The Process of Making Disciples

4.1.1What do we mean when we talk about “disciples?” A disciple is a committed follower of Jesus who seeks to live a life marked by continued growth in understanding and obedience.

How, then, can we continue the process of making disciples in this century? The following are three key principles for today’s disciple-makers to follow:

First, disciples are made intentionally. Just as children don’t grow up without personal care, so discipleship will not occur without faithful Christians being intentional about it. The word discipleship is a catchphrase in the church today, often without meaning. As a result, some people think of discipleship when they think of Bible-study workbooks or adult Sunday school. What they forget is that the process of making disciples is a dynamic relationship between fellow Christians and their Lord, and it is marked by continued progress.

Making disciples must be intentional in order for small groups to take root and grow. You and I cannot pay “lip service” to disciple-making or look at it as one aspect of ministry. It must be the goal of all ministry. Our goal is that people will come to faith in Christ and then grow to maturity as His disciples.

Second, disciples are to be like Christ. Have you ever watched a group of people, perhaps children, who are devoted to a particular celebrity and dress, talk, and walk like the individual they idolize? It is only natural to emulate someone you respect and look up to. And since “disciple” means “imitator,” disciple-makers become models to those who are learning to follow Christ. We must be careful not to duplicate ourselves, though. It is very easy to cross the line from being respected to being idolized. Instead, our task is to help develop partners in discipleship. We must strive to be able to say (paraphrasing Paul), “We first imitated the Lord and then you learned from us how to imitate the Lord” (1 Thess 1:6).

It is often difficult, however, for modern Christians to picture themselves as disciples. We ask people if they are “Christians” instead of if they are “disciples,” as if a person could be a Christian without being a disciple. In the early church, followers of Christ were called disciples until someone in Antioch thought of the term Christian (Acts 11:26). There is nothing wrong with using the word Christian when it is properly understood because “Christian” means “little Christ” or “belonging to Christ.” A disciple imitating Christ does belong to Christ.

But who decides what it means to be like Christ? Is there anywhere to go for answers? Yes! We can go to the textbook for discipleship: the Bible.

One of the disciple-maker’s key tasks is to direct disciples to the Word of God. Growing disciples must spend time in God’s Word on a daily basis. If we want to make disciples the Bible can show what it means to be like Christ. The Bible is the only reliable source for knowledge on how to live an obedient and meaningful life. Luke wrote his Gospel “so you can know the certainty of the things which you were taught” (Lk. 1:4). John wrote “so you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (Jn. 20:31).

Third, disciples are made in relationship. From the beginning of our lives, we learn by watching others and then imitating them. Children learn to walk and talk (among other things) by watching others. As you think back over your life, you can no doubt think of many things you learned by watching, learning, and then imitating. This is how we learn to ride a bike, drive a car, and play an instrument. It is also how we learn to “act cool” in high school, move up the social ladder in adulthood, and age gracefully in older years. In short, we learn about life in community by watching others and then imitating them.

The Christian life is exactly the same. There is no example in the Bible of a lone ranger disciple. Even Paul, after his dramatic conversion and long stay in the desert, went to Jerusalem and associated himself with the apostles and later with the church at Antioch (Acts 9:26-30; 11:25-26). When he planted churches, he always travelled in the company of others. He had a team-relationship at different times with Barnabas, Silas, and Timothy. The relational, community-based model of disciple-making had been demonstrated by Jesus and the disciples, and it provided the necessary support for Paul and the early church in the turbulent period after Pentecost.

Since we learn best in relationship, we most effectively learn to be disciples that way. But disciples produced through loving community in churches today are too rare. The self-sufficient individualism of Western culture has seeped into the church and led to situations in which individuals are trying, often without notable success, to mature alone as disciples. Many resources—Christian books, videos, conferences—are available for these lone disciples to increase their knowledge about Jesus, but an accumulation of facts and ideas is only the beginning of Bible-based disciple-making.

It takes a community of fellow disciples who can help each other learn to live a life transformed by the Holy Spirit. The aspect of “growing in community” is such an important concept in this process of making disciples. Without a community in which we can learn, practice, fail, and eventually move out from as agents of change, we are left without a secure foundation. Without a foundation of community, it is difficult to grow in our walk with Christ.

Questions for Reflection

1. What are the most important things to keep in mind when we make disciples?

2. In what ways does your church help people grow in their understanding of and obedience to Jesus Christ?

3. What other things do you think the church might try that could help people grow?

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About Pastor Joe Quatrone, Jr.

Pastor Joe has been serving in Christian ministry for 15 years. He desires to nurture and disciple believers, helping them experience a deeper level of commitment and faith in the Lord. He is the author of "Back to the Basics: A Guide for Christian Living." Through a commitment to servant leadership, he strives to proclaim relevant Bible truth, equip the saints for effective ministry, and build up the body of Christ. Married eleven years, Pastor Joe and his wife live in New Jersey and have two children.
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11 Responses to The Process of Making Disciples

  1. llamapacker says:

    Thanks, Joe, for the thoughts. I re-posted it with my own highlights added. I am going to be more direct in my leading of my connection group in the Fall, asking the members to make an open commitment to daily bible reading and prayer, maybe giving them a copy of Scotty Smith’s 365 prayers as a helpful guide, and asking them to make the group a high priority in their schedule. Your thoughts were right on.

  2. Pingback: The Process of Making Disciples | A disciple's study

  3. Joe,

    Is there any interest in me throwing what I liked and was slightly askew with for conversation?

    I happen to agree with the gist of all of it, but, of course no one agrees with all the details of anyone, unless you are a professional sycophant. :)

    I don’t want to clutter up your space, but I’d enjoy the interchange if you were up for it. I’m sure your time is limited in your ministry, so I understand if not. If not, would you mind if I posted it and made in line comments adding my perspective??? OR better, perhaps I’d note the comments, and not do them inline… but add the *1 *2s and have the comments numbered below. That way I wouldn’t screw with your flow.

    I enjoy your thoughts. I’ll follow you to keep up with your posts, if you don’t think I’d be a nightmare to people with my heterodoxicological nature. :)

  4. Pingback: New Series on Small Groups | Pastor Joe Quatrone, Jr.

  5. Reblogged this on Pacific Missionary and commented:
    Another great post!

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