One of the worst things you can do is teach truths that you are not applying. We call this hypocrisy, and it’s the most common criticism of Christians in America. You could argue that it may be better not to teach at all than to teach truth without applying it to your own life. Jesus gave some harsh warnings toward the religious leaders who were doing that very thing. He said:
Do and observe whatever they [the scribes and Pharisees] tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. (Matt. 23:3–5)
Hypocrisy has damaged many, so let’s run far from it.
James also gave a strong warning against this type of thinking. He said that if we hear the Word of God, but don’t do what it says, we are merely deceiving ourselves (James 1:22–25). He went on to say that religion without practical action is worthless (vv. 26–27). Let’s be realistic: a self-deceived teacher who practices worthless religion is probably not the best candidate for a disciple maker.
Maybe the clearest explanation of teaching by example can be found in the book of Hebrews: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7). The author of Hebrews actually called us to consider—literally, “to examine carefully”—the outcome of a teacher’s lifestyle. We can get so caught up in examining a person’s doctrinal positions that we overlook his or her pattern of life. But this is essential because Hebrews calls us to imitate the faith of these people. If you are going to make disciples, you need to be putting your faith into practice so that the people around you can imitate your faith.
Because of this, being a disciple maker demands your entire life. The job description of a disciple maker is the same as that of a disciple of Jesus Christ. It requires everything. It means following Jesus in every aspect of your life, pursuing Him with a wholehearted devotion. If you’re not ready to lay down your life for Christ’s sake, then you’re not ready to make disciples. It’s that simple.
This doesn’t mean that you need to be perfect before you start. Perfection is a lifelong process that won’t end until eternity (see Phil. 1:6 and 3:12–14). But it does mean that you need to “count the cost” (see Luke 14:25–33) and allow God’s truth to change your life. Making disciples is all about seeing people transformed by the power of God’s Word. If you want to see that happen in others, you need to be experiencing such transformation yourself.
Chan, F., & Beuving, M. (2012). Multiply: disciples making disciples. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook.