How Jesus Trained Disciples

A Hot Topic

Discipleship is a hot topic in evangelical circles these days. Unfortunately, recent research indicates we are much better at talking about making disciples than we are at making it happen. A 2015 Barna survey revealed that only 1% of pastors surveyed believe we are doing a good job of discipling new and young believers. To see the survey (CLICK HERE).

Jesus Defines Discipleship

On more than one occasion, I have been asked about my definition of discipleship. I admit I do not have a personal preference since I think it is impossible to improve on the one Jesus gave in Mark 1:17 when he chose his disciples.  Since he is the original disciple-maker, how can we improve on this?

And Jesus said to them, “Follow me,

and I will make you become fishers of men.”

In eleven words in the English translation, Jesus defined the mission he was calling his original disciples to fulfill. In fact, we can easily reduce his definition into two words – Follow and Fish. Following indicates fellowship with the Master to learn to live how he lived. Fishing is the natural outflow of walking with (following) the Master. His life and ministry clearly demonstrate his practice of “catching” people in order to bring them into an abiding relationship with him.

Jesus Models the Method

You can learn so much by watching someone skilled and experienced as they model a process. The apprentice carpenter learns as their master (teacher) demonstrates how to correctly perform a task. The process is the same in discipleship: the Master skillfully trains his disciples by modeling a life on mission; he assists them as they learn a new lifestyle; he watches as they live it out; he provides guidance and then launches them to carry on his mission.

Robert Coleman’s The Master Plan of Evangelism is a brief (100 pages) but powerful analysis of Jesus’ ministry of equipping disciples who make disciples. Written 58 years ago (1963), it has become a book I treasure. I return to it when I find I am experiencing personal ministry drift. Coleman identifies eight characteristics of Jesus’ discipleship plan.

  • Selection – After observation and prayer, Jesus chose them (John 15:16) and they became the center of his attention
  • Association – His discipleship process included extensive time with his disciples (Mark 3:14)
  • Consecration – He expected commitment to the mission and the demands of discipleship were stringent (Luke 9:62)
  • Impartation – His focus on his mission served to give them an example of the sacrifice necessary to complete the mission (John 4:34)
  • Demonstration – He modeled every aspect of discipleship so that his disciples would have a clear picture of what it meant to continue his mission
  • Delegation – He gave them practical experience in ministry to prepare them for the day when the work would be in their hands (Mark 6:7)
  • Supervision – His debriefing sessions following challenging events and ministry opportunities accented and reinforced their learning experiences
  • Reproduction – In the end, his goal was to reproduce himself in them and enable them to continue his mission (John 20:21).

I keep a small supply of Coleman’s book on hand so that I am prepared to share this small treasure with fellow ministry leaders as often as possible. It is a great introduction to a biblical, simple, reproducible, and economical pattern for making disciples who make disciples.

Missional Strategist

Mike Reed

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