Making disciples for Jesus is not a haphazard process. It requires purposeful thought and a plan of action fit for the person you are discipling. The process should model the principles revealed in Jesus’ approach to training the twelve. A close examination of the four Gospels reveals clearly how Jesus approached the task of preparing the men He selected to assume His mission to the world.
Jesus knew that developing these men into spiritual leaders involved a process of training that encompassed their mind, character, relationships, service, and leadership. In essence, a new way of being, living, serving, and leading. Jesus was aware that each stage of development had to fit where the men were in their journey with Him. Therefore, each stage involved specific cognitive and experiential learning situations designed to achieve a definite purpose Jesus had in mind that would further their development for their ultimate mission. Jesus operated intentionally toward a specific outcome. As disciple-makers, we need to follow a similar thoughtful approach.
You may be asking this question, “so what was Jesus approach to discipling the twelve?” Being Jewish, Jesus followed a Hebrew model of teaching and learning. Teaching and learning took place in a relational and experiential way. The Hebraic approach involved training in all aspects of life – the mind, the way to live, and the way to relate and serve others. Jesus taught and modeled for the disciples His way of living and relating – His priorities, passions, and purpose. Jesus’ approach to training the twelve involved a simply sequential and systematic pattern.
- I do, you watch.
- I do, you help
- You do, I help
- You do, I watch
- You do it by yourself
Interestingly enough Jesus’ approach also involved a series of invitations. Each invitation involved a deeper commitment and life experience. With each additional invitation came new developmental opportunities and challenges. By being intentional in each stage of development, Jesus knew the men would ultimately be fully equipped as lifetime laborers advancing God’s kingdom agenda.
A closer look at Jesus’ approach to training the twelve disciples reveals several distinctive phases in their development. Consider, if you will, how Jesus fully equipped twelve common fellows for a world-wide ministry.
- Phase 1: “Come and see” (John 1:35 -4:46) – An invitation to explore. At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus invited four disciples to explore who He was and join Him where He was staying. The “come and see” phase was the period where the disciples gather information and investigate the nature of Jesus and His mission. By their actions, the disciples made a preliminary commitment to explore and consider the merits of aligning themselves with this new Rabbi. During this time frame, the disciples were present with Jesus at a wedding, when He cleansed the temple at Passover, and when He interacted with a Samaritan woman. At the conclusion of this phase, Jesus issued a challenge to the men to enter into His work and mission – to be harvest workers (John 4:35-38). But before He called them to follow, He lets them think about what they had learned and seen.
- Phase 2: “Come and follow me” (Matthew 4:18; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:27-28) – An invitation to learn. The call to follow was in essence Jesus’ recruitment strategy. It was a call to a life-long commitment; a call to submission and transformation; and a call to engage in Jesus’ mission. The invitation to follow also came with a cost. It required the disciples to leave their professions and families to travel with Jesus. It was during this phase that the four called fisherman learned what fishing for men was all about – it included catching the least likely; even a detestable tax collector. This phase in the disciples experience was much like basic training in that they were learning the fundamentals of what a commitment to follow Christ was all about. They were acquiring knowledge and understanding about what Jesus believed while gaining experience practicing certain spiritual disciplines. At the conclusion of this period of their training they were established disciples rooted and growing in their faith (Colossians 2:6-7).
- Phase 3: “Come be with me” (Mark 3:13-14) – An invitation to serve. It is during this period that Jesus selected from among His followers twelve disciples and appointed them as apostles. This designation meant they were moving into a new calling and role – from a student/learner to a spokesperson (the word apostle means messenger). Jesus, during this phase, focused primarily on preparing the twelve for ministry. He sent them out two by two to preach, heal the sick, and drive out demons. At the conclusion of this phase, the men who entered this period as established disciples were transformed into equipped laborers.
- Phase 4: “Remain in me” (John 15:5) – An invitation to multiple. In this phase of the disciples training Jesus taught some essential principles that would enable the disciples to carry out His mission into the world. First, He demonstrated and taught them what kind of character a leader must have to effectively influence others – the character of humility, love, and obedience (John 13:1-17; 34-35; 4:15, 21, 23). Then He told them that there would be a new and different way they would be relating to Him and to His Father. It is in this transition Jesus reiterates to the disciples that He must leave them, but would He would send another who would come alongside them to comfort, teach, guide and empower them (John 14:16; 25-27). Finally, Jesus taught the disciples, through the means of an allegory, the significance of the life giving union between the master and His followers. The eventual result of this union would culminate in bearing fruit (John 15:1-11).
- Phase 5: “Go for me” (John 20:21) – An invitation to represent. This invitation begins the final phase of Jesus earthly minister to the disciples. Shortly after His resurrection, while the disciples were locked away in hiding, Jesus appeared to them and said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21). Jesus then breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). Some 40 days later, Jesus commissioned the disciples. In His commissioning, Jesus gave His disciples specific instructions to go and make other disciples. They were to baptize the new disciples in name of the Trinity, and teach them to obey all of Jesus’ commands (Matthew 28:19-20). In essence, they were to invest in others by replicating the process they had experienced while traveling and living with Jesus.
What can we learn from the way Jesus made disciples? Here are some take a ways. You can add more.
- It is a process not program.
- It is intentional not accidental.
- It is both sequential and systematic.
- It is a long slow process, like a crockpot. It does happen in a microwave
- It allows a person who is interested to explore without pressure.
- It is relational, transformational, missional, and multi-generational.
- It requires commitment; commitment from both teacher and student.
- It requires submission. The student must submit to the guidance of the teacher.
- It requires training, discipline, and endurance.
- It involves an apprentice approach to learning – teaching, demonstrating, and practicing.
- It is designed to produce fruit – spiritual fruit and reproducible fruit.
- It involves counting the cost to follow Jesus.
- It invites into the process the least to the greatest.
- It requires qualities of humility, unconditional and sacrificial love, and faithful obedience.
- It requires a team to advance the potential impact of spiritual multiplication.
The ultimate lesson we can learn from Jesus approach to making disciples comes from Jesus’ own words, “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). “In Christ’s Image” is the outcome every disciple-maker strives for as they invest their life and walk alongside another individual. If we follow the principles found in Jesus’ model of making disciples, we will make disciples who can make disciples.