What is Disciple-Making?
Jesus talked about four kinds of people in Mark chapter 4 and used four seeds to illustrate their response to the gospel:
- The first seed was immediately picked up by birds. These are people who hear the gospel and simply ignore it.
- The second seed fell on rocky ground with shallow soil and the intense heat from the sun caused it to immediately wither away. These are people who receive the gospel, but quickly fall away because of affliction and persecution.
- The third seed fell among the thorns and weeds. The thorns and weeds grew up and chocked the seed’s growth so it failed to produce grain. These are mediocre Christians who receive the gospel, but don’t grow spiritually. Why? Because they are distracted by the worries of the world, the lure of money, and other priorities and desires.
- The fourth seed fell on good soil, grew up, increased, and multiplied thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold. These are people who receive the gospel, grow spiritually and lead others to Christ resulting in spiritual multiplication.
Jesus referred to new believers as newborns. If you have physical children, or even if you don’t, we all know that physical newborns require personal care from a parent or care giver in order to be grow and remain healthy. Just like physical newborns, each spiritual newborn needs a spiritual parent to care for them on a personal one-to-one basis.
We wouldn’t dream of leaving a physical new born on a park bench to fend for themselves, hoping they get the nourishment and care they need. But so many times, this is exactly the way churches treat their newborn Christians. They hope the new believer finds a friend to answer their questions, hope they have a Bible, hope they learn how to spend time with God each day, hope they learn how to pray, hope they learn to pull insights from the Word of God, hope they learn to study the Bible, hope they memorize Scripture, and hope they learn to share their faith with others.
During World War II, a man by the name of Dawson Trotman found that if he spent individual time with new converts, answering their questions and helping them develop spiritual growth skills, they were much less likely to go back into the world. Dawson’s goal was to simply become a spiritual parent to each newborn believer (plant) removing the rocks, providing extra soil, and helping them cut down the thorns and weeds which would hamper their spiritual growth. As a result of this one-to-one care, Dawson found that the second and third seeds became fruit producers like the fourth seed, multiplying thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold! “Other seed fell on good soil, it came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.” (Mark 4:8) Dawson’s strategy was so successful that the “Navigator” para-church ministry was formed.
Dawson was simply following the example of Jesus, Paul, and the other disciples. The disciples received personal care from Jesus. Mark 3:14 says, “He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach.” The disciples spent time with Jesus, not just listening to Him teach, but watching and observing how He ministered. In Acts 4:13, the religious leaders were amazed at the ability and confidence of these two uneducated men, Peter and John. They began to understand how this could occur because both Peter and John had “been with Jesus.”
Paul understood the importance of spiritual parenting. In I Timothy 1:18, Paul writes, “Timothy my son.” In 2 Timothy 1:2, Paul writes, “To Timothy my beloved son…” In 2 Timothy 2:1, Paul writes, “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” If you could ask Timothy about the importance of Paul’s spiritual parenting, how do you think he would respond? Peter also understood the importance of spiritual parenting. In I Peter 5:13, he writes, “…my son, Mark.”
In 1963, Dr. Robert Coleman’s book, “The Master Plan of Evangelism” was released. It focused on Jesus’ spiritual parenting of the disciples. It is now the best selling book on evangelism in history.
Dr. Billie Hanks Jr. was Billy Graham’s first intern and Billy became a spiritual parent to Billie throughout many years. Dr. Hanks’ life was dramatically impacted by Billy Graham. As Billie attended crusades throughout the world, he became keenly aware of the fact that thousands of spiritual newborns had no one to personally care for them – no one to answer their questions and help them develop spiritual growth skills so they could feed themselves from the Word of God and grow spiritually.
As a result of this concern, in 1972, Billie founded The International Evangelism Association. Instead of coming alongside the church, Billie decided to minister within the church, showing churches how to train spiritual parents to care for each newborn that entered their care. His goal was also to help seminaries show pastors how to develop spiritual parents as they began ministering in local churches throughout the world. God blessed his efforts, and now The International Evangelism Association is the largest publisher of disciple-making materials in the world.
Throughout the years, this one-to-one personal spiritual care has been referred to as mentorship, apprenticeship, spiritual parenting, and other names. At the beginning of the 21st century, Dr. Craig Blaising, provost at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, began using the term disciple-making to refer to this personal, one-to-one spiritual parenting, as opposed to the term discipleship which referred to Christian education in general. This Biblical term, disciple-making, based on Matthew 28:19, is now generally used throughout the world when referring to one-to-one spiritual parenting of new believers and growing members.