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Discipleship vs. Disciple Making


by Bobby Harrington:

Discipleship-first friends,

One of the things we champion at Discipleship.org is an emphasis on disciple making. We value the use of the expression “discipleship”—enough to name our whole ministry after it!—but we also appreciate the clarity that comes from a focus on disciple-making.

With permission, I am republishing a short article on this point by Sonlife’s Josh Yates that makes a good point about the expression “disciple making” … I hope you find it helpful:

You’ve probably seen one of these humorous grammatical sayings:

Let’s eat grandma!
Let’s eat, grandma!

Punctuation saves lives! These are two different meanings separated by the proper use of grammar.

A small comma can make a significant difference—a distinction that changes everything. As it is with discipleship and disciple making. One is a root word, disciple, with significant differences and outcomes. This is where the road divides—your definition on these two drastically different words will change the trajectory of your church. We don’t want to split hairs on issues that are not mission critical—but this one is.

How would you define the term “discipleship”? Try it out with some friends. Ask them to define discipleship and find a common theme. Here’s what has commonly been communicated to us from friends and colleagues about the word “discipleship.” It means to them:

The growth and maturity of the Christian to follow Jesus
A deeper study and growth group
It is a process of becoming equipped to overcome trials or temptations
Daily pursuit of spiritual disciplines
Assisting and helping others grow in their walk with God
Helping learn and implement tools for evangelism

What about disciple making? How would you define this term? Does it matter?

The definition of “disciple making” is rooted in a verb found in the New Testament Greek: mathetuo, which means to make disciples. Acts 14:21, “When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch.” In this verse, making disciples is connected to evangelism.

Matthew 28:19-20 defines making disciples as the whole process of conversion, baptism, and obeying the commandments of Jesus. Matthew 28 holds a command to “make disciples who can make disciples.” The process is intended to be repeated and ongoing. It is a lifetime of followership to the ways of Jesus, mimicking his pattern and priorities to make disciples in ordinary rhythms of life. “Disciple” becomes an action, a way of life.

What is interesting is that the word “discipleship” isn’t used in the Bible. I don’t blame people for using the term. It is a concept that I readily used, until recently. I have close friends and trusted ministry leaders who use the word discipleship as a holistic process from evangelism to maturity, but they are the few. Discipleship has largely become a term related solely to our growth as believers.

Jesus didn’t command us just to go deeper and have a “discipleship study” to mature. He asks us to make a disciple and teach them to follow Jesus. Many of us (myself included) often get stuck in traditional discipleship methodologies without actually first making disciples. Disciple making encompasses both evangelism and teaching to obey. Like two wings on the plane, both of these are equally important. Growth comes through reproduction … reproduction that continues to multiply.

Pause and think about the values and definitions used in your ministry.

Steps to embrace a disciple making culture in your church:

Use the language. Who is your disciple? Name them and pray for them.
Ask several key ministry friends to define “discipleship” and listen to what they say.
Check your heart, attitude, and actions toward making disciples.
Start equipping your people to reproduce … not just to “grow” but to “make.”

Click Here for more from Josh Yates

For King Jesus,

Bobby Harrington, Lead Servant, Discipleship.org

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