By Bobby Harrington
And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others … 2 Timothy 2:2
Authentic discipleship repeats itself, where the disciple becomes a disciple-maker: reproducing the discipleship process.
In preparation for the launch of discipleship.org, we solicited the input of some the most effective disciplemakers in North America. We were stunned by their uniform emphasis on one point (and it was especially punctuated by Robert Coleman and Bill Hull): discipleship is not biblical without an emphasis on multiplication. If our vision of discipleship stops with the disciple, it falls short of the example Jesus left for us. Authentic discipleship repeats itself – where the disciple becomes a disciple-maker – reproducing the discipleship process.
As Bobby Harrington and Jim Putman pointed out in the book, DiscipleShift: Five Shifts to Help Your Church Make Disciples Who Make Disciples, no one can be mature without experiencing the love of God in Christ and loving others in turn. It is hard to believe that someone is truly Christ-like if he or she does not personally seek and save the lost, since that was Jesus’ purpose for coming to the earth (Luke 19:1-11). Jesus was sent by the Father into the world for the redemption of people and he, in turn, sent his disciples into the world for the redemption of others (John 20:21). Can we truly be like Christ, who made discipleship a high priority, and not personally make disciples ourselves? His last words were very clear. He commissioned us with the commandment to “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Discipleship is for people who are lost
Let’s talk first about discipling lost people. These are people who do not know or claim to know Jesus. We have both lived in areas where there are few Christians. In those areas of the world, the saved and the lost are clearly distinct. And the approach is clear – we follow Jesus by entering their world to love and serve them as Jesus loved and served people (which is to be missional) and, out of safe relationships that are established through this kind of love, we tell them about and invite them to join the kingdom of God. We call this strategy show and tell.
Let’s be honest. The closest friends of most Christians are Christians. They may have a few ongoing and meaningful relationships with lost people, but probably not too many. Christians naturally connect with other Christians, so most (if not all) of their best relational energy is invested in people they know or meet at church. The discipleship lifestyle means that we must follow Jesus and actually go out and find lost people (Luke 15)! We must constantly encourage people to be like Jesus by intentionally connecting with non-disciples and helping them to become disciples. This is repeating the discipleship process at the most basic level. Someone taught us about Jesus. Now we want to repeat that with others. Eternal destinies lie in the balance.
Discipleship is for the saved
Now let’s talk about discipling saved people. Far too many people have been saved and then abandoned. Somehow it is just assumed that they will be discipled by getting involved in a church or that it will just automatically happen somehow. It doesn’t work that way. Jesus and the apostles showed us that disciples are made by other disciples. So it is vitally important to raise up disciplemakers who equip and disciple the saved, so that they become mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28). We must replicate disciples.
Too many people think that it’s the minister or a pastor or the elders who make disciples. They’re concerned that they don’t know what to do or that they will make mistakes. This is where biblical teaching on the ministry of all believers and the coaching role of leaders is so important (Ephesians 4:11-13; Romans 8:3-8). Every disciple has the capability and responsibility to make disciples. We are all ambassadors, lights in the world, and ministers of reconciliation. Understood this way, it’s the role of every disciple of Jesus to be ministers and to make disciples, and the role of every minister, pastor, and elder to train, equip, and coach every disciple to become disciplemakers.
The acid test of a disciple-maker is not that he or she is making disciples, but are making disciples who have gone on to be disciple-makers. A mature disciplemaker can point to several people that he has discipled and that are now discipling others. At the beginning, we were their disciples, but now they are our co-laborers. We may release people from being actively discipled by us, yes, but we never release them from relationship.