To make a disciple of Christ we have to BE disciples of Christ and move forward as brothers and sisters together. As a disciple-maker, you move into this relationship not as “one above the other,” but only as one with longevity, steadfastness, and experience in the faith. The qualifications for discipleship do not change. These will be the same requirements you share in common with anyone you disciple. You are part of the same branch and the same Spirit will flow in them and give life to and through them as it flowed through those who discipled you. It is God who disciples and teaches us. We shepherd under His leadership. We simply are the fountains through which He flows (John 7:38-39).
Qualifications of a disciple:
- You have trusted the atoning work of Christ’s blood sacrifice on the cross for your salvation (rescue and healing) to make you pure and holy before God, able to enter His presence and know Him for yourself, walking free from the judgment, guilt, and shame of both intentional and unintentional sin. In other words, BELIEVE.
- You have repented of sin and declare that “it is finished” along with self-centered living and instead, embrace righteousness and God-centered living. In other words, REPENT.
- You have been baptized in water and fire and are filled with the Spirit, making you a son or daughter of God (these should but do not always happen at the same time). In other words, BE BAPTIZED.
- You have left the world to follow Jesus, walking as He walked, in steadfast, reliant, obedience to the Father and His Word (as interpreted by Jesus), seeking His Kingdom, preaching the good news of the Kingdom, making disciples, loving and healing people in the Father’s authority, fanning into flame the spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit lavished upon and added to you as you eagerly desire them. In other words, FOLLOW.
- You sit at His feet and listen, both in community and individually, pulling away and spending quality time with Him in two-way conversation (prayer), fasting, and study, ministering to His heart because you love Him and His Word. In other words, WORSHIP.
These are the basic things that you will quickly be able to do (at the most basic level), communicate, show others how to do, and encourage and even build upon. But without meeting these requirements, you are not making disciples who make disciples, you’re making something else (church goers, hypocrites, pharisees, blind guides, false teachers/prophets, etc.). It’s important to get these five principles solid with supporting scripture memorized. After that, everything falls into place much more simply. Remember, we are not looking for perfection in ourselves or in others. We are looking for a new identity that leads to faithful and steadfast relationship with God and love-driven obedience to Christ. When you see these things happen in those you are discipling, encourage like crazy.
A Recipe for Disciple Making
I make a mean tortilla soup. It’s my go-to meal. I start with a cooked chicken, picked clean. I put the bones in a pot and cover them with water and cook them for several hours, making my own stock. Then, after straining out the bones, I throw the chicken back into the new broth and I add salt to taste, tons of cumin, and limes. This is the basic recipe. If any of this is missing, it’s not my soup. There are variations I make. Sometimes I add tomatoes or sour cream into the soup, but these are not mandatory. I also have a slew of toppings like tortilla chips, cheese, avocados, and sour cream, so each person can top their soup the way they like (because with four children, no one likes the same thing). These toppings are not mandatory, but add flavor and make a good thing even better. Before I serve the soup, I taste it to make sure I didn’t leave anything out and that all the components are melding well. If it needs salt, I add salt. If it needs zing, I add more lime. If I forgot something, I’ll know it.
Now, I can take my bowl of soup with all my toppings the way I like it and teach you how to make that very same exact bowl of soup, but then you would be missing the flexibility you would need to teach others how to make the soup—you would only learn to imitate what I do. In order to learn to make the soup in a way that you can share the recipe with others, you need to know which ingredients are essential and which are not, so that you do not put undue pressure on the people you share it with. In addition, there are some things which need to be done first, and others that can be added in no particular order. Learning how to make a good soup is something you practice, it is something that becomes yours over time, it’s not about perfection, but process. However, when the process is right, the result is, without question, “very good.”
