A Disciplemaking Process

A Disciplemaking Process… 

Making disciples is the primary function of the local church. The church should not simply be concerned with growing numerically as much as growing members in faith and following Jesus. Yet, recent trends across North America suggest a discipleship deficit. If the church is have impact in people’s lives and influence in broader society it must return to its disciple-making roots. But, what is disciple-making?

Christian disciple-making starts with following the life and lessons of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ life was an example of imitation and purposeful instruction for others. The lessons of instruction were not just a message to believe but also methods to follow. In other words, Jesus conveys the what and the how of disciple-making.[1]  Through exploring the content (what) and the context (how) of Jesus’ ministry one can better understand a theology of disciple-making.

One can see in the four Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles models to train disciples as Jesus did. The New Testament provides us with living and breathing pictures of God’s desire for His people that any disciple-making strategy must identify. Disciples must do as Jesus did.[2] “Discipleship, becoming like Jesus our Lord and Founder, lies at the epicenter of the church’s task. It means that Christology must define all that we do and say… It will mean taking the Gospels seriously as the primary texts that define us.”[3] The Gospel of Matthew shows discipleship is about Jesus’ authority and universal kingship.[4] Mark’s Gospel shows discipleship is about serving others.[5]  The Gospel of Luke shows discipleship is counting the cost and total commitment.[6] And John’s Gospel reveals the necessity of true belief, reflected in abiding in Jesus’ words, loving one another, and bearing fruit.[7] Likewise, the book of Acts reminds believers that the disciple-making mandate implies the entire community of believers involved in the process of “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:31)[8].[9] As evidenced in the Epistles to the local churches, disciples are made through biblical community. The content of Jesus’ disciple-making was the good news, gospel, of the kingdom.[10]  The word for gospel in the New Testament was used as an announcement to proclaim a message of victory, whether militarily, politically, or private messages of joy.[11] Seeing two perspectives or lenses of the gospel of the kingdom is helpful at this point.[12] One perspective is a wide angle lens of the good news that God is restoring His creation to its original design. The removal of despair, depression, disease and death is a broad picture view of the good news. The other perspective zooms in to see the good news of God redeeming sinners through Christ’s substitutionary life, death and resurrection.[13] Both perspectives are not two gospels but a multi-faceted nature of the single good news of Jesus Christ.

The context for Jesus’ disciple-making was relational. Jesus called His disciples saying, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men”.[14] This two word command is a summation for Christian discipleship.[15] Jesus calls people to know and follow Him in a personal relationship, entering the process of being changed by Him, and committing to the mission of making other disciples. Being “fishers of men” gave individuals a big vision to dedicate their life and employ their resources toward.[16] Disciple-making involves purposeful relationships for God’s kingdom.[17] Disciple-making requires a relational investment to equip others to fully embrace the gospel of Jesus.[18] Relationships by themselves are not discipleship, they must be intentional. Intentionality in disciple-making relationships includes obeying Jesus’ teachings and imitating His methods to equip His disciples.[19] The depth of intentionality in discipling relationships requires fewer individuals for intimate and effective discipleship.[20] One can view Jesus’ disciple-making process through the context categories of seeing, selecting, shaping and sending.

A first step in disciple-making is seeing people. When Jesus saw crowds of people it increased His compassion to minister to them.[21] Jesus challenged the disciples to open their eyes for the ripe harvest of souls.[22] Neil Cole says, “If we can’t see [people], we won’t love them. If we can’t love them, we won’t pray for them. If we can’t pray for them, we won’t win them. If we can’t win them, we won’t send them.”[23] As a lifeguard scanning the water, seeing people is essential for saving people. In spite of Jesus’ daily schedule, “Jesus never lost sight of His prime directive – seeking and saving the lost.”[24] Seeing people requires intentional friendships in intentional environments.

Relationships require patience and perseverance to progress toward intimacy. Discipling others will take investments of time and effort. Investing in a few relationships helps to prioritize the mission of Jesus.[25] Like Jesus, disciple-making requires enough vision to aim big by thinking small.[26] The goal of closer ties and stronger knots is not just so we can enjoy our relationships with one another. “Our strong relationships are to be like a well-mended net that is designed for a reason and a mission to reach others.”[27] Disciple-making relationships have the vision of not only attracting people to a church building but engaging environments that are unlikely to know about the gospel. By planting seeds of the gospel in relationships God will grow the fruit into His gathered church communities.[28] Todd Engstrom writes about disciples having a “third place” to engage people on neutral ground and natural environments that are informal and non-committal.[29] Being regularly present in these environments one can see the vast amounts of people to engage for potential selection for disciple-making. Frequenting a place helps one to stand out and develop relationships with other regular customers and employees. In all, disciple-making is about relationships and not a pre-packaged formula for sharing the gospel.

