Discipleship 101

Discipleship is one of the most talked about church planting topics. There is no shortage of strategies, methods, theories, and pronouncements on the subject. With so much written and talked about, we still have a glaring weakness when it comes to gospel multiplication through reproducible discipleship. 

There are three questions I am constantly asking church planters? 1. What is a disciple? 2. What is your reproducible strategy for making disciples? 3. How is your reproducible strategy working?

At the very least you should be able to answer these questions and evaluate to some degree the effectiveness of your strategy. Jim Putman in Real Life Discipleship defines a disciple as someone who is intentionally following Jesus with their head, heart, and hands. Some will find this too simplistic; personally I love it and use it with my family. All of my children can articulate what it means to be a disciple from this definition. 

Church planting is a result of making disciples in the New Testament. The gospel was proclaimed and demonstrated, people were converted and discipled, and churches were birthed. Which means if we are not making disciples, were not really planting New Testament churches. Here are four foundational principles for making disciples, or Discipleship 101.

1. Discipleship must be Intentional.

Jesus was intentional about who he called, how he taught, what he said and where he went. His ministry of discipleship had a strategic beginning and a missional ending. For three years Jesus prepared his disciples to carry on his ministry after he was gone. We cannot and will not make disciples that impact the world and fulfill the great commission without being intentional. Disciple making is deliberate and purposeful, someone must intend to do it. What is your long term vision and short term goals for disciple making? 

2. Discipleship will be Relational.

In the New Testament we overlook on the most obvious principles of discipleship, relationships.   The ministry of Jesus and ministry of the early church flourishes through relationships and hospitality. From the relationships of fisherman and families, to the hospitality of Martha and Mary; discipleship in the early church revolved around being relational. We see the impact of the gospel through relationships and hospitality when Peter the Jew, goes and dines with Cornelius the Gentile. Truths we preach from the pulpit find their greatest application in the context relationships. 

3. Discipleship must be Reproducible.

Are you making disciples who make disciples?  It is a question we must ask, even if we don't like the answer. I believe the most effective way to grow disciples is through regular systematic expositional preaching of the Bible. However, I have seen too many congregants who gush about the sermon and the preacher, but have never discipled one person. Is your preaching ministry growing a church of disciples who make disciples? If not, either your preaching and teaching is not as good as you think or your preaching and life are disconnected from an intentional reproducible strategy for making disciples. Pastors who model disciple making will have members who practice disciple making. 

4. Discipleship will be Fruitful. 

Paul writes in Colossians 1:5-6, 

Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth.
— Colossians 1:5–6 (ESV)

If we really believe the gospel is the power unto salvation, we can trust that it will be fruitful in the lives of those who are saved as they are discipled into maturity. The gospel will bear fruit, it will increase, that is the promise of the new birth. This is why we must begin all discipleship by teaching clearly on the gospel. A reproducible discipleship strategy that takes God at his word will rely and rest in the power of the gospel for fruitful discipleship. 

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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
— Matthew 28:19–20 (ESV)

5 Reason's We Should Preach Expositional Messages- Hershael York


Last year at the ONE8 Preach The Word Conference Dr. Hershael York preached an incredible message entitled, "5 Reason's We Should Preach Expositional Messages". I am grateful Dr. York is allowing me to post my notes from that message today. May this be an encouragement to you as you faithfully labor to preach the Word. You can find out more about Dr. York here, and his books on Amazon

5 Reason's Why We Should Preach Expositional Messages

1. We preach expositionally because it is the only form of preaching that takes the Word of God as it is written. 

a. It assumes you have a High View of God's Word. 
b. It assumes you don't set yourself above the text. 
c. It submits to the truth as the Holy Spirit revealed it. 
     - What does it mean?
     - How does it apply?
d. Your congregation see's you handle the Word correctly. (They need to learn to be self-feeders)

2. We preach expositionally because it relies on the profitability of all scripture. 

a. It is not possible to preach the whole counsel of God changing Churches every two to three years (ouch!)
b. You can't be a shepherd any other way than sustained time at a local church. 
c. If we believe in the profitability of all scripture we will preach the whole counsel of God. 