In many ways, learning to make a disciple is like learning to make a delicious soup. I am not referring to a recipe that gives you what you need to exactly replicate a dish. Ferdinand Point, the chef who pioneered French cuisine as we know it, would not put any measurements in his recipes because the important thing was the process, not the exact reproduction. In the same way, making disciples is not a step-by-step, scientific method concerned with exact replication and identical reproduction. Each person will be different, and the process depends on the disciple-maker and what the disciple needs personally. On the other hand, the basic essence should not be too different in the sense that we are ambassadors of the same gospel, have the same Spirit, and all of these components we are teaching are biblically required for orthodox (non-heretical) followers of Jesus. As a point of interest (pun intended), Point also didn’t charge at his restaurant, and in the same way, we do not charge money for making disciples.
I test disciples in a similar to the way I taste the soup to see if it’s ready to serve. Your job as a disciple-maker is to help them make sure these basic requirements are present and accounted for. As a mature believer who meets these requirements (even if imperfectly), you will be able to walk them through what “ingredients” need to be added into their lives and give them the truth from scripture about how to walk in a deeper freedom in that area.
It’s a very personal process, so while you can teach in large groups, you can only really make disciples in small groups, because baby/immature believers need individual attention and actual affection and love. Until they are ready to serve, you need to serve them milk…intercede for and with them in prayer, give them what they need, while casting the vision that soon, they will be eating meat and serving milk to others. You’ll know they are ready when the aroma is just right. And you will make yourself available to help them as they start to give milk to others in obedience to Christ.
These basic factors of faith in atonement, repentance, baptism, following Jesus (in reliance and obedience), worshiping/resting at His feet, must be present in any person’s life as a mature disciple of Jesus. Maturity in Christ is hard to describe, but not difficult to notice. It creates an aroma, a presence of peace and joy that surrounds a person who is living as a disciple. It will be pleasing and attractive to those who are soft toward God (and repulsive to those who are against Him and His word, so train yourself for rejection and persecution, which I talk about here). And other mature believers will be able to sense when an “ingredient” is missing in another believer’s life.
The Difference Between Discipling and Teaching
Discipling is different than preaching, teaching, or prophesying. You can teach, preach, or prophesy truth to large crowds. But you cannot follow up with all of them or watch their lives to test for obedience and growth. Discipleship is intimate shepherding, and everyone is capable in this even if it is not your specific “gifting” (in the same way all are told to eagerly desire the gift of prophecy). When we preach and evangelize, we throw seed everywhere. We announce the kingdom to everyone we meet broadly, as God leads, on the understanding that we may be planting while someone else waters. But when we share our testimony and ask people if they want to know Jesus or if we lead a person to enter or return to true trust in Him, they become our responsibility. Not just to invite them to church events. They are our personal responsibility, like a baby coming home from a hospital. If you are anything like my husband and I, you might feel completely shocked that you are allowed this responsibility–that as a new parent you are allowed to leave with a fragile new baby, but that’s how it works. No one else is going to take care of them for you. Step up!
Selection and Cross-Training
As Jesus chose twelve people to disciple and only three to deeply confide in, you need to pay attention to your capacity. Again, you can preach to a large group, you can teach a large group, but you cannot disciple a large group. As a disciple-maker, church planter, and mobilizer, I would rather have ten men and women to disciple then two-hundred church attendees. Three reasons: 1) This is the model Jesus used. We walk as He walked. 2) This is the principle of multiplication. You make disciples who make disciples who make disciples and the growth is exponential, not additive (10x10x10x10=10,000 as opposed to 100+100+100+100=400). 3) Personal capacity. Can you disciple twelve people at a time? Probably…but not much more than that. Think about it. If the Son of God only chose twelve, what makes you think you have the capacity to disciple more? When you commit to discipling someone, you will be pouring into them your love, prayer, time, and attention so make your selection wisely by listening to the Holy Spirit, paying attention to who has He led you to and what He sees in them. You see them through God’s love, and will be discipling with God’s vision in mind, calling them to rise to what God has placed and will place in them by His Spirit. You discern these things in prayer and by observing their lives.
