What it Takes to Make Disciples
Making disciples is a well-known Christian concept that’s inspired thousands of books and articles. It was Jesus’ first step when starting his ministry. Before changing the world, Jesus first chose a team of followers to teach and mentor.
If making disciples was an essential step for Christ’s ministry, it must be an essential step for any ministry. Making disciples merits diligence, so we should try to be good at it.
While there is no one formula for making disciples, I believe it takes at least three things: commitment, authenticity, and intentionality.
In a recent webinar, I outlined these three traits for my Greater Europe Mission colleagues. I believe if you exhibit and practice these specific qualities, you’ll have what it takes to make disciples.
In John 17, Jesus prays over His ministry and over His disciples. He repeatedly mentions that the disciples are still part of the world (John 17:11, 15, 18). Why? Because Jesus knows He’ll be leaving them behind with the responsibility of continuing His work so that others may believe (v20). A little while later, Jesus is crucified, resurrected, then ascends to heaven. Before his ascension, He hands down to the disciples what we’ve come to call the Great Commission.
As commandments go, the Great Commission is one of the clearest:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.Matthew 28:18-20
They would have understood this final charge as a commandment to follow Jesus’s model. In the same way that Christ mentored and taught the twelve, they were to go teach and mentor all the nations.
The Great Commission is also considered an eternal commandment, meaning it applies to all Christians, in all places, and at all times. Obedience to eternal commandments isn’t optional. It’s a necessary part of wearing the name Christian. It’s something we must commit to.
Commitment is a steadfast pledge––a deeply held refusal to give up. To commit to discipleship is to deal with the challenges and failures that come with making disciples. This obedient commitment allows us to roll with the punches, to move past and keep going when logic and reason might tell us to move on.
I’ve failed several times to bring someone to Christ. Young guys that I’ve befriended sometimes decide to abruptly end our relationship, for any number of reasons. I’ve had to accept that failure to bring someone to Christ is part of the job. I can’t force people to believe.
Likewise, you may not see the impact of your work in your lifetime. Surely, the twelve disciples never imagined their works would lead to a global movement. But making disciples is about responding to the calling and embracing it with our whole strength. We stay committed through the failures because it’s what we’re commanded to do.
The second trait it takes to make disciples is authenticity. By this, I simply mean being real with people.
Making disciples is a lifestyle. It’s motivated by the heart and is tough to fake. And if you imitate Christ, people will notice and embrace you.
People appreciate genuine interactions and don’t want to feel like they’re being sold on something. If you deeply care for the unsaved, it’ll show, and those receptive to the message will gravitate toward you. Authenticity makes us spiritually contagious.
Not only is authenticity an essential trait for making disciples, it’s also something God wants from us. God is more interested in our hearts than in our sacrifices. “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13). For the follower of Christ, making disciples should be authentic to who we are.
Though at times I’ve failed to make disciples, I’ve also successfully mentored and discipled people. Often, they are originally simply interested in what I had to say. Why? Because I approached them with my authentic self.
The third trait of disciple making is intentionality. By that, I mean continually examining your choices and behavior.
All Christians and non-believers are unique individuals. Discipling one person will never be the exact same experience as discipling another. Because of this, making disciples requires close, personal, family-like relationships. You must get to know the person you are discipling. Like Christ with the Twelve, the teacher and the learner need to invest a significant amount of time with one another.
This involves a certain level of vulnerability. For example, asking for an introvert’s time could make them uncomfortable. Others might react negatively to being pursued. Depending on their background, personality, or culture, some may perceive intentionality as pushy or forward.
But Jesus did not command us to make everyone feel comfortable. In the same way that some followers of Jesus left him, people will leave you in the middle of the discipleship process. But as we’ve learned, failure is okay. You simply “shake the dust from your feet,” learn what you can, and move on.
Even if you failed to make someone a disciple, do not assume they are lost forever. I often pray they meet another Christian who will continue where we left off. God will send someone else to complete the process when they are ready.
Commitment. Authenticity. Intentionality.
Though this is by no means the whole of the discipleship process, I believe these three traits are essential to being a disciple-maker. Remember: you are not responsible for the success of the mission––that’s the Lord’s job. Commit your time and energy to Him and watch what He does through you.
Are you interested in making disciples in Europe? Click here for more info.
About the author: Seb Brandt serves in Scotland with his wife Jess and their three children. He works as the Director of Development and Support for GEM UK. His passion is for the development and training of missionaries or local workers in preparation for working on the mission field. Theological training, discipleship, and mentoring are strong aspects of Seb’s ministry.