A second step in disciple-making is selecting disciples. When selecting individuals to minister or disciple, Jesus looked beyond one’s background, intellectual ability, social status, and even physical condition. Jesus was open-minded and Spirit-directed as He sought whom to disciple.[30] On selecting His own disciples, Jesus spent an entire night praying before choosing those whom He would invest His life into.[31] Afterwards, Jesus called all His disciples from the crowd and then selected twelve for further training. Jesus’ equipping method included selecting individuals who were desperate and devoted.[32] Admission of need for saving from sin and desire to grow are starting characteristics for a disciple. “Jesus invested more in the committed few than in the curious many.”[33] Jesus understood a basic principle of training and teaching: “The more concentrated the size of the group being taught, the greater the opportunity for learning.”[34] The relationships between Jesus and His disciples allowed for in-depth training and personal accountability.

Selecting persons for disciple-making relationships should be as natural as those whom are involved in one’s daily or weekly lifestyle. One can consider inviting neighbors to meals, or co-workers to conversations beyond the work place. Belonging to associations, clubs, groups are helpful ways to meet and invest relationally. Walking where people are like playgrounds, parks, pools, or other public areas are casual opportunities to become introduced to people. Daily life as a follower of Jesus demands the “as you go” nature of making disciples (Matthew 28:19).

Once a person is selected for discipleship and the disciple-making process it is helpful to evaluate next steps. As Jesus prayed through His decision to select disciples from the crowd, there was undoubtedly thought and evaluation that went into the process. Intentional disciple-makers must be able to assess where their disciples are in the spiritual journey in order to help them navigate the path toward disciple-making process.[35] Assuming one’s level of spirituality is unhelpful to either the discipler or disciplee.      Disciple-making must go beyond a curriculum to a customized approach for application in an individual’s life circumstances.[36] Evaluating if a disciple is a seeker, a new starter disciple, a struggling or stagnant disciple is helpful to approach each individual person for discipleship.[37] Evaluation helps for effective disciple-making.

Another step in disciple-making is shaping disciples to look like Jesus. Jesus transformed the twelve from being disciples (followers) to apostles (sent ones).[38] Except in prayer, Jesus was rarely alone as He intensified relationships “to be with him” (Mark 3:14). “The Twelve enjoyed a relational proximity to Jesus beyond that of the multitudes.”[39] The disciples’ training experience involved Jesus modeling the life and actions for the disciples to follow. Training included modeling (“I do, you watch”), instructing (“I do, you help”), coaching (“You do, I help”), and delegating (“You do, I watch”).[40] In essence, modeling is “massaging the truth until it becomes understandable and usable. It’s what we call adding life-on-life into the discipling process.”[41] Jesus was providing on-the-job training as the disciples observed, asked questions, and in time imitated Jesus’ pattern for ministry. The Gospels show a back and forth movement from Jesus modeling to sending the disciples into ministry.[42]

Jesus’ training emphasized key areas of convictions, character, and ministry capabilities.[43] Other disciple-makers express these key areas differently. Alvin Reid references  orthodoxy (right belief), orthopathy (right affections), and orthopraxy (right actions).[44] These areas must be held together or the disciple-making relationship will err. Reid suggests that subtracting orthopathy will result in legalism; subtracting orthodoxy results in liberalism; and subtracting orthopraxy results in cold monasticism.[45] In all, these three key areas must be defined and advanced in every area of Christian life and ministry.

A fourth step in a disciple-making process is sending disciples to make other disciples. Jesus’ approach balanced the head, heart and hands.[46] Sending the disciples out to make other disciples is the goal of the disciple-making process. The benefit of Jesus’ disciple-making process is that the disciples gained a sense of the value and ownership in His mission through the shaping/training/apprenticeship process. The mission of Jesus grew to become the mission for the disciples.[47]  “Imitation leads to multiplication. Just as races have finish lines, so too the finish line for disciple-making is when a disciple is maturing and multiplying other disciples.[48]

The Gospels show Jesus’ disciples receive the Great Commission and then after being filled with the Holy Spirit, going, baptizing and teaching the gospel in the book of Acts. Certainly there were roadblocks and hurdles but they knew their goal. Likewise, the goal and measure of effectiveness of disciple-making is multiplication. When Jesus gave the Great Commission to the disciples, given their group-oriented culture and training with Jesus, it is likely they would not have heard Jesus’ command as “make [individual] disciples who make [individual] disciples who make [individual] disciples.” They would have heard this command with a group orientation: “make [groups of] disciples who will make [groups of] disciples who will make [groups of] disciples.”[49] One-on-one relationships are meaningful and necessary, but they have the potential to limit the interchange due to the teacher-student dynamic.[50] Groups of smaller numbers have greater potential for disciple-making impact.[51]

