The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” – John 1:35-39
Two items bother me about this passage. One, the disciple-making process is a catch and release program. And two, it takes a bit of faith.
But let’s back up. For four hundred years, there has not been a prophet in Israel. Then John shows up, and he’s pretty weird. While wearing camel skins, eating locust legs and living in the desert, John stirs up trouble by calling the religious leaders to repent. Naturally, this behavior draws not only the ire of the religious, but also a crowd and a few disciples.
However, John knows his place. John knows that he is God’s instrument to point the way to the Christ, but he is not the Christ. John knows he is not the Word, but his words reveal Jesus. This, of course, begs the question, “Do my words reveal Jesus, the Lamb of God, who came to take away the sins of the world?” Not always, but I’m getting off my point.
John knew how to make disciples, and he knew they weren’t his to keep. A wise friend of mine said that Christian discipleship does not come when a person receives salvation. Rather, discipleship comes when you make a friend and take them with you on your journey with Christ. Furthermore, it continues when you let them go to walk with Jesus on their own.
John knew that to be a successful follower of Christ he would have to point others to Jesus. He knew that, for a while, it was okay for others to hang out with him, but one day they would have to walk with Jesus and follow Him on their own. Likewise, there are people who are attracted to my teaching and me. But I must remember that they are not my disciples. I serve them best by pointing them to Jesus.
Each of us must come to the point where we ask Jesus, “Where are you staying?” And Jesus will reply, “Come and see.” This means I can’t know always know where Jesus is going until I follow Him. And I must follow Him without always knowing where He is going.
It also means that sometimes “my” disciples will leave me in order to follow Jesus on their own. This is the way it should be, but I’ve noticed that some people have difficulty letting go. Have you ever left a church fellowship to follow Jesus’ calling on your life, only to discover that those you left no longer speak to you, or if they see you around town, feel uncomfortable in your presence? Yeah, me too.
After resigning my last staff position, a member of the church said, “I’m mad at you.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because you left my church,” he replied.
“That’s true.” I said. “But I didn’t leave you.”
That didn’t seem to console him too much. I’ve seen him a few times since but he seems uncomfortable with me, and all I can do is pray for him.
My encouragement to you who are leaders is to know when to let people go, and when you do, make them feel comfortable and accepted in the going. Remember, they are not really leaving you. They are following Jesus.