Why Build Disciples?
by Dr. Waylon B. Moore
Jesus' last command to His church was to
make disciples of all nations
(Matthew 28:19-20). Years ago, a Billy Graham Team member spoke to my heart at
a pastor's conference. If you're making converts and not disciples, five
years from now you'll have less help than today, and more problems. To have a
Biblical and lasting ministry, all of us must make disciples. Could this
be one major reason so many pastors and missionaries are losing heart?
All of us desire to help the sick, the broken, those needing counseling and
immediate lifting. We freely give private time to problem people.
And seeing at times little response through this costly time process, we
neglect the staggering potential of giving priority time to potential
people . . . discipling as Jesus did for three years. Surely we want to be
like our Lord. Then why have so many stopped with Jesus' public ministry as
their model, excluding His private ministry of making disciples? Jesus keeps
If any man serve me let him follow me.
Would you spend as much time preparing yourself to meet the needs of one
person as you would preparing a sermon for five thousand? How much do you
believe in the potential of one? ~ K. Bruce Miller
Old Testament Discipling
The concept of sharing with another what God is sharing with you is centuries
old. Moses opened his heart and life to Joshua. But the sharing approach wasn't
a natural idea for Moses. God set a pattern for instruction by
Moses to share his life with Joshua in Deuteronomy 3:28:
But charge Joshua, and encourage him, and strengthen him; for he shall go
over before this people.
Moses was to pour into his apprentice, Joshua, all that God was teaching him.
This meant giving Joshua much personal time in which he would learn by
observation and conversation. God's servant Moses became a human channel for
developing Joshua into a servant of God.
Why would God have to command Moses to break away from a pattern of ministry to
the thousands to touch just a single life? Because it is a man's natural
tendency to see the needs of the many
rather than to see the potential in a single life surrendered to God's total
will. As Sam Shoemaker once said, Men are not hewn out of the mediocre
mass wholesale, but one by one.
Elijah, too, had disciples, in a school for young prophets. Through this band
of men, God would work to bring either revival or judgment to Israel. Among
them was Elisha, a like-hearted young man. Amazingly, Elisha asked Elijah for a
double portion of his power with God. He had seen the miracle and might of God
through the strong arm of Elijah. Through discipline and vision sharing,
Elisha had learned to ask bold things of God.
There are other Old Testament examples of one person investing his life in
another's: David with his mighty men; the patriarchs' training of their
children; and the concrete commands of fathers to teach their children who
would in turn teach their own (see Deuteronomy 4:9 and 6:6-7
). This teacher-pupil emphasis laid a foundation for the ministry of discipling
in the New Testament.
Jesus' Public Ministry
Jesus had a broad public ministry, involving four basic approaches.
The multitudes heard of the kingdom, of judgment on religious hypocrisy, and
of the nature of God through Jesus' preaching. He brought new revelation to
Old Testament concepts buried in tradition. He revealed the ultimate truth
The common people heard him gladly
(Mark 12:37) as He preached with love and authority.
He taught as no man had ever taught to the multitudes on a hillside
overlooking the Sea of Galilee, to groups in villages, to individuals in the
privacy of their homes, to the curious, and to the committed. He revealed
truth in its raw purity through parables that illuminated the reality of life.
It is not surprising that He used all ten methods of teaching catalogued by
No one ever left Jesus' presence still wanting wholeness. On one occasion,
many people gathered around Him,
And the whole multitude sought to touch him; for there went virtue out of
Him, and healed them all
(Luke 6:19). A world without hospitals and medical insurance found the Great
Physician and sought never to let Him go.
He performed miracles.
The crowds hovered about and followed as the Master healed the leper, gave
sight to the blind, fed multitudes, and raised the dead. His disciples were
awed when He calmed the storm. In the stillness that followed, they saw Jesus
walking on the water through the mists toward their boat.
Historically, the Christian Church has embraced each of these aspects of
Christ's public ministry, but it has often neglected the examples set by Christ
in His private ministry.
