We can see from Jesus’ life that disciples are made in the following way:
Everything about Jesus’ life made an impression. His words and his actions were a united message. Everywhere he went he gave off a particular fragrance, exhibited a particular way of being, fleshed out a particular vision. His purity, his power, his authority, his conviction, his character, his single-mindedness – all made a powerful impact on people he met. His healings, his parables, his victory over demonic forces, his conflict with power, his welcome and inclusion of the poor and the outcast, his symbolic acts – all drew people’s attention towards his main theme – the arrival of the KINGDOM OF GOD – available for all who would submit to its claim no matter how broken, sinful or unworthy.
The first step of disciple-making is making an impression on others in the same way – speaking and acting in ways that attract people’s attention to the good news of the Kingdom.
As people responded to Jesus and his message, Jesus pressed his ‘followers’ and invited them into a deeper level of commitment and engagement that he called ‘discipleship’. This invitation was made in numerous ways, to different people, in different situations but each time the individual was made aware of the significance of the choice open to them. To follow Jesus, to become his apprentice, was always a rejection of an alternative way of living.
The second step of disciple-making is invitation. Jesus was very clear in his invitation and persistent. He was welcoming but also challenging. He gave people very clear ideas about what needed attention and invited them to make decisions about him.
The third step of disciple-making is out of our hands. Without it an individual will never grow as a disciple or experience the life that Jesus offers, but it is not ours to give. It is up to the person themselves. Just as no one learns to play the piano without wanting to, no one will become and grow as a disciple of Jesus without a deep desire to be one. Discipleship is a daily choice and the extent of our growth and development as a disciple will depend on the level of intention we bring to the process.
Jesus routinely checked out people’s levels of commitment and intention. Indeed, he consistently raised the bar for people to make sure that they understood that discipleship is not an added extra to life – but a reforming, a reordering of the whole of life. Jesus did not come to redecorate or repair our houses, he came to knock them down and rebuild them again. Only those who are happy with this level of intervention and surrender are his disciples.
Jesus was baptised and he told us to baptise new disciples. This is a vital part of the initiation process for someone entering into their new life in Christ. Baptism is the perfect initiation right for a new disciple.
Firstly, it is an identity marker giving you a new identity and self-understanding. It marks you out as having changed, as having been reborn, as having killed off the old life and as having become new.
Baptism is a moment of death and new life. It is a moment where we put to death our old life and invite Jesus to give us his new life. We let go of our control over our lives and allow Jesus to be our King.
Baptism is also a moment of washing and cleansing – a release of all the old stains and regrets of the past – a cleansing from the shame, the guilt and the sin of the past.
And lastly it is a moment of filling, equipping and empowering. Just as we ‘fill’ a sponge by immersing it, so a person is filled by the Spirit at baptism – empowered, equipped, commissioned and sent out into the world on mission.
Just as Jesus commanded his disciples to initiate others into his Kingdom by the act of Baptism we would expect a growing church to see adult baptisms as a regular part of normal life.
IMMERSION / IMITATION / INSTRUCTION
The final three I’s are how Jesus went about growing and maturing the disciples he had made. It is one thing to make a disciple and it is another to grow them.
Jesus said, ’Go and make disciples, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I have taught you.’
These three fit together and need continual attention, but we can see Jesus’ own progression in his straightforward command. The first aspect of growth is immersion into something. Just as a seed or plant that is immersed into fertile ground will stand the best chance of success and growth, so we are immersed into the life of Christ. Jesus used the word baptism, which means immersion. He told us to immerse disciples into the fullness of the trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We learn that this immersion is an immersion into the life of Christ and his body the church. Jesus immersed his disciples in his life and he shared his life with them in the fullest of ways. Disciples grow in the soil that they are immersed into.
Being immersed into Jesus’ life, the early disciples quickly noticed that Jesus did things differently and they began to learn a new way of living from him. They learned to expect different things and to trust in God by following his example. Copying and imitating Jesus they took increasingly bold steps of faith into his work and world. They learned by doing and by copying. They imitated Jesus.
Disciples today will learn and grow as they imitate others more mature in the ‘way’ and we need to offer young disciples the chance to step out in faith, even if they might sink, as this is how we learn.
The last aspect of growing disciples is instruction. Jesus taught his disciples with authority. He revealed God’s character, his plans, his holiness, his truth, his perspective by teaching them in numerous different ways – words, teachings, parables, proverbs, actions. He let the disciples learn and gave them responsibility for their own learning. He asked them questions to get them thinking. He pushed them into new ways of thinking.
When we talk about ‘discipleship’ we are often thinking of ‘courses’ or ‘programmes’ that we put on for people. And we often prioritise this form of disciple-making. Jesus taught and instructed his disciples in many ways and without a formal approach to his educational project. He taught on the way. He taught in small groups, and in large ones. He taught by actions and by words. Jesus wanted to teach. He is known as the world’s greatest teacher. To make disciples ourselves we will need to learn to teach his teaching like he taught his disciples.
You can download a PDF version of this here: The SEVEN I’s of disciple-making
Reviewing our own disciple-making process
Using the seven headings, evaluate the way that your church currently makes and grows disciples. This will help you discern more accurately which part of the disciple making/growing process you do well and where you could improve things.
- To what extent are we making an impact in our community, in our workplaces etc? What kind of things do people do that make an impact?
- How are we expressing the reality of the Kingdom of God? (healing, forgiveness, justice, enemy love, generosity etc)
- How are we giving people a taste/flavour of God’s love?
- How good is our invitation?
- What kinds of events or activities do people invite others to?
- What stops members inviting their friends and colleagues to church services, events, groups or activities?
- How good is our invitation to consider the life of Jesus and what it means? What holds us back from making invitations to people?
- How are we helping people decide for Christ?
- What barriers may exist that are preventing this from happening?
- How do we let people know what they are letting themselves in for?
- What costs do we downplay in out invitation?
- What is our approach to baptism?
- Does it give people a new identity, put to death their old lives, give them a new life in Christ, wash them and cleanse them and equip, fill and commission them for mission?
- How are we preparing people for baptism?
- To what extent are we involving disciples in life and mission alongside others?
- How are we developing the discipling culture of the church community?
- To what extent are parents creating a discipling culture in their families for their children?
- Are young people supported in their discipleship by others?
- What is the community life of your church like?
- How much life do people spend with each other?
- Are people immersed in the life of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – or do we focus on just some aspects of his life?
- To what extent are individuals holding themselves accountable to others?
- How connected are people with others?
- Who is shaping who?
- How are we developing new leaders?
- What habits of life are being picked up from others?
- How are we training, growing, nurturing, teaching our disciples?
- Are there particular groups of people we train better than others?
- What forms of training and instruction do we favour?
- How can we teach people on the job?
- Do we omit some aspects of teaching because it’s hard?