What is the difference between discipleship and disciple-making?
“…go make disciples…” (Matthew 28:19)
The contemporary term “Christian disciple-maker” is derived from our Lord’s final instructions. He did not use the word “discipleship” in that context, which is now widely being used to mean small group ministry. Instead, He proactively commanded His followers to personally “make disciples” in every nation. Following His resurrection, not one of the eleven apostles who were present when He said this, is recorded to have asked what He meant. This was the first and only time in the New Testament when the Lord is known to have told anyone to make disciples. However, they automatically understood what He was saying. He was leaving, and His equipping methodology was now to be applied worldwide!
What the twelve had observed their Master do – was their training. What they had heard Him say – was their teaching. His methodology clearly combined training by observation with hearing Him speak. He taught them using 38 parables, the Sermon on the Mount, and His countless conversations with individuals. They were with him across the many months when they were being discipled.
Later, the Apostle Paul, God’s missionary to the Gentiles, made it clear that he understood and personally copied the Lord’s equipping methodology. As a modern translation explains “Everything which you heard me say and all that you saw me do, put that into practice and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9) With his practical understanding, Paul wrote, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) The Lord’s methodology was also understood and followed by Peter, who discipled John Mark, and Barnabas, who discipled young Saul of Tarsus, who became Paul. Paul later personally discipled Timothy, Titus, and five others. Of those whom he trained, only Demas became a disappointment!
About 20 years ago, Dr. Craig Blaising, who served as provost at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, chose the term “disciple-making” to describe the relational ministry which Jesus had with each of the twelve and Paul enjoyed with each of the seven whom he personally equipped for service. Biblically, teaching has traditionally taken place with a group and relational training has most often taken place with one growing new believer at a time. Today’s churches frequently excel in preaching and teaching, but they are still very weak in the areas of skill related, personal training. This is why the modern disciple-making movement emphasizes the importance of strong simultaneous preaching, teaching, and training in order to develop spiritually healthy, multiplying, disciple-makers (see Mark 4:8).