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Fulfilling the Commission to Make Disciples

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Ralph Sorter

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matt. 28:19-20)


            Jesus’ last words before He ascended into Heaven were to make disciples of the nations.  Until that commission is fulfilled, our task is incomplete.  You and I are commissioned by our Lord to make disciples, and the beautiful thing about Jesus’ method of making disciples is a workable means of fulfilling this passage: "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matt. 24:14)

            What was Jesus’ method?  In the nutshell, He selected a small group of men, issued them a challenge to follow Him and place themselves under His tutoring, and then He commissioned them with various assignments until they were ready to duplicate the process in others.  One wins one, disciples them, trains them to win and disciple others…and then you have two disciple makers.  As that process is duplicated again and again, you have a workable method of reaching the world and seeing Jesus Christ return.

            Thus, in the church, you have people at various levels of maturity and service to the Lord.  The diagram illustrates that flow.  Discipleship is the Lord’s process of developing maturity and preparing people for service.  As one is faithful in small things, they are entrusted with greater things.

                The word, “disciple” is mathetes in Greek, meaning: a learner; not only a pupil, but also one who adheres to what is taught.  Hence, they are spoken of as imitators of their teacher.  1 Cor. 4:14-17; 2 Tim. 2:2

            No one is without sin, so as disciples are taught, they must discern what should be imitated and learned from their teacher and that which should not.  Heb.13:7; 3 John 9-12; 1 Cor. 11:1

            Thus it is important that the body of Christ select those who are spiritually mature to be examples and teachers of others.  Ja. 3:1-2


            There are many models of making disciples and each has its strength for their targeted purpose.  One may informally disciple another for the sake of encouragement to keep the new convert growing in the Lord, helping them face and overcome obstacles, and teaching them Bible basics.  More formal methods are productive in training small group leaders, teachers, intern staff members, church planters, etc.  Our Bible colleges offer another model of discipling. 

For various end results, one might disciple someone one-on-one, or a group of people.  Large classes and even seminars with hundreds of people are both methods of discipling that have a purpose, depending on the need.  Some churches have cottage home groups that study the message the pastor delivered from the pulpit on Sunday morning, with prepared study questions.

            Depending on the church’s objective, or the objective of a single teacher, one may use a  prepared curriculum, or develop their own.  Sometimes it is advantageous to lay aside the curriculum for a session and address the disciple’s current questions/problems and do a spontaneous Bible study.


1.      Anyone in the local church can do individual discipling.  You simply share with another what the Lord has lead you to understand about His Word, or what the Lord is doing in your life.  You can simply lead someone else in the steps that you have already taken.

2.      Individual ministry is carried out as you counsel the lost, the sick, and the discouraged that have needs.  But intentional discipleship is to give time to people who have potential.

3.      Working with individuals shows the commitment that Christ had to each of His disciples.

4.      Most people do not have the time or the ability to be closely involved in the lives of a number of individuals, so one-on-one discipling is more practical for them.

5.      Assignments and training can be paced according to the individual’s needs.

6.      Individual discipling is easily copied.

7.      There is the freedom to easily give exhortation, correction, and admonition in individual discipling.

8.      The life of the teacher is in close view by the disciple.

9.      Deep needs of the disciple surface more easily in individual discipling.

10.  Individual discipling is the most rapid way to develop spiritual leaders who can multiply disciples.


1.      Group discipling is effective in churches where there are many needing to be discipled, but few disciplers.  It is effective for training a group who will later be given individual assignments.

2.      A person can move in and out of the group without destroying the group.

3.      It keeps people from feeling put on the spot.

4.      The discipler can use a variety of teaching methods.

5.      It is a time-saver for the discipler to be able to teach several people the same subject matter.

6.      It can be very stimulating as people interface with questions and different applications.

7.      Once momentum gets going, others outside the group can become more interested in joining.

8.      The results of general correction and exhortation are not as offensive or confrontational as in individual discipling.

9.      The group can pray for and meet the needs of others in the group.

10.  Groups are effective means of channeling in people for a more intensive discipling training time.

11.  The Holy Spirit can use many people in the group to teach one another.

12.  Spiritual gifts can be exercised by different members in order to build up and balance out the group.


            The first principle is: determine what your goals are.  Your goals determine your approach.  If doctrine is needed to be passed along or general church objectives, then you can share that in a group as well as with individuals.  If you want to teach skills, then group or individual approaches may work.  If you want to train people in these skills, then you must decide whether this skill is best taught one-on-one or in a group.

            The second principle is: choose to be effective and not just efficient.  Being effective would mean that you choose what is best for the individuals in the group and not for the group as a whole.  This might mean having to spend more time with different people one-on-one.  The monster of efficiency says to do it the easy way.  The call of effectiveness says to do it the best way.

            The third principle is: realize that one-on-one discipling is always done with the backdrop of the group and vice versa.  That is why the discipler must let their disciple see the body of Christ at work in the church.  It’s also why the teacher of a group must spend one-on-one time in order to meet the individual needs.  Individual discipling as well as group discipling must take itself outside the comfort zone each method enjoys and must venture into each other’s territory.

            The fourth principle is: overseeing those under your responsibility.  The maximum number of people you can train is how many you can oversee doing that skill.  The more people you have to observe, the less capacity you have for check up.  You must be able to determine on some fairly consistent basis, what was done well, what opportunities there are for improvement, and exactly what is on target.

            The fifth principle is: life exchange.    We must be around people we are discipling more than the hour or so we spend for Bible study.  If we really want to pass on God’s convictions to others, we must do three things.  We must be transparent because this allows others to identify with us.  We must also expose them to the truth via the Word of God and by our life.  And we must get our cues from God on when to talk about different concepts.  It takes time to build spiritual truths in people’s lives.  Therefore, love is spelled TIME.  Jesus’ disciples were not set on fire by theories.  It was His life that convinced them of the truth of His words.  John 1:14  


            “Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.”  (Acts 14:21-22)

            Helping those young in the faith advance toward spiritual maturity requires discernment of which training objective you need to take them through.  This is determined by an individual assessment.  Training objectives are designed to stimulate progress on the path of maturity.  Here is a list of vital areas to consider.

1.      Assurance of Salvation

2.      Developing a Quiet Time/Prayer Life

3.      Separation from/Victory over Sin

4.      Read/Study/Meditate on the Word

5.      Memorize/Apply the Word

6.      Lordship of Christ/Obedience

7.      Developing a Stronger Faith

8.      Learning/Living God’s Kind of Love

9.      Dealing With Sin

10.  Stewardship of Time, Talent, Treasure

11.  Knowing/Discerning the Will of God

12.  The Trinity of the Godhead

13.  The Work of the Holy Spirit in us

14.  Knowing Your Enemy/Spiritual Armor

15.  Personal Testimony and Witnessing

16.  World Vision and Our Mission


            As one grows in the knowledge and grace of our Lord, there will be development in their character as well as maturity in their ministry.  Disciples need to become disciplers, reproducing again the cycle of growth.  For this to take place, disciples must see Jesus in the life of their teacher, translating the character of Jesus into their own life.  As we manifest God’s love and character to our disciples, we can cultivate those who someday will disciple others.


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