Disciplemaking Starts by Looking in the Rearview Mirror

Bill Mowry

You’ve just been hired for your dream job. You can’t wait until the first day of training. Then the text message arrives: “Report to our desert training outpost. Don’t bring any water or food. You’re going to be totally alone.” What kind of training is this?

Now you feel a little like Jesus. After experiencing heaven’s opening, the Spirit’s descent, and the Father’s affirmation, He immediately gets a ticket to the dessert to fast and be tempted by Satan (Mark 1:9-13).  What’s going on here? What insight about disciplemaking does Mark, the gospel writer, want us to learn?

The “temptation” that Jesus faced was not a seduction to do evil but a “testing” to make one good. The testing of Jesus led him to declare a loyalty to the Father above all else (Matthew 4:1-11). As always, Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, set the example. If he went through a period of testing so will we.

Mark shatters our image of how disciplemakers are prepared. We assume that our disciplemaking preparation means acquiring more information; I need to know before I can do. Preparation can also mean acquiring the right skills; I need to be trained before I can do.  

Jesus smashes these images demonstrating that who I am is more critical than what I know or do. Disciplemaking is about ministering from a life not from information or a skill set. The testing of life qualifies us as disciplemakers — if we take the time to look in the rearview mirror.

Why look into life’s rearview mirror? Looking back focuses on what’s behind us. We see life’s highway littered with the trials and growth weve experienced to get us to this point of time. This backward look is important because we can’t help people grow in their faith beyond where we are in ours. Looking in the rearview mirror sees the testing the Lord has taken us through to prepare us for our current life and ministry. It reminds us that we can’t take people beyond where we are in our faith journey. After all, disciplemaking is a life-to-life relationship.

Disciplemaking as a life-to-life relationship is both liberating and challenging. It’s liberating because I don’t need more information or skills (though both can be useful) to help another grow in Christ. I can help people up to my point of experience and maturity. I don’t have to pretend to be more mature than I am or feel inadequate because I lack knowledge or skills. I pass-on as much of my life in Christ that I have. 

A wonderful example of this is the once demon possessed man in Mark 5. Fresh from his exorcism, Jesus sends the man on a mission, instructing him to “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you” (5:19). As a new convert, he has some life to pass-on to others. He can look in the rearview mirror and share God’s mercy from his broken past. Disciplemaking is the passing-on of our life in Christ.

The challenge is not to be content with only the past. There’s a highway ahead of us to travel. We strive for an ever-growing life in Christ (Philippians 13-14), a life that is deep and wide. A deep life is a mature life. A wide life is one that connects with many because of life’s experiences (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).

Jesus shows us that the way to a deep and wide life is through testing (Romans 5:3-5). We’re all experiencing the “testing” of the Covid pandemic and isolation. I have to trust God for my grandchildren’s health from a distance. I have to trust God for people’s growth since I can’t interact with them face-to-face. I have to trust God for financial support because our donors are slipping away. My faith is being tested (1 Peter 1:6-6). Months from now, when I look in the rearview mirror, I hope that my life has grown deep and wide.

There’s an enemy to growing deep and wide and his name is “hypocrisy.” Jesus has no use for hypocrites (Matthew 6:1-8). Hypocrisy is pretending to be somebody on the outside when our inside reality is something different. It’s easy to put on masks like actors in a play to hide who we really are. Instead of hypocrisy, we must choose authenticity. 

An authentic life is a growing agreement between our public and private lives. When we attempt to help people beyond where we are we face the temptation of hypocrisy, trying to be someone we’re not to impress another. An authentic life looks in the rearview mirror and honestly accepts where we are in our faith journey.

This authentic, passed-on life must not grow stale. It’s easy to slip into routines and ruts. For years, I daily traveled one route to campus to minister to students. A big box store could’ve been built on a corner and I wouldn’t have noticed! My mind was on auto-pilot. Trials have a way of shifting us out of our auto-pilot lives; our sometimes mind-numbing, sedentary, and passive ways. Others are refreshed when we pass-on a fresh life rather than a stale life.

The Lord periodically knocks out some of my life props to keep me fresh. I think this is what James had in mind when he counsels us, “When all kinds of trials crowd into your lives . . . don’t resent them as intruders but welcome them as friends. Realize that they come to test your faith. . . .” (James 1:2-4 JBP).  When we look in the rearview mirror of our lives we discover a highway of “friends” — lessons learned through God’s testing. These friends keep life fresh.

Mark, the gospel writer, reveals a map for making disciples. Our disciplemaking journey starts by looking in the rearview mirror to remind us what God has done in our lives so that we can minister from this life. Embrace the life, authenticity, and freshness that result from God’s tests. We cannot take people beyond where we are in the faith. We sometimes need to look backwards before moving forward.