Making disciples is why the church exists. At the very heart of the Great Commission is to "make disciples." Yet there has been a growing realization that many churches are failing to train and release disciples. All the wonderful programing we have innovated from Sunday School to Small Groups, there seems to be a lack of disciple making. Many churches are brimming with activity but usually fail to see the rapid reproducing of the early church. Part of the reason is the Spirit came in great power in that first century church. However, I think part of the reason we have not seen the multiplication cause by true discipleship is because we have failed to follow the biblical methodology of Jesus for disciple making. I think Jesus' method of disciple making can be boiled down to three basic elements–intellectual, relational, and missional.
A huge part of Jesus' ministry was teaching. He would constantly stand before the crowd and teach for long hours into the day. The crowd ate it up and loved hearing this man who preached with authority, unlike the scribes and pharisees. (Mt 7:28-29) Jesus taught in a way the masses could understand, but he also taught some deep things that were difficult for his own disciples to grasp. As he spoke in parables, the disciples would fail to get the point of the nice story. Jesus was the patient teacher pulling his twelve disciples together for a small group discussion, explaining the meaning behind his teachings.
A key part to their discipleship was being trained by the Rabi, Jesus. He taught about the kingdom, about money, about prayer, and the list continues. Jesus' taught his disciples everything they would need to know to lead and shepherd the early church.
As we look at churches today, some churches are strong in this area or weak. Some churches teach robust biblical doctrine in their classes and have a pastor who carefully preaches the word through expository preaching. This is a great gift and blessing. Knowing theology and learning the Scriptures is vital to any growing and reproducing disciple. Although education and the intellect is important, without the other two elements you will have just a church full of pharisees.
Jesus built relationships with his disciples. He poured his life into theirs for three years. When Jesus called his first disciples he gave them a simple command "follow me". We are told that Simon and Andrew dropped their fishing nets and immediately started following Jesus (Mt 4:19-20). The disciples hung out with Jesus 24/7. Every day for three years these men enjoyed nightly long dinner conversations with the messiah. They spent their days following the dusty road behind the saviors shadow. They lived life with him. Everything Jesus did, they did. Everywhere Jesus went, they went.
This relational component is one that is largely lacking in our modern discipleship methods. Discipleship is more than just meeting once a week for an hour, whether it be at a small group or a church service. Part of discipling someone is to invite them into the rhythm of your life. The disciples learned a lot from Jesus' teaching, but they learned just as much from watching his life. They watched Jesus as he was hungry, criticized, tired, and sad. They saw how a Christian was supposed to live by watching the life of Jesus. Relational discipleship is often messy, takes time, and can be inconvenient. We are often private individuals and do not want someone up in our business. Yet, Jesus opened his entire life for his disciples to watch and imitate. We must do the same in our discipleship.
If we are missing the relational component in our modern discipleship methods than the missional component is not even on our radars. Jesus discipled with a purpose. He called out to Simon and Andrew and commanded them, "Follow Me". Why are they to follow Jesus? For what purpose is Jesus beginning this discipleship with them? Well Jesus tells us, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." (Mt 4:19) You see the reason we disciple is to train and release people to make more disciples.
Even in their three year discipleship, Jesus gave his twelve hands on ministry experience. In Matthew 10 we see Jesus send out the twelve under his authority to do ministry. He sent them out by twos on junior local mission trips preparing them for the Great Commission in which they were to go into all the world.
Churches often bring new Christians into the church for great teaching and maybe even some relational disciple making. Bringing them into the Christian subculture is easy. Releasing them into the culture as missionaries is much more difficult. In our discipleship methods, we are far to content producing well behaving Christian people than life giving soldiers marching to the orders of their king. A key component to our discipleship needs to be pushing disciples to participate in the Great Commission. We must encourage them to share the Gospel with their neighbors or the coach on their kids soccer team. We make disciples who are reproducing, going on to disciple others.
Making Disciples Like Jesus
If we can fire our discipleship process on all three cylinders, I can only imagine what God will do through our churches. We must train people intellectually in the Christian faith, teaching them the Scriptures. We must mentor and pour our lives into people in our relationships. We must challenge every Christian to be a missionary and reach their community and world for Christ. If we start making disciples as Jesus made disciples, perhaps we will recover the organic wild fire that was the early church.