I recently had a chance to interview a couple of church planting experts about their experiences with making disciples while planting new churches and replanting/revitalizing dying churches. Of course, a few things were particular to the planting context; however, our conversation reminded me that many things are foundational to disciple making, whether you are a church planter, pastor, or simply a follower of Jesus with a heart to make disciples who make disciples. There are certainly more than five essential truths about disciple making, but please allow me to share a few of those foundational things vital to any disciple or ministry that desires to make disciples who also make disciples.
Disciple Making Is Hard Work
I was personally discipled as a young adult. The men who took the time to pour into me were both committed and patient with me as I grew as a follower of Jesus. There were times of tremendous growth, but there were also times where I stumbled or just simply stagnated. When you invest in another life to help them grow spiritually and eventually reproduce themselves in others, there will always be challenges and setbacks along with the victories.
Joey Rodgers states in The Five Marks of a Disciple that disciple making “requires a willingness to get one’s hands dirty for the sake of the gospel as we willingly stick our hands into the goop and muck of another person’s life to influence them for Christ.” Genuine disciple-making relationships with real intimacy and openness will always come with messiness, but it is always worth it!
Disciple Making is Relational
The foundation of disciple making is not a curriculum or a program. It’s a relationship. It’s when an individual relationally invests into another individual to help them grow and mature spiritually. The goal is personal growth and maturity that leads a disciple to repeat the process with someone else. Curriculum and programs do not make disciples. Disciples make disciples, and it always starts and progresses with a relationship.
The Process of Disciple Making is Slow
Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? Slow and steady wins the race in disciple making. It’s a long-term investment into another person’s life. In Acts 17:6, the men of Thessalonica referred to the disciples, including Paul and Silas, as “men who had turned the world upside down.” Before the disciples could make this kind of impact, they had spent significant time with Jesus or with other disciples who had spent considerable time with Jesus. I encourage people who commit to disciple others to spend a minimum of eight-12 months with that person or persons before sending them out to invest in others. Additionally, I encourage disciple makers to continue the discipleship relationship beyond the 12 months with encouragement and help as needed.
Disciple Making Requires Margin
“Margin” is my new favorite word! I am more convinced than ever that one of the most important things I do in my life is spend significant time making disciples. With that stated, I have realized that this will never happen if I don’t create and protect the margin to do it.
I was recently with a group of Georgia pastors discussing disciple making and developing a disciple-making culture in their churches. I asked them how many of them were personally involved in disciple making. One pastor responded that he knew he should be a personal disciple maker but just didn’t know if he could carve out the time to do it. My response was simple: “You simply can’t afford to not do it.”
Disciple making requires that you create margin in your life to make disciples. I meet weekly with a group of four other men. We pray together, study and memorize scripture together, encourage one another and hold each other accountable. They have become some of my closest friends, and I am teaching them the importance of disciple making as a way of life. Without the margin and intentional commitment to be a disciple maker, you will never be successful in personally making disciples because there will always be something else bidding for your time.
Disciple Making Starts with You
Many of you reading this serve as pastors or ministry leaders in a church. Most of you desire to see a movement of disciple making established in your church context. Suppose you want to see a movement of disciple makers that spawns a disciple making culture. In that case, you need to start by becoming a personal disciple maker.
You can never successfully lead people to a place that you have never been, and your private investment and commitment give value and credibility to the process of disciple making. Jesus invested three and a half years into a group of people who literally gave their lives by investing in others who would invest in others. In only a short time, they turned the world upside down with the gospel.
The potential for exponential growth through disciple making can again turn the world upside down. Bill Wilks, pastor and founder of Living the D-Life, states that if one person annually invests in three others who do the same and the process continues for just 30 years, over 1.5 billion people will be discipled. Now that’s a strategy that we can’t afford to ignore. So commit to becoming a personal disciple maker today.