• Nathan

What Makes a Great Disciple? Or Guitar Student?

Updated: Nov 30, 2020

I have taught private guitar lessons for over ten years. I have had hundreds of students. Some flamed out, some made respectable progress, and some were so dedicated that they became great musicians in their own right. Those students keep you going and make it worth it. Still others become the horror stories you tell around the water cooler.

Jesus had a similar experience with his disciples. Some followed Him for awhile, some fell away, and all of them denied Him when He needed them most. But out of that failure a small group of men and women shared the gospel with the world. So what made them different?

I submit to you a few stories of my own teaching experience on what makes a good disciple, and what makes a bad one. We’ll start with the funny-but-sad-but-pretty-funny.

“Jesus replied, ‘Do this and you will live.’ But he [an expert in the law] wanted to justify himself… Luke 10:29

One of my students was a boy between 10 and 12 with a special gift for excuses. He always had a reason he couldn’t practice that week. The studio I taught in had a glass door. One week I saw him waiting, and before I had a chance to let him in he yelled his excuse through the glass.

He once informed me, “I didn’t have time to practice this week. I am training to be a triathlete.” I found out from his Grandma that he signed up for a "walk, bike, swim" at his school--- that same day. I often suspected he was more aware of his need for an excuse than he was aware he had a guitar.

But my favorite excuse of all time was a preemptive strike. I will quote him exactly:

“Okay, so I can’t practice this week because I’m going to Arizona. And you know how there are a lot of old people in Arizona? Well, I don’t think they would want to hear me play my guitar.”

That’s world class blame shifting right there. Those music-hating retirees in Arizona.


“Precept on precept, precept on precept, line on line, line on line.” Isaiah 8:10

I once had a teenager who had a lot going for him- great smile, stylish hair, a winning personality, and some guitar talent. But he was also wildly ambitious and impatient. He couldn’t wait to be famous. He told me as much.

He came to his lesson not having practiced what I assigned him. Instead he talked about how much he wanted to be famous. He was so passionate he couldn’t finish his sentences. He oozed longing. As he spoke about his dreams I got out a Sharpie and a sheet of paper. I wrote quietly until he noticed, and then I held up what I had written on the paper,


I explained to him what he was missing. I had given him the next thing he needed, and he ignored it. He wanted what I would have given him in a year. He wanted to skip all the steps. He didn’t want to get bogged down in the process of learning, failing, and discovering. He didn’t love music for its own sake. He loved what it could do for him.

You can imagine I didn’t feel any obligation to help him toward his dreams of stardom.


The Gospels talk a lot about people who stopped following Christ. They all had their reasons:

“He said to another man,

‘Follow me.’

But the man replied,

‘Lord first let me go and bury my father.’

Jesus said to him,

‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’”

Luke 9:59,60

For other would-be disciples, family or housing was their good excuse. (Luke 9:58-61) For the rich man, it was the thought of giving up everything he had for the poor. (Matthew 19:21)

Some followed Jesus until he asked them to do the next thing. After Jesus fed the 5,000 he withdrew because he knew the crowds intended to make him king by force. But after the crowds caught up with Him, He poked holes in their balloons,

“Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.’” John 6:53

“On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’”

John 6:60

Free food? No brainer. Cannibalism? Harder to swallow.

After this many disciples left Him.

“’You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve.

Simon Peter answered him,

‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’”John 6:87-69

Something in them wouldn’t let go. They stayed attached because they loved him. They were faithful.


“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

I remember when Kay and her dad first walked into my studio. She was so young when she got in her chair her feet didn’t touch the floor. She was so shy she could barely talk to me. But she wanted to play guitar and she was determined.

Every week Kay and her dad would come in with her homework done, ready for the next thing. She learned how to read music. She learned basic chords. She learned advanced chords. She learned her scales. She got really good.

I started using her as an example to students twice and three times her age. When they told me a chord was hard or that their fingers couldn’t do it I would say, “You know I have this student Kay…”

Eventually I changed jobs and was unable to keep giving private lessons. As I gave my students to other teachers, I held on to her time for as long as I could. Leaving her was the hardest part of changing jobs. But I ran into her mom one day at a grocery store, and she told me that Kay was still taking lessons from a friend of mine. She loved it.


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