A Better Way to Make Disciples

Jim Putman, the senior pastor of Real Life Ministries, discusses what it takes to plant a church that develops leaders from day one.

What questions are you asking? What shifts do we need to be making as we think about being churches that make disciples like Jesus did?

First, we’re asking the question, “What is a real disciple?” And we’re making a distinction between a convert and a disciple. Many of our churches are about getting people to pray the prayer, then baptizing them. When Jesus says, “Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teach them to obey all that I have commanded you,” what does that mean for the way we disciple people?

When we’re born in the physical world, we need physical parents. Parents don’t sit their newborns on a couch and say, “Feed yourself.” It’s the same with spiritual rebirth. We need spiritual parents to teach us like Jesus taught the 12.

What does a mature disciple look like then? So often we don’t define it for our people, so each person has his or her own definition. This is a real problem if we‘re going to be a team that works together to complete the mission of Christ. Jesus said a house divided against itself cannot stand, and the Bible tells us that the tower of Babel failed when the people’s language was confused. We need to ask the question and define it together as a body. If that definition does not end up looking like one who is following Jesus, being changed by Jesus, and committed to the mission of Jesus, then our definition has holes in it.

The bottom line is that a mature disciple of Jesus is defined by relationship. We are known for our love for God and one another. Paul said you can know all things and do all things, but if you don’t have love, you are nothing.

The second question is, “How are we going to get people to this definition of what it means to be a biblical disciple? What methodology did Jesus use?” So the second shift is about the methodology we’re using to do that. Jesus discipled people in relationship, not in preaching to thousands of people. Only 20 percent of people have an auditory learning style. I used to be a teacher and coach. Teachers know that the larger the classroom, the more you’re forced to lecture and the less learning. Why is it that every good teacher would hate what every pastor thinks they want? We want the results of Jesus without using the methods of Jesus. That doesn’t work. We cannot divorce Jesus’ teachings from His methods and get His results.

What specific changes do church leaders need to make to develop disciples who lead others?

That’s the third shift we talk about—the shift of the pastor. What is the pastor’s role? In our current church model, it would appear the pastor’s role is to gather a crowd, be a paid performer. But Jesus’ life and leadership didn’t reflect that. He coached and equipped people to release an army on a community. He didn’t focus on gathering a crowd out of the community alone, but rather on releasing a crowd of disciples who can make disciples. Think about it. Jesus essentially said to the disciples, “You don’t need me to physically be here, walking with you. I’ve equipped you with what you need to be a disciple and make disciples in your homes and neighborhoods.”

Also, we have to look at this idea of, “What is success?” What are we as leaders celebrating? What do people in our churches aspire to? If we’re honest, we know we’re celebrating many of the wrong things. Or we’re celebrating just some of the right things so our people are aspiring to, especially our young leaders, a church with thousands of people. I’m all for numbers of converts, but those aren’t the right numbers alone. We should be counting and asking the question, “How many disciples have I made who can make disciples without me?”


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