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)