Discipleship vs Disciple Making

Discipleship is not the same thing as disciple making.

One of the reasons the influence of biblical Christianity seems to be at a low ebb in North America and really the Western world is because we think we've been making disciples, when we have not. And the reason we think we've been making disciples, but failing to do so is because we have been convinced that “doing discipleship” and all that is wrapped up in that phraseology is the same thing as making disciples.

In Matthew 28 Jesus told his disciples upon his resurrection that all authority had been given to him in heaven and on Earth. From that point, he said, therefore, as a result of that, go and make disciples baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I've commanded you. He said, “I'll be with you to the end of the age.”

The core command of that passage is actually “make disciples” and there are three participles explaining how disciples are made: going, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit and teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded. That is how a disciple is made. That's the process.

When you're done that process, what do you have? What actually is a disciple? Well, the word disciple means student. It means follower. And if you think of the disciples in relation to Jesus, they followed him physically around. They were students of him. That's what a disciple is, a student, a follower, ultimately an imitator and a representative of the teacher.

Now, how do you know if a disciple has been made? How do you know if you are a disciple? I've been heavily influenced over the years by Sonlife and Sonlife has this thing called the DDP or Description of a Discipled Person. One of the trainings I had with them, we were challenged to do a study of scripture and come up with our own DDP: What is a person like in character once they are discipled?

I took this study very seriously and did a major study and did some writing, some teaching. I came up with what I call the DNA of a Christ Follower, and I came up with eight traits that I believe cover it all that sum up what a follower of Jesus Christ is in character: They're lovers of God and lovers of people, holy, truth-based, evangelistic, persevering, God-dependent, focused on eternity.

Now, when I have written or have taught on the DNA of a Christ Follower, my point really is not that you need to adopt my DDP, my description of a discipled person, the point is that you need to have one, that if you are a disciple called to make disciples, you've got to have it clear in your head what the target is, what a disciple actually is in terms of character. Because from that character flows the activities and the actions and the habits and the salt and the light and the influence in this world.

What is your DDP? How would you describe a follower of Jesus Christ in character?

Whatever your DDP is, if it's truly biblical and thorough, it will soon become apparent that simply doing discipleship, as we have described it, doing discipleship stuff, studies and small groups and church stuff, doesn't often cut it when it comes to actually making disciples. Again, to draw on my Sonlife influence, the way a disciple is made is that someone is won to the faith. They are built up in the faith. They are equipped as workers and are multiplied as leaders. Disciple making includes winning, building, equipping and multiplying- all four things. But we in our churches have become obsessed with the building portion, which is mostly about simply teaching content.

Teaching. Teaching Curriculum. Content. We've made that “discipleship” and considered that to be disciple making when it's not. Disciple making also requires being won to faith. And we're not doing great at that. And then people need to be equipped to use their spiritual gifts to build up the body and then the leaders must be multiplied.

So that, in a nutshell, is the problem. Discipleship does not equal disciple making. Disciple making requires winning, building, equipping and multiplying. And we have just become obsessed with the building, with the teaching. So in addition to figuring out how to actually reach non-church people with the gospel, which will require a serious reworking of how we do evangelism, we also need to somehow inject into our Christian process our Christian life, some winning, some equipping and some multiplying alongside the very important teaching, the very important building aspect.

We're not making disciples very well. Something needs to change. And not just a tweak. It actually calls for a radical, disruptive innovation in the way we do church. Lots more about that in these posts and in 12Church content. In the meantime, what's your DDP? What is your description of a disciple person? Are you a biblical follower of Jesus Christ? Because if we're called to make disciples, we've got to be disciples. We can't pass on what we ourselves are not.

Daren Wride

Founder, 12Church

In this blog Daren shares his latest learnings, resources and ideas about disciple making and leading on-mission groups of Christ Followers.