One of the highest priorities of the church is to accelerate the development of disciples and raise up leaders who advance the mission of Jesus. If our movements are to grow, we need to grow a culture where two things are true. First, we need an environment in which evangelism and disciple making are normalized for followers of Jesus. Second, we need healthy faith communities that can sustain multiplication.
No matter how great your curricula or processes currently are, the following five fundamental principles should be true of your culture.
1. There is constant motion toward those far from God.
The first step in the disciple-making process is the same step that Jesus first took. He thought of us and came missionally. Jesus’ first disciples were invited into a relationship. For people to catch on—to know Jesus, live for him and commit to his cause—the lost ones around us must see the gospel incarnated consistently in the lives of others.
Jesus said he came “to seek and save the lost.” He said, “Follow me.” This is all evangelistic in nature.
A disciple-making culture has a rich, inspirational storehouse of stories of changed lives. So, focus on the lost, and the frontiers—where the gospel needs to go. Share your faith.
Shawn O’Neill, pastor of outreach and evangelism at Christian Life Center (CLC) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is in a peer coaching circle with me and other leaders who focus on church multiplication. Here’s what Shawn said of the training emphasis and disciple-making culture at CLC:
“CLC is in a season of mobilization of the saints. We have felt God leading us into a more organic expression of discipleship. One of our strategies for equipping our body was to train 200 of our leaders with evangelism tools. These tools have the capacity to facilitate the gospel conversations within our oikos (those we do life with where we live, work, learn and play). Our team is hungry for what God has for them, but more importantly our community is in desperate need. I am witnessing a fresh fire and anointing poured out over us as we move in this direction. God has unified our team through this training. The Holy Spirit is leading us into a missional lifestyle of discipleship, and he is using these 200 to set the others in CLC on fire.”
2. Relationships of love and influence fuel fruitful disciple making.
Growth and commitment come through relationships, not programs. I agree with what Robert Coleman wrote in The Master Plan of Discipleship: “Before much can be done to lift the vision of the masses, something must be done to multiply the authentic witness of Christians close to them. It follows that whatever form our evangelism takes, winning and training disciples to disciple others must have preeminence. The aimless multitudes of the world must have a leader to follow who knows the way of Christ, someone they trust who can show them the meaning of the kingdom. Merely telling people what to believe will not suffice. They must see the gospel incarnated consistently in the lives of their friends.”
To be lifted to the heights of living for the Lord and selflessly living to serve the cause of Christ, we must bring near to each individual a life-inspiring model of the Christian life. We are reminded of this fundamental principle in various Scriptures, such as Mark 3:13–15, Acts 18:24–26, 2 Timothy 2:2 and 1 Thessalonians 2:7–8, 11–12. Love and trust allow the leader’s influence to happen naturally and the new disciple to learn.
3. What is taught is modeled; who is taught is coached.
Learning without dialogue or model wasn’t Jesus’ method. The one teaching should be modeling what is taught. It is to be seen and heard from up close. Time must be spent out in the harvest fields, where people live, work, learn and play. Viewing a heart of love for God and others is essential.
People do not grow without a teacher of the Word, a commitment to become a self-feeding learner of the Word, and a curriculum—a set of things to learn or to be trained in. The Word is our primary discipleship curriculum.
A disciple needs to be taught to take the Word of God to heart. We want all to become self-feeding learners, so we nurture our disciples’ understanding of the Word (see Deut. 32:46–47, Ps. 19:7 and Col. 1:28–29).
4. Faith is challenged and responsibility is entrusted.
A disciple maker knows the importance of taking faith steps, and so a leader prepares, challenges and accompanies others in the mission.
Jesus constantly encouraged his disciples to do something that took faith in God. Consider his rebuke at the feeding of the 5,000 to look beyond what they could see. “You give them something to eat” (Mark 6:37). Remember how he asked, “Why are you so timid? How is it that you have no faith?” (Mark 4:40). Overcoming fear was one of Jesus’ goals for them.
Don’t hesitate to challenge those you disciple. That includes challenging them to share the gospel with others. Paul’s first step as a new believer was to share the gospel (Acts 9:19–22).
Paul communicates in 2 Corinthians 5:4–21 that we have a new nature. We have received a ministry of reconciliation by virtue of that new nature—we are ambassadors of Christ. Jesus told us we are his witnesses (Acts 1:8). A good disciple maker will help them discover this ministry responsibility and live it out. Encourage disciples to discover their calling and purpose, and to live a joyful and obedient lifestyle of missional activism with their spiritual gift(s) employed in the power of the Spirit.
Also, practice the training method MAWR (model, assist, watch, release). First, model the skill. Then assist disciples as they take new action. Next, watch them do it and give them feedback. And finally, release them—delegating and empowering them to do the work. As character grows and new skills are developed, new leaders multiply.
5. Broad engagement exists within the church, the kingdom and the community.
As they are established in the faith, all believers need ongoing fellowship and accountability in community with the wider body of Christ.
In God’s kingdom a variety of gifted people outside the local church body can help us grow. Without exposure to the rest of the body, we will not be able to grow as Jesus intends (see 1 Cor. 12:4–7; Rom. 12:4–5).
May these five disciple-making essentials saturate all relationships in the church.
Join Dave Robinson and other church multiplication leaders at Exponential Global 2024. He will be leading one of over 200 workshops. Visit Exponential.org/2024 for more information.