Not to go unmentioned, the primary discipleship unit is the Christian home.[52] Spiritual legacy begins in the home of the discipler. “Our own families are the nearest mission field.”[53] One pastor asks, “What good is it if you make disciples of your own neighbors and co-workers yet neglect to disciple your own family?”[54]  Israel was commanded to keep disciple-making and spiritual instruction of their children as a chief priority (Dt 6:1-9; 11:1-7, 16-21).[55] Jesus valued children in the kingdom of God.[56] The apostle Peter inaugurated the church by preaching the gospel with a promise of family intergenerational blessing.[57] In the apostle Paul’s letters are expected intergenerational relationships, ministry and mentoring to occur among parents (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21), older men with younger men and older women with younger women (1Timothy 5:1-2; Titus 2:2-7). The church of God is like a household or community that would have existed in the typical Graeco-Roman extended household context (cf. 1Timothy 3:15).[58]  Such households would have been vital sources of identity as “patrilineal kinship groups”, where persons were nurtured, job skills were developed, marriage relationships were arranged, childcare was provided and care for the sick and elderly were maintained.[59] Paul’s purpose for writing was commanding believers and families across the generations to grow together in knowledge and practice of the Christian faith through every domain of society. The power of the gospel and glory of God was to be on display in the church “to all generations, forever and ever” (Ephesians 3:20-21). In fact, each letter of the New Testament was addressed to entire churches and would have been read before all. The initial reading of these letters and likely additional readings for instruction and doctrinal accountability would have undoubtedly occurred with representative families. Families can have a dramatic impact in their neighborhoods and communities if they are committed to the disciple-making process of growing godly generations.

In summary, the process of seeing people, selecting disciples, shaping and sending mature followers of Jesus to make more disciples is helpful. The process is flexible and easy to reproduce so the gospel baton can be passed through the church from one generation to the next (2Ti 2:2).[60] Seeing people with Jesus’ eyes is the beginning value for disciple-making.


If your vision is for a year, plant pumpkins.
If your vision is for ten years, plant trees.
If your vision is for a lifetime, plant people.

The vision of each disciple-making group is to grow godly generations. Groups are not ends to themselves nor are they merely classes or curriculum to accomplish. Each group must have imitating Jesus and following Jesus’ instructions as its aim. The provided model is intended to help facilitate the vision of growing godly generations.

  • See people.
    -Do you see yourself as one who needs discipled or one ready to disciple others?- If you consider yourself needing to be discipled, who is someone you can approach for guidance?
  • Select people.
    If you are ready to disciple others, who are 4 others who you will initiate a conversation about their entering a group with you for Christian disciple-making?Please note, these may be believers but preferably individuals who have a casual or undetermined relationship with Jesus. You might say something like this, “Would you be interested in meeting together with me and a couple others once a week (or every other) for conversation about faith and studying the Bible?” Do not ask, “Would you like for me to disciple you?” as this seems too preachy and pushy. Keep in mind, men should disciple men and women disciple women.Select no more than 4 people, for a total of 5 in the group. This enables the group dynamics to be personal and readiness for multiplication growth.

    Determine where, when, and how frequently you will meet. Meeting away from the church would be the best option to emphasize the missional nature of the group. Meeting regularly, every week or every week is best for consistency and momentum. Remember that discipleship is a relational experience and may often go beyond the regular meeting schedule for calls, visits, and friendship building experiences.

    If a person misses multiple meetings or is continually unprepared in participating in the readings, then it may be good to suggest the person take a break and re-start in a future season when they are more available. Do not make the person feel guilty but do encourage accountability.

The first “meeting” will be introductory. Introduce names, family, personal identity stories, jobs, as able share the person’s connection to faith. If a person is uneasy, perhaps they can share where they are in the process of faith.

The first meeting will also set the tone for group dynamics and expectations. Make sure each person has the opportunity to share while also each person takes the opportunity to listen to others.

  • Shape people.

