Zacchaeus Conversations

Guest Post By Andrew Brill

Who’s your Zacchaeus?

You remember Zacchaeus? The wee little man who climbed up in a sycamore tree to see what he could see?

The scene appears in Luke 19 when Jesus is passing through Jericho and the local tax collector, Zacchaeus—short in stature but long on curiosity—climbs a tree to see this celebrity prophet. Jesus eyes Zacchaeus in the tree, calls him by name, invites himself over for lunch, and before you know it, Zacchaeus has repented. “See!” Jesus says, “Salvation has come to this man!” (my paraphrase)

But there’s apparently no invitation for Zacchaeus to travel with Jesus. No suggestion that the 12 apostles should become 13. Why not?

There are some big reasons—like the 12 is probably meant to represent the 12 tribes of Israel—but the point I want to make is that, for Jesus, discipleship looked different in different relationships.plane-709992_640

When we talk about discipleship, we often picture an old guy meeting with a young guy and imparting wisdom, modeling how to follow Christ, etc. “Look at Jesus,” we say. “Look at how He chose 12 and poured into them. Look at how He invested in Peter, James and John in particular.” We also point to other relationships in Scripture—Moses and Joshua, Paul and Timothy, and so on.

This is good advice. Mature believers should be passionate and intentional about making disciples who make disciples.

But if I commit to discipling one, two, three, or 12 people in this manner, what about the other 99.9999999999999 percent of humanity with whom I’m not in that kind of relationship? What’s my relationship with them supposed to look like?

As I write this blog, it’s 11:25 a.m. I’ve seen 30-35 people so far today and had phone calls with a couple more. Of those, only one is a man I’m “discipling.” So what about the others?

I think Jesus models an answer to this question with Zacchaeus. Luke 19:1 says He was “passing through” Jericho. He wasn’t looking for someone to disciple. He already had guys he was discipling. He was on His way somewhere else. But He saw the chance for a conversation and He paused.

At Lightbearers, where I work, we call these Zacchaeus conversations. It’s not a new idea, but giving it a name has helped us be more intentional in this area. We want to build impactful relationships, but we also want to have impactful conversations.

In other words, don’t compartmentalize your relationships into “people I’m discipling” and “people I don’t have spiritual oversight of.”

If I have the chance for an impactful conversation, I want to take it.  Whether it’s with my son, my friend, my co-worker, or anyone else, I don’t want to endlessly hide behind small talk. Sometimes these conversations will lead to more traditional discipleship relationships; but even if they don’t, the conversation may still be worth it.

Keep in mind, Jesus passed by scores in the crowd that day with whom He didn’t have lunch. But He did pause with one.

So who’s your Zacchaeus today?


Andrew Brill lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas, with his wife, Ashley, and their five children. He serves as the director of discipleship at Lightbearers Ministries, International, which uses residential discipleship communities to fund mission projects in Asia and northern Africa. Feel free to email him at or to check out