What is a Disciple Maker?
by Bobby Harrington
Discipleship.org’s theme for the 2017 National Disciple Making Forum is Disciple Maker. So it is important to state a clear definition:
A disciple maker is a Christian who enters into relationships with people to help them trust and follow Jesus.
Our definition is based upon Jesus’ example of love (John 13:34-35) and his final command in Matthew 28:19-20:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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.”
Let’s take the definition piece by piece:
1. A Christian
It is tempting to say “a disciple maker is a disciple,” but we did not want to do that because too many Christians do not see themselves as disciples. We do not want people to think that disciples are a special sub-category of Christians who pursue disciple making. It is for every Christian! Every Christian can – and should – pursue disciple making: that is what it means to obey the great commission.
2. Enters into Relationships
Disciple makers love people. They follow Jesus and intentionally enter into relationships because that is how Jesus made disciples. It is based upon loving people, as Jesus loved people (John 13:34-35).
3. To Help People
In the original Greek text of Matthew 28:19-20, there is only one imperative command: we are to make disciples. This command is followed by what are called participial phrases, three of them, which describe how we make disciples: we go, we baptize, and we teach obedience. We use the three parts of this key text to keep our definition of disciple making theologically tight and easily applicable.
The expression “helping people” communicates how we “go” (v. 19); that we do this inspired by love and in a warm, relational manner, as modeled by Jesus. When we go into the world, we enter into the lives of others, as Jesus did, to “help” people learn to trust and follow Jesus.
This is how we apply the “baptize” part of the command. One’s decision to trust in Jesus, according to the text, is expressed by baptism “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (v. 19). The act of baptism communicates our trust in Jesus and is at the root of repentance and conversion. Trust and faith lie at the heart of the entire Christian life. Trust is also Trinitarian: we trust Jesus in the power of the Spirit to the glory of God the Father.
This is how we apply the “obey everything I have commanded you” part of the command (v. 20). Disciple making leads to obedience and sanctification (the process of being progressively transformed by the Spirit into the image of Jesus). And it naturally includes and leads to the command to make other disciples (mission is built into the process).
Though it is not one of the three parts of the command, we want to reemphasize that Jesus is the one we focus on as we “make disciples” (vv. 19–20). He is the object and center in discipleship; disciples are to become his “apprentices” and “live life” as he would live.
That is how we define a disciple maker. And in 2017, discipleship.org wants to inspire people to aspire to be this kind of person … a Christian who enters into relationships with people to help them trust and follow Jesus.
by Bobby Harrington |Image Credit: Stephan Wieser
Bobby Harrington is the Executive Director of Discipleship.org, a national platform, conference, and ministry that advocates for Jesus’ style of disciple making. He is the founding and lead pastor of Harpeth Christian Church (by the Harpeth River, just outside of Nashville, TN). He has a Doctor of Ministry degree in consulting and has spent years as a coach to church planters and senior pastors. He is the author of several books on discipleship, including DiscipleShift (with Jim Putman and Robert Coleman) and The Disciple Maker’s Handbook (with Josh Patrick).