our lives to Him, we begin learning what that means for us personally. This is a season for experiencing God through prayer, study of the Bible, community, worship, and service.
- EQUIPPING: Any mature believer should move into a season of intentionally investing in the development of other believers. We should grow in knowledge, faith, and action not just for ourselves, but to equip others as well.
- EXPANDING: Our great privilege as devoted followers of Christ is to see His Kingdom multiply here on earth, as God uses us to make disciples who make disciples.
Eric and Rachel Rolston grew up going to Southeast. They met in the Middle School Ministry in 6th grade, and participated in Bible Bowl together from 7th-12th grades. After going away to separate colleges, they came right back to Louisville, got married, and jumped into life at Southeast. He was on the Facilities staff with the church. She was teaching math and Latin at a high school, and life was going well.
Following the birth of their second daughter, Rachel recognized that something was off. She was anxious and disconnected from her family. After living with this intensity for a while, she sought Christian counseling for post-partum depression. As she was healing and learning how to move forward, they decided she should stop teaching to stay home with her daughters.
During this season, Rachel discovered that though she’d been a faithful believer her whole life, she had never fully trusted God. He was teaching her during this hardship how to rely on Him completely. She would need that faith again soon.
Because Rachel now had more flexibility in her schedule, and in an effort to bring renewed closeness to their marriage after a difficult season, they decided to take the Perspectives class together at Southeast. As they started to learn about God’s heart for the nations, and how many people in the world still have never heard the Gospel, God began to draw them into a much bigger journey than they ever expected.
Though they had been investing in the growth and discipleship of others for years through Bible Bowl and Bible studies, most of what they had done was with those who were alreadybelievers. As they went through Perspectives, they thought more about the imbalance between the resources that go toward established churches and the resources that go toward unchurched places. They were convicted.
As they began processing what they were learning in Perspectives, Eric and Rachel realized God was asking them to trust Him and take a big step. They needed to be missionaries. For them, the reason was simple: obedience. Throughout the class, they had prayed that God would draw their hearts into alignment with His heart, and His heart has always been for the redemption of all people. When that was clear, they knew they needed to be willing to go where He led, and trust that He’d use them at home or He’d move them where He wanted them to be. Wherever they ended up, they wanted to be obedient to Him.
Neither Eric nor Rachel had seminary degrees or evangelistic training. They didn’t know how to multiply disciples, learn a new language, or raise a family in a foreign culture. But they knew that people were dying every day without ever having access to the Gospel, and they knew that God was asking them to be willing to go. Over the next year, He’d fill in all the details.
After the Perspectives class, the Rolstons began looking for an agency to equip and send them. They wanted to work with an organization that served in unreached places—areas where less than 2-5% of the population are evangelical Christians. They eventually connected with Team Expansion, which soon resulted in their participation in a six-month immersive disciple-multiplication apprenticeship.
Over the next months, in addition to adding a third daughter to their family, Rachel and Eric lived and served in the Highlands area of Louisville under the direct guidance of experienced disciple-makers. They learned strategies for engaging strangers in spiritual discussions, leading simple and reproducible Bible studies, and empowering new believers to immediately begin connecting others to the hope of the Gospel.
Through their training, they learned how to share their faith and then they practiced it, over and over with a team. It was going to change their approach forever, whether or not God moved them across the world. They had no idea at the time that He was going to move them to Africa.
Following their disciple-multiplication immersion experience, Eric and Rachel began conversations with teams in various parts of the world who were implementing disciple-multiplication strategies. They were also praying for an international school for the sustainability of their daughters, and a solid community with other Christians on the field.
God connected them to a team in Tanzania. Dar Es Salaam is a booming city of more than 6 million people. Within the city, all of the unreached people groups of Tanzania are accessible, and there is a team already there actively engaging seekers and new disciples. The Rolstons met with the team, visited Dar Es Salaam, and prayerfully agreed to move there in the Summer of 2018.
Of course, there was still that “small” step of support-raising, which they were slightly apprehensive about. But this was just another way that God showed them that He was enough—He would provide when they were willing to trust Him. And even harder than support-raising was knowing they would be gone from family and friends. Again, they chose to trust God and He was faithful to give them peace.
The Rolstons’ journey to Tanzania required them to walk a long and winding road. God moved them forward one step at a time. They began as participants in church, then took steps toward knowing more, then began inviting others to experience Christ, and are now working toward multiplying the impact of the Gospel among the nations. In each step forward, what should have seemed like a greater risk and sacrifice actually became a greater trust in God as He provided and walked with them in overwhelming ways. He wanted to accomplish great things, and they just needed to trust Him enough to let Him work.
Your story will not look exactly like Eric and Rachel’s story. God guides each believer differently, but all of us should actively grow deeper, follow Christ more closely, and pursue more of His Kingdom each day. Where are you in the process? We’d love to help you take the next step, however that might look.
This story is from the September 2018 issue of NEXT magazine.