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Church Development Spiritual Development

What Does it Mean to Make Disciples?

Author: Jon Slenker, M.A., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

Jesus was the original disciple-maker. It is safe to say, making disciples was a focal point of his ministry. Not only did Jesus command his disciples to make more disciples, he modeled and taught them for around three years how to do so. His ministry principles recorded in the New Testament reveal the difference between a leader that people have to follow, and a leader that people want to follow. Disciple-making in simple terms is leadership. It is one Believer shepherding another to be made more into the image of Christ, our supreme example (2 Cor 3:18). So when Jesus was discipling his “flock”, he was teaching them to be like him, and to do what he did.

 

Calling and Commissioning

First words and final words hold great importance. When Jesus called out his disciples he said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men (Matthew 4:19 ESV).” After he assembled his twelve disciples for the first time, he provided them with more detail about what “fishing for men” means. These first words of Jesus to the Twelve are recorded in Mark 3:14-15, “…he appointed twelve so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons (ESV).” Similarly, Jesus’ final words to his disciples were a commission,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matt 28:18-20 ESV).’”

This passage is known as one of the Great Commission passages and almost perfectly resembles his first words to the disciples. The Gospel author, Matthew, intentionally emphasizes Jesus’ first and final words in the structure of his writing. Disciples are called and commissioned by Jesus to make other disciples of Jesus.

 

Who is a Disciple-Maker?

A disciple is a repentant worshiper and follower of Jesus. The term translated as disciple in the New Testament means learner and refers to a student or apprentice.  Jesus did not invent the term or practice of discipleship. In fact, the practice of being a disciple or apprentice was discovered in ancient Greek writings five centuries before Jesus began his incarnate ministry.1 When he called out his twelve young disciples, he said, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men’, he was inviting them into a discipleship relationship to learn how to be like him (Matt 4:19). After they were called out they, “went where he went, saw what he saw, heard what he heard, and attempted to do what he did.” A disciple is to be a close and obedient follower of Jesus. One church planter says, “It’s impossible to be a disciple or a follower of someone and not end up like that person.”2 Thus, a disciple-maker is a disciple of Jesus, who teaches others how to follow and obey Jesus also. When disciple-makers gather and covenant together, they birth communities of discipleship the Bible calls a church. Because we, the Church,  are a nation of priests, Jesus’ command to make disciples has been passed down to every follower of Jesus. Discipleship is not reserved for pastors alone, but for the whole body of Christ. Pastors, then, are lead disciple-makers in a local community of discipleship.

A disciple maker:

  • Is a follower of Jesus who has been sent with his authority and responsibility.
  • A Shepherd who humbly cares for others.
  • Has others’ best interest in mind and fights for their highest possible good.
  • Equips and empowers others to do greater works than they have accomplished.

 

Making Disciples

One of the famous great commission passages, Matthew 28:18-20, offers a simple but profound call for all believers that may be applied through a series of questions.

Am I willing to be obedient to:

  • Commit a few hours a week to share my life with others?
  • “Go” and preach the gospel to a different people group than my own to whom the Lord sends me?
  • Baptize new believers?
  • Teach them to obey all that Jesus has commanded in the Scriptures?
  • Trust that Jesus’ Spirit is with me everywhere and always?

If you answered yes to these, you need no other authority than Jesus’ to make disciples. However, a first step may be that you need someone to disciple you. Pray for this person, and be encouraged that Jesus is our primary discipler and his Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105).

The apostle Paul stressed Jesus’ principle of multiplication to one of his disciples, Timothy. In writing his final letter to Timothy, Paul’s final words mirrored Jesus’ final words, “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim 2:2 ESV).” Effective disciple makers equip and empower others to equip and empower others. The intention of discipleship is that those whom we disciple will be obedient to go and disciple others. This is popularly referred to as making disciple-making disciples. One of the men who discipled me through a season of life reminded me that we all multiply. The question is what or who are we multiplying? Disciple makers’ aim is to multiply disciples of Jesus, not simply themselves.

 

What Discipleship is Not

In my experience, the men who discipled me that had the greatest impact on my life did not just fill my head with a lot of knowledge, they shared their own lives with me as well. They led by example and often invited me on short trips to the market, to help neighbors, and oftentimes to sit with them at their family dinner table. They made time for me even when it was not always convenient for them. They used the bible as the training material and taught me how to read it prayerfully and apply it carefully to my own life. While information transfer is an easier form of discipleship, information alone is incomplete. As disciple makers, we must share not only our knowledge but our very lives as well.

 

Model, Assist, Watch, Leave

A helpful paradigm for discipleship exists in the four phases of modeling, assisting, watching, and leaving (and launching). First, a disciple-maker models for others how to follow Jesus in obedience. Second, the discipler assists the new disciple in living out Jesus’ character and commands. Third, the discipler watches as the new disciple grows in confidence and competence. Fourth, the discipler leaves and launches the equipped and empowered disciple to go do the same for others. Jesus and Paul most clearly represent this fluid paradigm in the Scriptures. While leaving their disciples physically after a time, Jesus sent his Spirit and promised he would be with them even after he left them. Paul also continually visited and wrote back to those he had once discipled and left. The goal of discipleship is that we would empower others to “do greater works” than we have (John 14:12).

 

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1Robinson, George G. “Grounding Disciple-making in God’s Creation Order: Filling the Earth with the Image of God,” Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Accessed November 10, 2021, 3. https://www.academia.edu/33940384/Grounding_Disciple_making_in_Gods_Creation_Order_Filling_the_Earth_with_the_Image_of_God.
2F. Chan, Multiply (Farmington Hills, MI: Walker Large Print 2013), 16.

 

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