The Scriptures have a lot to say about disciple-making, once we understand that equipping the saints is a primarily relational ministry. Paul put it this way: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ,” (1 Corinthians 11: 1) This clear principle echoed Jesus’ first words to his disciples when he said, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men,” (Matthew 4:19). The unmistakable emphasis of both invitations was learning by doing. This principle, so common in life, was the cornerstone of early Christian education, because spiritual instruction took place in an environment where interpersonal relationships were the primary means of personal growth.
Love, integrity, truth, and ministry skills were first conveyed in the context of a personal friendship. The atmosphere was one of personal trust and mutual encouragement. Spiritual discipline was personally observed, and then emulated by each new generation of believers. This balance between teaching and training was so natural that spiritual vitality simply flowed from one Christian life to another. Perhaps Philippians 4: 9 best demonstrates this fundamental principle: “ What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, this do. . . ” What we hear equals teaching and what we see equals training. Both forms of instruction are essential elements of the discipleship process. Philippians 3:17 says: “. . Be imitators of me, and look at those who behave in this way according to the example you have in us. ”
The popular saying, “You get more things than you teach” defines an important aspect of the Biblical way of making disciples. Although many aspects of spiritual growth can be conveyed through the use of Christian literature, personality, enthusiasm, laughter, and a twinkle in the eye cannot. These experiential aspects of personal friendship are indispensable components of a successful disciple-making ministry. Although the cognitive aspects of discipleship are numerous, there is an intangible quality of spiritual life that only flows through a friendly relationship.
Why is disciple-making the critical link for successful evangelism? Dr. Herschel Hobbs wisely said, “The work of evangelism is never complete until the evangelized becomes an evangelizer.” A failure in the initial follow-up process, or in the process of laying a good foundation, can jeopardize the tremendous potential of this cycle of evangelistic multiplication. Consider compound interest, or nature’s reproductive cycles, or the biological explosion of the world’s population. It will soon become clear why multiplication is God’s primary method of replenishing the earth.
Billy Graham has said: “One of the first verses of Scripture that Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators, encouraged me to memorize was ‘What you have heard from me before many witnesses, this commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.’ (2 Timothy 2: 2) This is like a mathematical formula for spreading the gospel and growing the church. Paul taught Timothy; Timothy shared what he knew with faithful men; These faithful men would teach others as well. And so the process goes on and on. If every believer followed this pattern, the church could reach the entire world in one generation! Massive crusades, in which I believe and have committed my life, will never end the Great Commission; but a one-on-one ministry will. “(The Holy Spirit, Waco: Word, 1978, P. 147)
For the church, spiritual multiplication is the essential key to fulfilling Christ’s missionary mandate, (Matthew 28:19-20). Through a single committed believer who is constantly growing, sharing his or her faith naturally, and personally training others to do the same, the whole world could eventually receive the good news of Jesus Christ! This amazing process of spiritual multiplication is so personal, enjoyable and effective, that all over the world, any church can do it. It simply requires that a church have the vision of 2 Timothy 2:2 and the commitment to train disciples to work personally with each new member who joins the church. Through Christ-centered friendship, those trained in “How to Be a Disciple Maker” learn the “why” and “how” to disciple others. This progressive cycle of spiritual growth and evangelism through the believer’s lifestyle is the contemporary expression of the disciple making we see in the New Testament.
“And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
– 2 Timothy 2:2
New believers and members need more than a handshake when they become members of your church. They need a friendship that is rooted in Christ, someone who will walk beside them and help them feel welcome. This new friend should be prepared to introduce them to other church members, answer their questions, lead them in a small group Bible study, and model spiritual growth.
Most churches simply expect their new members to find a committed Christian friend and learn the basics of spiritual growth. They also expect their new members to attend a small group Bible study and learn to share their faith. However, instead of simply waiting – many churches with a growth mindset are now establishing an intentional process that will ensure that each new believer and new member receives the personal care and instruction they need. This is the heart of the “Becoming a Disciple Maker” strategy!
