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The Timothy System and Our Investment in Discipleship

What happens after we leave?

This was the question the Lord put on the heart of Jimmy Hodges, founder of Reaching Souls International, as he completed another African mission in 1972. After experiencing the Spirit at work, it was certainly a blessing to see the lost come to know the saving grace of Jesus Christ. But what would happen to these new Christians when the missionaries returned home? 

In 1972, churches in Africa were few and far between. During that time, it was difficult to find Christian nationals who had been trained and were ready to disciple these new members of Christ’s Kingdom. Many African pastors had little to no training in God’s Word, and some of them had not even heard a clear and accurate presentation of the Gospel.

The Lord provided an answer to these problems in 2 Timothy: train faithful people who can then train others.

From an investment perspective, it makes sense to invest in things that will last. It’s been said there are only two eternal things on earth today: God’s Word and the souls of people. When we put our time, energy, and resources into these two things, we’re making wise, multiplying investments.

Therefore, when it comes to the souls of people, followers of Christ have a job to do. As evangelist Harry Denman once said, “All our concerns and activities should have these three objectives: to seek persons for Christ, to win persons for Christ and to develop persons for Christ.”

Developing others for Christ is the growing process of discipleship, and as believers, we are called to witness for Christ (Acts 1:8) and make disciples.

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19-20

The Point of Discipleship: Sanctifying Multiplication

The objective of discipleship is to make an intentional investment in someone else and then have them do the same.

Both Jesus and the Apostle Paul instructed believers to commit themselves to the Great Commission and to train up others in discipleship, passing along that very learned wisdom, righteousness, and faith to others. In fact, the biblical discipleship development model is provided for us through Paul’s instruction to Timothy, encouraging him to go forth and create a ripple effect of growth among new believers:

“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful people who will be able to teach others also.” 2 Timothy 2:2

Over time, the Lord works through the process of discipleship to make us all more like Christ; this is sanctification — our ever-growing transformation in faith and righteousness following our salvation.

The expression “discipling a Timothy” is derived from the relationship between the Apostle Paul and his disciple, Timothy. Timothy’s mother and grandmother taught him about the Lord, planting seeds of righteousness and establishing a foundation for Timothy to build upon; Paul then became Timothy’s spiritual father, discipling him, teaching him sanctification, holiness, and how to disciple others.

God’s plan for reaching the world was once explained to me like this: Give a man a fish – you’ve fed him for one day. Teach a man to fish – you’ve fed him for the rest of his life. Teach a man to fish and how to teach others to fish – and you’ve fed the world.

Addition is better than nothing. It’s progress. It’s forward motion. But multiplication reaches generations. When it comes to efficiency, addition is walking, and multiplication is running.

Making Disciples Is Messy, but People Are Worth It

People are oftentimes messy; whether they come from broken homes, battle addiction, or live with mental illness, everyone has a story and a reason for where they are now. And the closer we get to someone, the more of the mess we see.

Why are people messy? Because they’re just people.

Investing in people is inconvenient, disruptive, and even disappointing at times. Those we disciple will inevitably let us down, become distracted, and make mistakes. New believers are new creations, and sanctification is an ever-continuing process on this side of heaven. This is why we must help them just as our mentors helped (and continue to help) us.

The very verses before and after 2 Timothy 2:2 point to simultaneous strength and suffering surrounding the call of discipleship: 

Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful people who will be able to teach others also. Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”

Why is this so? Again, as people, we’re a mess. We cannot make disciples without God’s strength in us and grace for us. Although Paul warns that the cost of discipleship will be difficult, the entirety of God’s Word calls us to this and reminds us just how valued these individuals are to God. In fact, Jesus said one soul is worth more than the world (Mark 8:36), and he backed up those words with His own life.

Where to Begin: Imitate. Be Present. Obey with Intentionality.

In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul wrote, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” A popular translation says, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.” 

If we are called to be examples of Christ, we must spend time with those we hope to disciple and live out the things we teach. Our words need to align with our actions. After Paul encourages Timothy to “teach these things,” he tells him this:

…in speech, conduct, love, faith, purity, show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:12).

Our presence in the lives of our Timothies is invaluable. A giant in the faith from Tanzania once told me that those we disciple should see how we pray, how we study our Bibles, how we memorize Scripture, how we lead our families spiritually, how we evangelize and reach the lost for Christ, how we respond to life’s circumstances, and how we love and care for others.

Obviously, this type of intimacy, time, and attention limits the number of Timothies we can each have at one time. We will never “find the time” to do this; rather, we must make the time. Jesus had 12 disciples and went deeper with three. The best way to start is by simply adopting a lifestyle of intentionally investing in others.

We do not need to be pastors or ministers to disciple others, and we certainly shouldn’t wait until we are perfect; we’d never invest in anyone! We are each on our own sanctification journey, and discipling others inevitably inspires us to grow in Christ ourselves. Jesus is always calling us to discipleship, to humbly grow others in sanctification, just as Paul did for Timothy. We must pass along the baton that has been entrusted to us by making disciples that will disciple the nations. This is the best investment we could ever make.

Dustin K. Manis, President & CEO