In Jesus’ time, most spiritual seekers would choose a Rabbi to follow, but it’s interesting that Jesus chose His disciples. If we are walking as He walked, we will need to carefully choose who we are discipling in accordance with God’s Spirit, who knows the heart. When we select people to disciple, we go fishing. We become fishers of men. We listen to the Spirit and ask questions. We discern. Are their hearts soft toward God or are they in rebellion, still insisting on their own definition of right and wrong? If a person is still in rebellion or resistant, you do not want to take them on as a close disciple in training. Just love them and pray for them. But if you see someone turn toward God and you notice a desire in them to talk about spiritual things, then that is someone you can pour into. There is an eagerness there. There is something in their spirit that cries out for milk, like you hear a baby cry. And you will start to hear it if you listen with spiritual ears. Set up a time to meet with them and ask them what God is doing in their life. If you like what you hear and it seems right to you and the Spirit, ask if they would like to set up a consistent meeting time and place to talk about Jesus and study the Bible together. It needs to be their choice to follow. Jesus demonstrated this. Some you invite will decline. Take heart. They did the same to Jesus. Above all this advice, follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit in deciding who to disciple, even if it seems ill-advised by human calculation.
When selecting disciples (and even further along the way), watch out for blind spots (we have no need for rose-colored glasses), and be honest with yourself and the disciple when you see red flags. If a disciple keeps sinning and is not willing to be held accountable and repent, do not keep discipling them in new things. Deal with spiritual bondage and sin and give them milk until the bondage/sin issue is put to death. Help them find help if things get beyond your expertise (in the case of chemical addiction, mental health, suicide, or marital issues), remembering that second opinions and cross-training from other believers is good! Just make sure you are sending them to Spirit-filled believers who follow Christ themselves, not worldly counselors.
Do not be afraid to disciple someone of the opposite sex. Jesus did (Mary of Bethany). But do it in groups. As a general guideline for selection, if you are doing one-on-one discipleship, men should disciple men and women should disciple women. If you find you are discipling a person of the opposite sex, pair them up with another disciple for regular meetings. If one person cannot make it one week, meet in a public place. While this may seem legalistic, it’s just wisdom, and by following it, you will avoid uncomfortable things you probably cannot imagine if you have not experienced them, which I hope you don’t. Remember, discipleship creates intimacy because we are sharing a love for Jesus, and the enemy can quickly turn a brother/sister relationship into unhealthy emotional or romantic attachments. Be aware of your own feelings too (no one is beyond the possibility of moral failure) and tell your spouse and a close brother or sister the moment things do not feel right in a discipleship relationship so you can pray together and discern a solution.
Also, if the person is married or engaged, always ask their partner to join you, so they can grow together. Bring them to your home to meet your family and do at least some discipleship sessions alongside your spouse. Introduce them to other strong, spiritually mature, believers in the same life-stage as soon as possible by inviting both couples to your home or introducing them with intentionality in a group setting. They will need community.
Zoom Out: The Long-View of the Journey
God desires and can empower the faith-filled, spiritual success of every single person you disciple, even and especially amid extreme temptation, trial, persecution, and loss, but growth in Christ is a lifelong process, and is usually not a smooth or always upward one. A new follower of Jesus has everything they need for life and godliness by God’s power (2 Peter 1:3). In many ways our disciples have an advantage over Christ’s disciples because they have the Holy Spirit accessible to them! If they can learn to walk by the Spirit from the outset, this makes faithful living possible even at a young spiritual stage of development. We also know that trials and persecution are necessary but moral failure, doubt, and desertion are not (even though they happen often). Some people will mature very quickly into disciple-making-disciples, others might take years with long breaks in between. When you hit a roadblock, zoom out. See the bigger picture of the whole journey. Remember the highs and lows of your own journey. Speak hope and life and encourage them to get back on track and always gently address sin or apathy in their lives.
God is taking each person on their own journey in which it is possible to go from strength to strength, but some will go through deep valleys of trouble or may even stop following Christ completely on their way as well. There may be growth, regression, more growth, and sometimes even betrayal and attrition from some of them. We can see this in Jesus’ disciples, so take heart. You can lead sheep to pasture and water but you cannot make them eat and drink. Be patient and faithful as a brother or sister as you make disciples and always encourage a return to Christ and rejection of sin by encouraging the good you see.