As a group, select your approach to disciple-making. Some examples can be

  • A book of the Bible, where 5-10 chapters are read each week.
  • E100 – Essential 100 Bible Reading Plan
  • Booklet by Pastor Dave Brown “Training To Trust and Treasure Jesus”
  • Book: Multiply – Disciples Making Disciples by Francis Chan
  • Book: Creed – Connect To The Basic Essentials Of Historic Christian Faith by Winfield Bevins
  • Book: The God Who Is There – Finding Your Place In God’s Story by D.A. Carson
  • Books: Growing Up/Firmly Planted by Robby Gallatty
  • Select a theme or topic of faith and life based on alternate resources. Discuss this with your pastor.

Utilize G.R.O.W. Questions as a format for each week (see below). It would be helpful for each person to have a notebook or journal physical or digital (http://replicateapp.com/) where insights and questions are recorded for the meeting discussions. This format is a basic guide to help the group go beyond a knowledge-driven approach to a mission-driven approach in application for each person and group. Remember, disciple-making involves the head, heart, and hands.

After a few weeks of cultivating the group environment, identify and initiate a missional experience for those beyond your group – unbelieving friends, an organization, a community service project, etc. Allow each person to have say into what the experience will be and how it should be accomplished. Be intentional about involving prayer and service in Jesus’ name so it goes beyond the social aspect to a spiritual action.
Ultimately, evaluate persons’ spiritual condition. Hopefully there are members in your group who need to take that step of faith to trust Jesus Christ for salvation, or to walk in obedience in a given area. Follow up and involve other leadership from the church as appropriate.

  • Send people.

At the start of the group it should be emphasized that the goal is multiplication. Friendships will be formed but being faithful to the command to make disciples requires intentionality of shaping and sending people to make other disciples (Matthew 28:18-20; 2Timothy 2:2).

Each group is like a family that is learning, maturing, and becoming ready to independently depend upon Jesus (not a Bible study teacher). As a child becomes ready to leave the home, or a bird the nest, so a disciple will display the readiness for starting his/her own disciple-making group. This should not be forced but neither should it be fumbled. Starting with the end in mind is helpful. Generally speaking, groups should be sending people onward to make disciples every two years or so. If groups need help in this area they should discuss with church leadership.

A common hindrance to sending people out and fostering a disciple-making movement is the emphasis of on-going relationships. Two perspectives must be understood to this push back. The first, on-going relationships can continue beyond the model of disciple-making groups. The fact that a person may not physically be included in the group should not equate to isolation from others. Further, there can be a role for individuals to stay in community with one another through other specific groups that have this purpose as its aim. Leading to a second perspective, disciples of Jesus must remember the last words of Jesus that were commanded to all disciples. The Great Commission is not optional. The challenge is that individuals and organizations do not casually drift toward mission and purpose. Therefore, we must be overly intentional in our aim of disciple-making. One day we will all stand before Jesus to account for our faith and obedience. Are you prepared? Is your local church?

G.R.O.W. Groups

Where or among whom did you see God’s fingerprints in your life this week?

  • At home
  • At work/school
  • Activities/Events/Church
  • Personal time with God
    • What Scriptures are you reading? Did you complete assigned reading?
      • If assignment was not completed by any member of group then repeat assignment. This encourages accountability.

How are you responding to God’s work in your life this week?

  • Are you obeying Scriptural revealed truths?
  • Where do you need confession of sin? Everyone does, so be honest.

Whom has God led you to share the gospel in word and/or deed with this last week?

  • Invest in the relationship. Intercede for the individual’s (s’) salvation. Invite to church gatherings.
  • Keep accountability for personal witnessing.
  • Discuss an appropriate time to invite this person to your GROW Group. This will eventually lead to a new group.
    • Disciple-makers make disciple-makers. See-Select-Shape-Send.

What else is on your heart and mind to discuss and pray over?

  • Cultivate trust, transparency, and teachable environment.
  • Pray together using the Lord’s prayer as a model.

SPBC Vision: Glorify God by Growing Godly Generations

SPBC Mission: We exist to equip others to love God, love people, and lead generations.

We envision a church in Anne Arundel County and beyond that…

  • is united in membership and urgent in Jesus’ mission.
  • impacts the spiritually lost through truthfully and lovingly proclaiming the gospel of Jesus with our lips and promoting the gospel with our lives.
  • impacts the spiritually disconnected through church strengthening and church starting among our neighborhoods and among the nations.
  • impacts the fragmented family through enriching marriages, encouraging parents, and equipping families for relational unity and spiritual mission.
  • impacts the generationally segmented through intergenerational worship and ministry experiences.
  • impacts the racially divided through a hospitable church culture and through multi-ethnic ministry & church partnerships.
  • impacts the disinterested community through tangible acts of love & service in Jesus’ name.– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

[1] Greg Ogden, Transforming Disciples: Making Disciples A few At A Time (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 60.