For years, churches have been overlooking their most important resource in evangelism – new members. Why are new believers so special when it comes to evangelism? Because they still have the bridges of personal relationships with unbelievers. When we walk with these new members and show them how to grow spiritually and how to share their faith, they begin to witness, and spiritual multiplication occurs naturally.
“As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith, even as ye have been taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”
– Colossians 2:6 & 7
Jesus expressed His deep concern for the spiritual nurture of new Christians when He asked, “Do you love me, Peter?” When Peter said, “Yes,” the Lord replied, “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15-17). ) When you invest your time discipling new Christians, it is evidence that you love the Lord!
Increasingly, churches are realizing the importance of one-on-one personal care and assimilation of new members. Over the years, various methods have been used in an effort to close the “back door” of the church, but the problem still exists. To address this need, many churches concerned about their spiritual health have offered excellent classes for new members, but experience has shown that this approach, while desirable, remains inadequate when used alone. After extensive field testing in numerous cultures, we have concluded that the most effective method for assimilating new members is the fostering of Christ-centered friendships. We believe there are several reasons why this relational model of early church has proven to be so successful:
The Friendship Factor
Studies show that unless new church members soon establish one or more meaningful relationships, they are likely to quietly leave through the “back door.” That’s why the disciple-making process of “How to Be a Disciple-Maker” is designed to create an environment of friendship and meet the immediate spiritual needs of each new member. “. . but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another …” (1 John 1:7)
Many new members enter the church as “newborns” and require special attention. The disciple making process that “How to Be a Disciple Maker” uses is based on friendship and so they naturally provide that care. The Bible says, “We used to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.” (1 Thessalonians 2: 7).
Freedom for Discussion
Through friendship, a spirit of openness typically develops naturally. This allows personal questions to be asked in private and discussed in a biblical context. As a result, positive life transformation occurs. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
When new members are encouraged and equipped for ministry, those who serve as disciplers are challenged to continue to grow as well – “Iron sharpens iron; And so a man sharpens the face of his friend.” This New Testament methodology (2 Timothy 2:2) creates the positive motivation for continued spiritual development and multiplication. “. . grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18).
Using the very effective training format of “Becoming a Disciple-Maker”, if the discipler or new member has to miss the meeting, they simply reschedule for another day. In this way, important material is never missed and spiritual growth is consistent. “He who walks with wise men, wise shall he be.” (Proverbs 13: 20a)
You may be thinking, “If the world can be evangelized in a single generation, why hasn’t it happened yet?” Personal evangelism will not result in spiritual multiplication if it is isolated from effective disciple making. In other words, long-term personal instruction and personal evangelism must be viewed as interconnected parts of a comprehensive and intentional ministry plan. Disciple making is our top ministry priority, but that requires a long-term commitment to a training process. Ultimately, through this New Testament lifestyle, disciple-making becomes as natural as praying. Acts 1:8 and Matthew 28:19 are, then, experienced as normal Christian living.
Years of field testing have taught us that Christian friendship and disciple-making should begin as soon as a new believer makes his decision to receive Christ. In one major study, a church learned why 90 percent of its new members successfully completed their multi-month discipleship process. The primary reason for their success was attributed to the fact that each new member was personally assigned to a trained discipler within 72 hours of making their spiritual decision. Promptness is important!
Churches that are interested in the healthy spiritual life of their members are deliberately moving toward protecting their new members because they face a wide range of worldly temptations and distractions that tend to erode spiritual devotion. The Lord’s parable of the seed graphically illustrates this need. “Another part [of the seed] fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it bore no fruit.” (Mark 4: 7).
In today’s language, personal disciple-making is at the very heart of effective assimilation of new members. Each Christ-centered friendship functions as a mentor pointing the way to the many other training and educational ministries of the church.
As Christianity restores the relational principle of observation (1 Corinthians 11:1) to the first place of prominence it held in the New Testament, God is raising up a new generation of witnesses equipped for a lifestyle of service. Luke 10:2 says: “. . The harvest indeed is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Our challenge as Christians is to live by faith and trust God to accomplish His sovereign objectives as He answers our prayers. May your church members catch this vision of multiplication and become true “salt” and “light” in their spheres of spiritual influence. International Evangelism Association joins you in the vision of the Great Commission!