We are all in process. None of us have attained the full realization of who we will one day be, face to face with Jesus. Charlie Weir, my very wise youth pastor told me over and over as he shepherded me that “it is about the process, not the product.” We are not trying to create superhuman perfect Christian products. We are trying to raise up people who understand and operate in their new identity in Christ as delightful children, heirs, prophets, priests, and kings of the Most High God. This is our purpose. Practically, that identity is the natural result of BOTH thinking differently AND doing things differently that you did before you became a disciple.
If you are discipling a “Christian” who has been stuck in infancy for years because no one has discipled them in obedience to Christ and their participation in sonship and priesthood, you will know because they are still struggling with sin. Give them milk. Start from the beginning as if they have nothing. Start with teaching these five principles to give them a fresh start. Encourage them like crazy and give them low-pressure opportunities to serve the body. In order for you to disciple them, they must agree to accountability and to obedience to the word of God. So keep them accountable.
Learning how to be and make disciples of Jesus is actually very simple, because you are not replicating yourself (Praise God!), you are multiplying Christ in the world. You are simply implanting the seed of Christ into their hearts and watering adding nutrients or fertilizer for growth, and helping the life of Christ grow in them, encouraging them to hang tight as God takes rocks out and burns weeds—you are a worker among many workers in the field of human hearts and Christ is the thing growing. This is discussed at length here. Christ will grow naturally and firmly rooted if the soil is tended to until Christ reaches maturity in them. It cannot be emphasized that even as you are a worker in the field, you are also soil, and your heart matters to God. Pay attention and guard your heart, making sure to abide in prayer and the peace of God, for from it flows the wellspring of life (John 7:38-39; Proverbs 4:23).
And for those who think you’re not ready to make disciples yet, because you are not meeting these qualifications yourself, ask a mature believer to disciple you and move into maturity. You are meant for more than struggling with sin your whole life. That’s just the beginning of your life journey with Jesus. There’s so much more, and it’s so joyful! Step into what it means to rule and reign in the earth, even now, as a child of God, exercising your victory in Christ over powers and principalities, over sin, over your own selfish desires and announcing the kingdom of Jesus! I pray blessings over you as you run into all God has for you-this great adventure of walking as Jesus walked, making disciples who love Him as you do!
A Note on Numbers: When many come to Christ in mass gatherings through evangelists or pastors, they do not have the capacity to disciple everyone they convert. They deal with this issue in different ways. Billy Graham used to collect the information of new believers on cards and give them to local churches for follow up. Large churches may have a team of committed disciple-makers who pray about who to place the new believer with for discipleship training. Church communities often use Sermon time for teaching and Sunday School time for small group discipleship and fellowship, which works, but remember, numbers matter. If a group gets above 12-15 people, you will not be able to track spiritual growth, understanding or processing of scripture, or obedience. In classes like this, growth will be stagnated unless you establish a smaller group environment with the intent of making disciples that make disciples (maybe on a weeknight or as part of the class time). Again, if you have a discipleship team leading smaller groups, you can personally connect a new believer to a trained disciple-maker and move as a lead-shepherd between groups to oversee things. If you are gathering in homes for church fellowship, the same applies. As a general guideline, smaller groups need to be established for gatherings of more than twelve people. You need to make sure your leaders have been taught the basics of Christian life in a way they can teach it. I had a teacher tell me once that a person has to encounter the same information four times before they really know it. If a person can teach it without notes, they know it.
*Many of the ideas above (especially the list of training objectives that people can look at and self-assess) can be found in the book, The Lost Art of Disciple Making by Leroy Eims. It had a slightly different list, but similar, and contains an appendix with verses referring to each point. It is a very easy read with good practical advice for disciple-makers. Some practical resources Eims recommends are The Navigators short booklets like Beginning With Christ, with tear-out scripture memorization that may be useful when walking through their list with people. Ideally, you will eventually be able to disciple someone without relying on external resources because you have internalized everything and really know it experientially…that’s the goal. But if you need resources, by all means get them and use them. I will also be providing additional tools as we go through this blog series.