[2] Randy Pope, INsourcing: Bringing Discipleship Back to the Local Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 77, ff.

[3] Alan Hirsch, Forgotten Pathways Reactivating the Missional Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazo Press, 2006), 94.

[4] Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, What is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011), 44.

[5] Michael Wilkins, Following The Master: A Biblical Theology of Discipleship. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 200-201.

[6] Ibid., 219.

[7] Ibid., 230-235.

[8] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the English Standard Version. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009).

[9] Wilkins, 256, 289, 345. DeYoung & Gilbert,

[10] Matthew 4:17, 23; 9:35; Mark 1:15; Luke 4:43; 8:1.

[11] Ulrich Becker, “Gospel, Evangelize, Evangelist,” in The New International Dictionary of NewTestament Theology, 3 vols., ed. Colin Brown (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1986), 2:107.

[12] DeYoung & Gilbert, 94-113.

[13] Evidenced in 1Corinthians 15:3-7.

[14] Matthew 4:19; 9:9.

[15] Jim Putman, Real-Life Discipleship: Building Churches That Make Disciples (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2012), 26, ff.

[16] Bill Hull, The Complete Book of Discipleship, 177.

[17] Ogden, 129.

[18] Ogden, 129. Also Dennis McCallum & Jessica Lowery, Organic Discipleship: Mentoring Others Into Spiritual Maturity and Leadership (Columbus, OH: New Paradigm Publishing, 2012), 49, ff.

[19] Putman, 60.

[20] Ogden, 69. Also, Neil Cole, Cultivating a Life for God: Multiplying Disciples Through Life Transformation Groups (St. Charles, IL: Church Smart Resources, 1999), 49-50.

[21] Matthew 9:36-38.

[22] John 4:35.

[23] Neil Cole, Cultivating A Life for God, 4.

[24] Ibid., 7.

[25] McCallum & Lowery, 55.

[26] Ogden, 69.

[27] Joey Bonifacio, The Lego Principle: The Power of Connecting To God and One Another (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House Book Group, 2012), 167.

[28] Alan Hirsch, On the Verge: A Journey Into the Apostolic Future of the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 73.

[29] Todd Engstrom. 2013. “Missional Community Practices – Third Place.” April 3. Accessed November 20, 2014. http://toddengstrom.com/2013/04/03/missional-community-practices-third-place/

[30] Crow, D. Michael, “Multiplying Jesus Mentors”, Missiology: An International Review, Vol. XXXVI, no. 1, January 2008, 91.

[31] Luke 6:12.

[32] Cole, 40-41. Also Pope, 135.

[33] Crow, 92.

[34] Robert Coleman, The Great Commission Lifestyle: Transforming Your Life to Kingdom Priorities (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1992), 59.

[35] Putman, 40.

[36] Hull, 135-141.

[37] Hull, The Complete Book of Discipleship, 261.

[38] Cole, 4.

[39] Crow, 92.

[40] Ogden, 82-96.

[41] Pope, 32.

[42] Matthew 10; Mark 6:7-13;

[43] McCollum & Lowery, 23. See also Ron Bennett, Intentional Disciplemaking: Cultivating Spiritual Maturity In The Local Church (Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 2001), 31.

[44] Alvin Reid, As You Go: Creating A Missional Culture of Gospel Centered Students (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2013), 95.

[45] Ibid., 96.

[46] Putman, 132.

[47] Ogden, 91.

[48] Pope, 136.

[49] Crow, 90. (Crow’s emphasis and brackets.)

[50] Ogden, 141.

[51] Cole, 49-52.

[52] Ogden, 101.

[53] Michael Horton, The Gospel Commission, 182.

[54] Winfield Bevins. 2009. “Grow: Reproducing through Organic Discipleship.” Accessed November 20, 2014. http://theresurgence.com/files/pdfs/grow6x9moderate-A.pdf

[55] Gary A. Parrett and S. Steve Kang, Teaching The Faith, Forming The Faithful: A Biblical Vision For Education In The Church (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 310-311.

[56] Matthew 18:6.

[57] Acts 2:38-39.

[58] Allan G. Harkness, “Intergenerationality: Biblical and Theological Foundations” Christian Education Journal series 3, vol. 9, no.1 (2012): 125.

[59]  Jason Lanker “The Family of Faith: The Place of Natural Mentoring in the Church’s Christian Formation of Adolescents” Christian Education Journal Vol.7, no.2 (2010): 270.

[60] Cole, 33.

This material may not be published without reference to the author David W. Brown and citation of http://www.growinggodlygenerations.com Please contact in the comments section for more information. October 2015.

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