How Do You Make Disciples?


“How do you make disciples?”

I love asking pastors that question.

Being Discipled

Not long ago, I sat around a conference table with several pastors, professors, and denominational leaders. We were all there to talk about discipleship. When the question was asked about how disciples are made, the thoughts were pretty vague and varied. Most said that getting people into small groups made disciples. In these groups, men and women were “being discipled.” But when pressed to give specifics of how they knew discipling was taking place or what the end product looked like, the room got pretty quiet.
In most cases, church leaders are running long-standing programs with little thought to whether these programs are actually contributing to the formation of passionate, reproducing disciples. If more people are in these programs year over year, it is a success. If attendance is waning, it is time for an overhaul or a new program. The question of whether or not the program is actually producing disciples is seldom asked. So, how do you make disciples in a local church?

The Local Church

I have to confess, I have a personal frustration regarding this issue. Most of the finely-tuned disciple-making ministries are found in the para-church world, not the local church, and that really bothers me. Great organizations like The Navigators, Campus Crusade, Youth with a Mission, Student Mobilization, Christian Businessmen’s Committee, and others have a laser focus on making disciples and producing disciple-makers.

They have boards and leaders committed to making disciples. They have staff that spend every waking breath leading people to Christ and helping them grow in their faith. They see rapid rates of multiplication and they deploy people into other campuses, cities, and countries to make disciples for Christ. But when I look at the average church, I don’t see any of that. I see churches gathering for worship and running programs with little thought or intentionality other than for numerical growth.

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Build Disciples

Jesus loved the church.

Jesus started the church.

Jesus gave the Great Commission to the church.

The early church was a disciple-making machine. Yet the local church today has almost abandoned Jesus’ heart for disciple-making. Like Esau, we have sold the birthright Jesus gave us of building disciples for the promise of church growth and immediate success.

We are now discovering that those methodologies are porridge, ineffective to reach the next generation. We have been duped into thinking that large numbers equate to successful ministry. We have failed to play the role of the farmer who cultivates, plants, and waters, patiently praying until the fruit comes.

My heart’s desire is to see pastors in the local church reclaim their God-given legacies of disciple-making. Call me crazy, but I think God designed the church to be the perfect place for making disciples. And I do think that as the church makes disciples, it becomes the hope of the world. For that to happen, we have to go back to the example of Jesus and replicate Jesus’ disciple-making model.

By Craig Etheredge


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