What Was Jesus’ Disciple Making Method?


It was a tough few weeks for me. I was juggling my responsibilities with the church I serve as lead pastor. I was working with a small group of senior pastors who were all committed to transitioning their churches to a disciple-making focus. And I was trying to learn all that I could from two disciple-making experts I greatly respect: Bill Hull (Bonhoeffer Project) and Dann Spader (Sonlife, Like Jesus Initiative).

I was trying to understand the timeline of how Jesus made disciples in order to know more about his method.

My head was full of fog. So, I prayed, listened to Bill and Dann, and tried to coach the group of pastors who were frustrated that their staff and key leaders were not making the kind of shifts necessary for a discipleship focus. Something wasn’t catching hold. I couldn’t figure it out. So, I left it alone for a time.

Within a day, everything came together. It was like a light went on for me. I gained clarity on what for me was the best disciple making insight this year. It became the key for our staff and everyday leaders, and it was key for the pastors that I was coaching. I realized it is a key to igniting more effective leadership in disciple making…

… Let me give you a little bit of background before I share the key insight I arrived at with you.

I have made discipleship and disciple making the focus of my ministry for about fifteen years. I seek to live it, teach it, and guide others into it—all the time, every day. Yet I am still a work in progress because I still have many old-school, non-discipleship lifestyle habits. I wish I had known in my twenties what I came to understand in my late forties.

But I have made great progress, and our whole church made a shift to a discipleship-first focus. Now, I can guide leaders and other pastors into the same shift. We always talk about and work at making disciples like Jesus did, and getting the church aligned around that foundation.

What I learned was that there was a multiplication factor missing. Our church and most of the churches with whom I work add people, but a movement involves more. A disciple making movement requires organic and natural multiplication. This is where people discipling people is the norm and disciple making DNA is so strong that it almost happens spontaneously.

Please note that having a discipleship focus, without spontaneous multiplication, can still be strong. We were teaching it, modeling it, and asking all of our leaders to be involved in it. For example, we still continually ask our staff: Who are your twelve? Who are your three?

Our ministerial staff were individually making disciples. And all of our elders were either in discipling relationships or they were explicitly making disciples themselves. But our efforts were not leading to a DNA change that resulted in multiplication.

We were constantly caught between helping our key leaders live out disciple making in their own lives (which is an ongoing challenge for those leading this transition) and getting the whole church, systematically, aligned around disciple making. My insight gave me a significant new priority for the metrics we use.

Here is the insight: My top priority as a leader in the church is not to personally make disciples; my top priority is to make disciple makers.

If the leaders of a church do not make disciple makers, even though they might be personally making disciples, they will become the bottle neck. We can only disciple as many people as we have disciple makers. If the main group of people making disciples are just the staff and key leaders, disciple making growth will be very slow.

The culture of many churches and communities will keep drawing people away from a disciple making DNA back into those old, much less effective ways of doing church. Progress will be slow, and it will all depend on the pastor and key leaders. The everyday Christians will not own the DNA. Lose the pastor and the church will lose the disciple-making focus.

This key insight helped me start to develop a clearer scorecard for myself, our ministerial staff, and our leaders. At the top of that scorecard my personal disciple making work is still there, but right beside it is making disciple makers.

We all have to be what we want others to be, so we have to be disciples who make disciples. But that does not, by itself, lead to multiplication that reaches a lost and hurting world. That does not, by itself, raise up Christ-like people. It does not result in a disciple making movement or disciple making DNA within the local church.

Multiplication of a disciple making ministry has to be based upon the prior multiplication of disciple makers. That has to become the culture of a church.

“We focus on raising up disciple makers,” leaders in the church should say. The more disciple makers we raise up, the more people that we can reach and disciple. This simple clarity changes what we expect of our leaders.

Paul states this principle well in 2 Timothy 2:2:

“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.”

We can map out 2 Timothy 2:2 to see four generations of disciples:

    1. Paul made a disciple maker out of Timothy, who
    2. Makes disciple makers out of qualified people, and
    3. Those qualified people teach and help…
    4. The fourth generation of disciples (who should become disciple makers)

That is a lot of disciple making! That means lots of lost people being saved; lots of infants and children who grow up; and lots of people being loved as Jesus loved. That is significant kingdom growth! God was pleased with it then; God is pleased with it now.

We know that disciples are best crafted in relationships, small numbers at a time. The same is true of disciple makers. In fact, it took Jesus three plus years to raise up his disciple makers.

Even though we have the help of the Holy Spirit in us (which the disciples did not have in the same way), it is difficult to envision disciple makers being raised up much faster, especially if we are starting with non-believers. We must think long term and strategically. Making disciple makers must become the core DNA of the church.

By Bobby Harrington


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