observations and readings about church ministry ideas, challenges, solutions, and trends
Friday, July 15, 2016
Disciple-making: Taking the Assembly Line Out of Discipleship
By Ed Stetzer
What if we
misunderstand the primary function of being a Christian? Jesus told us to make
disciples. But is that what we’re actually doing in our churches
talk about becoming Christians, growing as Christians, and sharing how others
become Christians, it sounds as if there is a series of steps. We treat it as
if it were a process made up of isolated building blocks.
In this way
of thinking, each part of the Great Commission is a sequence of events. Someone
is evangelized, then baptized, then discipled, and then eventually goes on
An Assembly Line?
In the industrialized West, we see this as an assembly-line
process. A lost individual begins the process and, after going through specific
stops along the way, a fully developed disciple emerges at the end of the line.
Evangelism is distinct from discipleship, which is distinct from missions.
But is that really what Jesus is communicating to His disciples
gathered on the mountain at the end of Matthew’s Gospel? Instead of seeing
disciple-making as a series of steps, I believe there is a better approach.
Look again at Matthew 28:19-20.
In the original language of the New Testament, the only verb in
the Great Commission is “make disciples.” Everything else is a function of
that. Going, baptizing, and teaching are all acts that occur within the command
The command automatically leads into the activities of
disciple-making. Because of this, I believe a better way to view
disciple-making is as a holistic endeavor, not a step-by-step process.
Disciple-making as a Holistic Journey: Evangelism,
Discipleship, and Mission
If we use the term disciple-making as our guide, that becomes
our ministry focus—make disciples. Therefore, disciple-making must include
people becoming disciples when they previously were not. That is where the
evangelistic aspect is evident in disciple-making.
People need to hear and respond to the good news of the gospel.
We are to take and proclaim the gospel to them. So Jesus’ call to make
disciples of all nations must include evangelism as an integral part of the
But disciple-making also includes what we have traditionally
called discipleship, or the spiritual growth part of the Christian life. It’s
that part of the Great Commission that instructs us to baptize them and teach
them to observe all Christ has commanded.
However, disciple-making is not only what we normally call
discipleship. It is not something that happens only subsequent to conversion.
Discipleship happens in the course of making a disciple. A person is made a
disciple by being evangelized, learning and obeying the commands of Jesus, and
engaging in the mission of Jesus.
A disciple throughout the Scriptures is someone who is on
mission. In John 20:21, Jesus tells His followers, “As the Father has sent me,
I also send you.” A disciple is one who is sent out by Jesus on His mission of
Disciple-making not only involves being made into a disciple
yourself, it involves seeking to help make others disciples as well.
Disciple-making involves sending people on mission.
A Journey, not an Assembly Line
As such, when we speak of disciple-making, we want to be clear
we’re talking about a holistic approach that, to quote a well-worn phrase now,
enables an irreligious person to become a fully devoted follower of Christ, who
is personally involved in seeing others do the same.
As the church participates in the call to make disciples, atheists
become active believers, materialists become missionaries. And disciple-making
is the term that encompasses the fullness of that strategy: evangelism,
discipleship, and mission.
As Westerners and Americans, we love to compartmentalize things
and see a process as a collection of sequential building blocks with each one
distinct and separate. Instead, I think the Great Commission calls us to
something that is holistic and all-encompassing. It calls us to make disciples.
Disciple-making includes evangelism, discipleship, and
ultimately being a mission-shaped believer who works so that others become
disciples and engage in disciple-making themselves.
Dr. Pat Ford joined Church Partnerships of LifeWay Christian Resources in 2007 after 35 years of ministry in church, university, and seminary settings. He can be contacted at 832-725-4253 or firstname.lastname@example.org, and followed on Twitter at @patford.