Discpling People Like Jesus Did: 8 Foundational Principles

With the passing of Dallas Willard today, it seemed fitting that I continue my impromptu series on discipleship. Perhaps the classic work on discipleship of the past century is Robert Coleman's, The Master Plan of Evangelism. In this short but dense book, Coleman identifies and elucidates 8 underlying principles of Jesus' disciple-making method. Over the past few months, your Monday night discussion leaders have been working through this book. I thought it'd be helpful to give you a summary of the book, as we seek to create a disciple-making culture. Here are the 8 principles, along with some personal musings on their implications.

  • Selection – Be intentional about selecting disciples. Pray. Think. Pray some more. Select people who express a hunger for God (not merely a hunger to meet with you). They don’t need to be mature (they won’t be!), but they do need to be hungry. They should also have a healthy discontent with the status quo in their lives and in the world around them.
  • Association – You can’t disciple someone you don’t know. The deeper the relationship, the more effective the discipleship. Make time for disciples. Spend planned time with them. Spend unplanned time with them. Say “no” to other relationships so that you can say “yes” to more interaction with them. Prioritize ministry to the few over ministry to the many.  
  • Consecration – Expect commitment. Set clear goals for the relationship. Don’t leave expectations undefined or vague. (As Mike Breen says, "no one accidentally makes disciples"). Disciplers push people to do what they don’t instinctively want to do in order to become who they instinctively want to become. Encourage and comfort, but don’t be afraid to strategically admonish and exhort.  
  • Impartation – Give yourself away. Give your resources, your time, your energy, your wisdom, and above all – your love – to your disciples. Communicate affirmation constantly. Perform acts of kindness. Give gifts. Be thoughtful and proactive about building into these people.
  • Demonstration – Set an example, and do it self-consciously. Serve, pray, explain Scripture, witness and worship in front of your disciples. Live with such intentionality that they say, “teach me how to do what you're doing" (see Luke 11:1-6).
  • Delegation – Assign work. Give concrete tasks. Think about the experiences you want your disciples to have, and then craft those experiences. Once your disciples have watched you do something for awhile, invite them to try it (e.g. leading a Bible study, prayer, a discussion, a service project, etc.).
  • Supervision – You can expect only what you inspect. Follow up with your disciples. If tasks are uncompleted, continue encouraging and motivating disciples until they complete them. Constantly review and apply what you’re learning. Tasks provide teachable moments.
  • Reproduction – Communicate the end from the beginning; your disciple should know that he’s/she’s in the process of becoming a disciple-maker. Don’t stop discipling someone until they’re confident enough to make another disciple. That’s when you know they’ve reached a crucial maturity benchmark (Luke 6:40).

Maybe this list intimidates you. Rest assured that it intimidates me. The questions we have to face are these; (1) has Jesus called us to make disciples, and (2) if so, how should we go about doing it? I believe Jesus has called each one of us to discipleship. G.K. Chesteron once said that, "anything worth doing is worth doing badly." How true this is with regards to disciple-making! May we try and fail, and try again, confident that (1) God has called us to the task, (2) God never calls us to a task without providing the power to do it, and (3) God's grace is sufficient for all of our discipleship mishaps and failures.