The concept of disciple-making is, thankfully, becoming in-fashion within our evangelical subculture these days. Unfortunately, few of these conversations start back or extend forward far enough.
Here’s what I mean.
The unnecessarily bifurcated language of evangelism and disciple-making leads one to presuppose that the work of making disciples begins after someone comes to faith in Jesus. Even worse, the concept of disciple-making often becomes synonymous with the notion of “leadership development,” leading others to assume that only those on a trajectory for vocational ministry or leadership in the church are suitable for the church’s disciple-making ministries. For the church to engage fruitfully with lostness and intentionally pursue a future that is characterized by multiplication, we must begin with a biblical picture of disciple-making with all those God saves, even before He saves them.
- Owning Your Commission
- Taking Spiritual Responsibility for Your Jerusalem
- Make and Multiply Kingdom Disciples
- Live off of Less
- Prime the Pump
- Send Co-Vocational Teams
- Add in order to Sustain Multiplication
- Continually Celebrate Kingdom Advance
There’s certainly theological precision in the conviction that one is not a true disciple of Jesus until they are united with Him in faith. But this does not mean that the same person isn’t being tutored in the ways of Jesus as they learn from an authentic relationship with a kingdom-disciple. This incipient sanctification of replacing habits of darkness with more Christ-like priorities prepares a would-be disciple for rapid transformation at their point of understanding their own sin and Source of their forgiveness. When they are invited into the home of a devoted Christ-follower, they are discipled into the inner-working of a family following Jesus. When they hear the heart cry of a Christ-follower’s earnest prayer life, they are likewise being discipled into an authentic conversation with the Father. Even as we share the gospel, they in turn are being discipled in the way they will one day live as an ambassador for Christ themselves.
Such a foundational understanding of disciple-making presses against evangelicalism’s adoption of the business world’s priority of leadership develop. If people are being discipled into the faith, then surely they are to continue this discipleship journey throughout life. We make it clear that to be a follower of Jesus is to be discipled on the path that leads to embody His character and competence. This is the way for all of God’s people, not merely an elite group of ecclesiastical commandos.
The process of disciple-making must extend further as well. Far too often, disciple-making, if it exists at all, is intent on producing widget-like leaders for widget-shaped niches of the church. In contrast, multiplication necessitates that we are discipling missionaries for the world. Again, this activity happens among all of God’s people. We don’t simply create a leadership pipeline for designed to grow the church’s footprint, but we develop a holistic process that equips the church to live out their unique missionary DNA in the world.
So, we work multiplication back to its most basic level. Churches multiply because disciples multiply. The process of multiplication must be explicit in our definition of a disciple. Multiplication is what Jesus’ people do.
Because you’ve already built the foundation for “where” multiplication is to take place in step #2, it’s then natural to think about how you might deploy these new missionaries through the missionary operations of the church. You mobilize them within their ‘Jerusalem,’ to address the unique and specific needs that you are already praying about and engaging within. And don’t wait until these missionary disciples are fully-formed (whatever that is supposed to mean); send them out early and often, allowing them to grow in conformity to Christ while engaging in the gospel work of strategic mission.
It is not maturity and then mission, rather it’s maturity in mission. This has always been the point and process of sanctification.
This broad-sweeping expectation of multiplication allows us to envision a pathway for someone to move from spiritually curious to a church planting team member, or even apostolic leader. And, even better, the expectation of multiplication from Christian infancy means that someone does not have to pass through certain arbitrary, subcultural thresholds in order to qualify for such work. A person who has recently come to faith in Jesus and who lives to multiply the good news in others could be sent as a strategic church planting team member very early in their spiritual pilgrimage. Who better to take the gospel to others than one who’s life was recently transformed?
Finally, this extension work creates a natural mechanism for developing and executing a church planting pipeline. Those individuals who demonstrate exemplary faithfulness and fruitfulness in the mission are then positioned to lead new planting endeavors and should be trained to do so through an intentional process. We should be unwilling to settle for elevating those with charismatic personalities and compelling gifts, rather we pursue those who show themselves to be missionaries and leaders long before they are given any formal title or authority in the church.
Strategic leaders intentionally funnel time, energy, resources, and training into these individuals, and position them to do what they are already doing at greater and greater levels within the mission. We want those entrusted with leadership in the church to be the type of people others should follow along the missionary way. Confidence in the statement, “follow them as they follow Christ,” should be our primary standard for leadership selection in Jesus’ mission.
Movement requires existing churches to commit to the disciple-making process. It will always be tempting to allow the siren’s call of ministry programs to usurp the work of kingdom disciple-making, which, by virtue of the scope of the project, will take time to produce discernable fruit. It is far easier to launch a new Bible study class and measure success based on the numbers showing up than it is to labor in developing a small handful of leaders for the mission of planting a new church in a strategic community desperate for Good News. However, it is our effort in the latter that moves us one step closer to a movement of multiplication.
Movements begin in the heart of missionary leadership who, by example, own their own commission and take responsibility for their ‘Jerusalem’ by multiplying kingdom disciple-makers from and in the harvest.
From this foundation, the Great Commission finds its fulfillment.
Jeff Christopherson is an author and Chief Missiologist of the North American Mission Board (NAMB). He also serves as Co-Executive Director of the Send Institute, a partnership of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College and the North American Mission Board.