Definitions are important because, in their best use, they define reality. A good definition can literally create reality. The expression disciple making closely reflects the words of Jesus. Our definition describes what is meant by the expression make disciples. Matthew 28:19-20 gives us a summary description of Jesus’ mandate:
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
These verses provide a surprising amount of clarity on disciple making. Within the Greek text of these verses, there is one imperative command – make disciples – and three participles describing how we do it: go, baptize, and teach.
We do not use the exact words from this text as we explain disciple making for everyday Christians, but we use the teaching, concepts and principles of these texts in a way that makes it theologically tight, but easily applicable today.
- Helping people – We are told by Jesus to initiate and be intentional—because we are to “go” and “make” disciples (vs.19). The expression “helping people” communicates these principles in a warm manner, as an expression of love, which is the underlying motivation.
- Trust – Disciple making is about repentance and conversion with the accent on grace—baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (vs.19). This also applies to those parts of spiritual growth that just require trusting God.
- Follow – Disciple making is about obedience and sanctification (increasing holiness)—“teaching them to obey everything I commanded you” (vs. 20). This applies to those parts of spiritual growth that require obedience. And it naturally includes and leads to the command to make other new disciples (multiplication is built in).
- Jesus – He is the object and focus in discipleship; disciples are to become His “apprentices” and “live life” as He would live—“make disciples” (vs. 19).
Jesus promises to also be present with us in the process (by his Spirit) to the end of the age. With these four components from Matthew 28 in mind, we define disciple making this way:
Disciple making is helping people to trust and follow Jesus.