Jesus' Private Ministry
Jesus also had a strategic private ministry that was so simple that it has been
overlooked as a principle of Church mission. The compelling commitment of
Christ was to build disciples who would multiply the message of His life,
death, and resurrection to all nations. He said,
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go
and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the
Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey
everything I have commanded you. . . .
(Matthew 28:18-20, NIV).
If we are to copy Jesus' total ministry, then the Church must reach out both
in evangelism and in the establishing of converts. As the converts grow, they,
too, can be taught how to equip and train other believers who in turn will
reach others through the process of spiritual multiplication.
Soul-winning is not disciplemaking, but soul-winning is vital if the disciples
are going to be able to reproduce themselves in the lives of others. Evangelism
is the first link in the chain of spiritual multiplication.
Churches with an overemphasis on baptisms and programs, or an undue concern for
quality membership, must reconsider Christ's command to make
disciples. Saving souls and building disciples are inseparably linked in Scripture.
Disciplemaking Is A Workable Method
In reviewing my motivation to disciple others, I remember how someone cared for
me and how that loving care and the subsequent flow into my life of what
he had learned from God changed my life. Disciplemaking has no prestige rating,
no denominational category; but the results are consistently better than
anything I have experienced in more than 30 years of working with people. There
are several reasons.
is one of the most strategic ways to have an unlimited personal ministry.
It may be done at any time, by anyone, anywhere, and among any age group.
is the most flexible of ministries.
Since it need not be done within any time frame or organizational structure,
the disciplemaker can be extremely flexible.
is the fastest and surest way to mobilize the whole body of Christ
The goal of discipling is not just more disciples, for a club comprised of
saved souls will soon die without effective penetration into the lost world.
One of the fastest ways to increase baptisms and deepen the quality of life of
those reached for Christ is through discipling. Making disciples in all nations
becomes both a result of evangelizing and a means to the accomplishment of
has more long-range potential for fruit than any other ministry.
The Lord wants us to be rooted and built up in Him and established in the
faith (see Colossians 2:6-7
). This takes time and care. Caring for people is the
essential component. Follow-up is done by some
rather than some
will provide the local church with mature lay leaders who are
Christ-centered and Word-oriented.
The pew warmers are many; the laborers are few. Laborers are a product of
Spirit-guided discipling in the church. Building into the lives of others is
God's plan for raising up new deacons, teachers, and other church leaders. The
nominating committee's appeal for workers will become a shout of praise to God
when church members are multiplying Christ-like disciples.
The Cycle of Leadership
As we have just seen, building disciples develops the future leaders of the
church. How then can we accelerate leadership training in order to be prepared
for the future?
Evangelism is the means to making converts and the training ground for
developing disciples. When the church exhales disciples, it inhales converts;
thus, the church grows. Discipleship is the fastest way to multiply leaders who
will expedite both evangelism and discipleship.
My illustration of the "Cycle of Leadership" in the local church may help you
understand the multiplication of leaders. The figure is intended not as a black
and white categorization of people in the church, but as a representation of
levels of growth within the church.
Through follow-up the convert is loved, fed, protected, and trained. He becomes
a disciple, a growing follower of Christ. As the disciple receives individual
training (by a more mature disciple), he becomes able to multiply. A multiplier
has trained one or more disciples who have reached another. A builder of
multipliers trains other multipliers.
The discipling process is represented by the arrows going down as each
leader develops growing disciples. The cycle is completed and begins again as
each convert grows to his full potential in the likeness of
Christ, represented by the arrows pointing towards the builder. The arrows
reaching out into a lost world represent church evangelism by all who are
Spirit-led converts, disciples, multipliers, and builders.
This cycle of leadership is a visual concept of church growth through receiving
training for the task and reaching out to the unsaved. Through a
person-to-person ministry, the multipliers (the first generation) advise,
encourage, and sharpen disciples (second generation). In a few weeks or months,
God develops a team of witnesses. They visit friends, relatives, neighbors, or
job contacts, and some people are born again. When these second generation
disciples have won converts (third generation), multiplication has begun.