3. We preach expositionally because it has a high view of preaching. 

a. We believe in the power of the Holy Spirit using God's Word and transforming people. 
b. Our view of preaching will be dictated by our view of Scripture.
c. The way we handle the Word in the pulpit is the way our members will handle it at home.

4. We preach expositionally because it forces us to be hard thinkers.

a. It forces us to know the meaning of the text. 
b. It forces us to think about how it applies. 
c. How people perceive? This is a most arduous task. (Don't be a preacher that puts people asleep)

5. We preach expositionally because it limits itself to the authors intent for maximum authority. 


Under Authority Before In Authority


2014 will mark twenty one years of serving in a local church as a volunteer or vocational minister. I have been privileged to be under the authority of some of the greatest men in the world. Although every place of ministry had challenges, combined with the fact I made more than my share of immature leadership decisions, I am grateful for every experience. As one of my pastoral hero's plainly stated, "You will never be in authority, until you are under authority". Authority is God's idea and how we respond to authority is a reflection of gospel in our life. 

Submission to authority is absolutely a biblical idea that impacts everyone at some level. Everyone is called submit to worldly institutions (I Peter 2:13-17). Household servants are called to submit to the authority of their masters (I Peter 2:18-20). Wives are commanded to submit to the authority of their husbands (I Peter 3:1-6). Husbands are called to live in a understanding way with their wives which is the fruit of his submission to Christ (Ephesians 5:21-33). Christians are to submit to biblical leadership and to each other (Hebrews 13:7,17). It is a distinctly biblical concept to submit to authority. God's will of decree has established authority for our good and His glory, and as christians we are called to proclaim the gospel through voluntary submission. 

A person who understands submission to authority is someone who is humble, teachable, and personally responsible. Someone who does not understand submission to authority is a person who is prideful, full of criticism, and the victim of someone else's failure. We all to different degrees and at different times struggle with authority. Rejecting authority started in the garden and is our sinful inclination. Only the transforming power of the gospel can bring joyful submission to authority. The gospel reminds us that submission to authority is actually and act of worship that glorifies God. 

Currently as I serve as a Missionary for the North American Mission Board, I have two supervisors and I am under their authority. I have a job description, responsibilities, and evaluations. There is an expectation that I carry out the directives and vision my supervisors have given. I am not only grateful for this opportunity to be under authority, I am excited! Here are some principles that I have found helpful for being under authority:

1. You manifest the gospel when you are under authority. 

Each year when I teach at the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem, I am overwhelmed with the example of Jesus as he submits to authority,  “saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42, ESV) When we submit to authority we manifest the very character of Jesus. As Jesus is an example of submission to authority, Satan is an example of subversion to authority. Satan rebelled against the idea of being under authority. When we reject being under authority we become tools of Satan undermining what God has established. Submission manifests the message of the gospel. How can we truly proclaim the gospel and call people to submit to Christ, if we cannot model what this looks like in our own life? 

2. You should embrace the vision when you are under authority. 

The North American Mission Board has a vision to mobilize churches to plant churches, I did not come up with it and I had no input in its creation.  Are there things I would do differently? Maybe. But part of being under authority is running with the vision that has been given to me. My responsibility is to embrace the vision and carry out the directives and responsibilities that will fulfill the vision. That means I am in agreement with my authorities and work with a positive winsome attitude. Complaining, constant critiquing, and waiting for the failure of others, diminishes the vision and undermines authority. After high school I worked for five years at the shipping giant Fed Ex. Their motto then, "Federal Express: When it absolutely positively has to be there overnightI"  I could sum up my time there in one sentence: "Those who embraced the vision did well,  those who rejected the vision were miserable." Many people are miserable in life, because they cannot submit to authority. 

If I trust in a sovereign God, I can trust the leadership and embrace the vision of whomever's authority I am under. At the end of the day we will do well to model the example of the unworthy servant, “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty. ” (Luke 17:10, ESV)

3. You should be under authority, because if you are not, you are disqualified to be in authority. 

Are there times when you should question authority? Absolutely. Authority that is illegal, unethical, abusive, or immoral should always be questioned and confronted. Being under authority does not mean you should not voice your opinions and thought, any competent leader values discussion and the input of others. However, if a prejudice, personality, or preference are your reasons to resist authority, they have no merit. I had dinner with one of my supervisors a few weeks ago to give an update and get directives for a meeting I was facilitating. Arriving a few minutes early and thinking about my responsibilities, I wrote this down in my notes, "Your inability to be under authority, disqualifies you from leadership."  Sadly, many who desperately desire to be in authority, are disqualified because they refuse to be under authority. Those who are in authority usually have a track record of being under authority. In contrast those who have trouble being under authority usually have a track record of resisting authority.  It has been my experience that the more I embrace submission to authority, the greater my authority becomes. Be humble, teachable and take personal responsibility as you are under authority for the glory of God and the advancement of His Kingdom. 

