Making and Multiplying Disciples

We sat across from one another at a taco place in west Nashville talking about life, our faith, and the suffering I was enduring so early in my teenage life. Just days earlier my brother had been in a tragic accident, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. My life was spinning out of control, and I wasn’t sure what to do, where to go, or who to talk to. And that’s when Rick invited me out for tacos. He had been there before, and he would be there again.

Rick was the man who had led me to faith just years before. He and his family had opened their home to teach me about Jesus and provide for me a place of belonging. Rick was the first person to disciple me, but he would not be the last. Throughout the years others have invested in me, walked with me through life’s ups and downs, pushed me toward a deeper walk with Jesus, and empowered me to disciple others.

Discipleship has been the single greatest shaper of my life. And it all started with Rick slowing down enough to invest in me and teach me to invest in others.

What is discipleship?

A disciple is simply a follower or a learner, usually of someone considered to be a master. When we talk about being a Christian disciple, we are talking about becoming disciples, followers, or learners of the Master, Jesus Christ. Bill Hull describes a disciple as, “a reborn follower of Jesus.”[1] Disciples are people who have been transformed by Jesus’s saving work on the cross, learn from their Master, continually grow to be like him, obey his commands, and teach others the same path of discipleship.[2]

Discipleship is not just for new believers. Discipleship is the journey every believer takes as they learn from and grow to become more like Christ. It is important to remember that as we make disciples, we have not “arrived” in our own spiritual journey—we will always continue to be disciples ourselves.

Zane Pratt addresses this idea when he writes, “No believer ever comes to the point where he or she has learned everything there is to know in the Bible. And certainly, no believer ever reaches the point of complete and perfect obedience. Discipleship will only be completed when we see Jesus face to face in glory.”[3]

What is disciple-making?

The term disciple-making is rooted in the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18–20:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Disciple-making comes from the idea that followers of Christ are called to make disciples themselves—to teach and model the way of Jesus for others. Disciple-making consists of three main ideas[4]:

Deliverance:

People need to hear the message of the gospel and be radically saved by God’s grace. This means that evangelism is key in both missions and discipleship.

Development:

This is what we normally think of when we talk about discipleship –learning, growing and becoming more like Christ. This is one follower of Christ sharing his life and experience with another follower, pouring into him, and pointing him to a deeper life in Christ.

Deployment:

A vital and irreplaceable part of discipleship is multiplication. Discipleship is not fully discipleship until the disciple multiplies himself into others.

This idea of multiplying our lives in others is also seen in 2 Timothy 2:2:

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

Disciples make disciples who make disciples. 

How are disciples made? How are they multiplied?

So, what does it look like to make disciples? That’s a big question to tackle but not big enough that it should paralyze us. The key to discipling others in the way of Jesus is to practice an abiding life with God yourself and then to bring others along the way. Real and lasting discipleship can only happen when we invest in others out of the overflow of our own lives with God.

Here are a few more thoughts on making disciples in your own life.

  • It’s not as hard as it sounds. In fact, every believer is called to make disciples and is given the tools and empowerment needed to do the job. Too often when we think about discipleship, we paint a lofty a picture. Discipleship is simply investing in the lives of other Christians and helping them to grow in Christ. This can be a formalized process, an informal process, or somewhere in between.
  • Invest in people who want to be discipled. Your adventure into discipling others will be more successful if you seek to invest in people who want to grow with Christ. This doesn’t mean they always come to you asking for discipleship. In fact, you should be looking for people around you to invest in in both formal and informal ways. However, discipleship will always go farther with people want to be discipled, with people who are hungry for investment.
  • Discipleship is both teaching, modeling, and sharing life. When we think of discipleship, we think of two people sitting together, where one teaches the other. While this is part of discipleship, it is also important to model your walk with Jesus by simply sharing life together. Whether it’s on long walks around the neighborhood, serving others together, or meeting up for tacos, deep discipleship often happens in the everyday rhythms of life.
  • The best curriculum for doing discipleship is the Bible. This may seem like common sense, but hear me out. Too often we run to the latest and greatest new book or method for making disciples. Supplemental resources can and should be used at times, but never stray too far from the best training resource, the Bible. Choose a book of the Bible and begin working through it together. Consider walking through the book of Luke (life of Jesus) and Acts (life of the early church). Use books of the Bible like these as your base for growing as a Christ follower. You might also consider practicing other spiritual disciplines together. Scripture memory, prayer walking, fasting, confession of sin, and other spiritual practices are great ways to grow in Christ together.
  • Discipleship best happens through one-on-one relationships, in community, and in a local church. All three aspects are important when thinking about discipleship. Discipleship is more than an one-on-one relationship, it must be a community endeavor rooted in a local church.
  • Make Christ the center of your discipleship. If we are not careful, we can end up making discipleship about growth principles, Bible study or even spiritual disciplines. As valuable as these are, what is even more valuable is Christ himself. If we can help people grow in their love and passion for God—their dependance on him—everything else will follow. Teach biblical truth, model a Christlike life, and teach spiritual disciplines, but do it all in an effort to help people fall in love with Jesus and developing an abiding life with him.

Making disciples is investing who you are, what you know, and what is most true into someone else.

So, what are you waiting for? Start by asking the Lord to provide a person you could invest in. Look around you. Who could you disciple and teach to disciple others? Now go and begin the beautiful journey of being a disciple-maker.


[1] Bill Hull, The Complete Book of Discipleship: On Being and Making Followers of Christ (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2006), 32-34.

[2] Ibid.

[3]Zane Pratt, “The Heart of the Task,” in Discovering the Mission of God: Best Missional Practices for the 21st Century, ed. Mike Barnett (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), 138.

[4] Hull, The Complete Book of Discipleship, 34.


You Are Sent Front Cover

you are Sent: Finding Your Place in God’s Global Mission

Our life-changing relationship with Christ comes with a new, life-changing “sent” identity. Learn how the Spirit that sends us fills us with God’s heart to share the gospel with those near and far. In this nine-week study, discover God’s passion for local and global missions and be empowered to make Jesus known everywhere you go.

About the author

Nathan Sloan

Nathan Sloan, DMiss, is the executive director of Upstream Sending, a missions sending organization focused on putting the local church in the driver’s seat of sending. Nathan is also a pastor at Sojourn Church Midtown in Louisville, Kentucky, and is the author of Multisite Missions Leadership and You Are Sent. Nathan is married to Sarah, and they have two wonderful children.

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