Those who rebel against authority and scorn self-discipline—who shirk the rigors and turn from the sacrifices—do not qualify to lead.
— Oswald Sanders

2014 Reading List

I remember reading a biography on Fredrick Douglass, the slave turned abolitionist, and learning about how he was taught to read. As a young boy he knew that his freedom and life hinged on being able to read. As a slave in Maryland, he would bribe white kids to teach him, and taught himself from a Webster's dictionary. Douglass would write in his autobiography, "he who does not improve himself by the motives and opportunities afforded by this world gives the best evidence that he would not improve in any other world." Fredrick Douglass would become one of the greatest orators and public readers of the 19th Century. He not only received his freedom, he was appointed United States Minister to Haiti before his death in 1895. His story has always been an inspiration for me to be a consistent reader, never taking for granted the wonderful privilege of reading.

I will be starting my Doctor of Ministry at New Orleans Baptist Seminary this year, so my reading list is certainly subject to change. This is the largest reading list I have set as a goal since seminary, this will be a real challenge for me in 2014! A major focus for reading reflects our transition to New Orleans and assuming the role as a NAMB Missionary. Although I am aware of most of these authors I have only read one of the books, Andrew Murray's The Prayer Life, which was over 10 years ago. The list is not an endorsement of content, but a goal to read through. The reading list is broken down by categories and you can click on any book to purchase it from Amazon. The Kindle versions are much less expensive than the hardcover or paperback. 

Missional Ministry

Preaching & Communication

Marriage & Family

Spiritual Formation

Church Planting, Church Growth, & Discipleship

History & Biography


1. Douglass, Frederick. Autobiography. New York: Bonanza Books, 1962.

Greetings NOLA!

The church at Antioch in Acts 13 reminds us that there is no greater kingdom testimony than intentionally participating in church planting. Through the faithfulness of one church and a few individuals the Gospel was rapidly advanced, people redeemed, and culture was impacted. For the last 9 years I have been privileged to plant and pastor a multiplying church.  During this time I have experienced first hand what God can do when we are willing to advance His Kingdom through planting churches, making disciples, and sending out missionaries. I am prayerful my background in planting and directing a church planting network will be an asset to planters already here and those who have yet come.

My journey to New Orleans has been incredible. I first came to New Orleans on a mission trip in 2000 with Mission Lab at NOBTS. I was leading a group of 52 students and we worked all week in the Florida Housing Project teaching VBS. That trip along with several others stirred my heart and gave me a passion for this city. After our first visit this summer, Joy and I left overwhelmed with the vision, passion, and partnership the local pastors communicated and expressed about the opportunity for planting. There is no doubt that God used the people we met here in NOLA as part of the confirmation for our move and new season of ministry with the North American Mission Board as the Send City Missionary for New Orleans.

I have already had the privilege to meet and visit some of the outstanding planters here in the city. Many of these men with their families are stepping out on faith and following God’s call to make disciples in a very hard and demanding context.  Because of our own personal experience and hardship in the early years of planting Joy and I have a heart for planters and their families. There is always a need to coach, minister, pray for and serve the families laboring in church planting and we are privileged to make this investment. We are praying already that they would love God, lead their family, and live the gospel.

There is no doubt the church planting context and culture here in New Orleans create a formidable barrier, but there is no stopping God’s Kingdom and there is nothing more powerful than the Gospel. With the current group of planters, established pastors and a growing network of supporting churches, there is real potential to see a church planting movement.  Joy, Isaac, Hannah-Ruth, Abigail, Jeremiah and I are blessed to be here!

Expanding God’s Kingdom,

George Ross

NAMB Send Missionary New Orleans