5 Principles for Effective Disciple-making in the 21st Century

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Jesus’ clear and compelling invitational challenge of “come follow Me” has not changed. It was these three words that opened the door to transformational living for those to whom he extended it. It was these three words that demanded a response. It was these three words that set into play a path on which people could choose to navigate.

The invitation was consistent. The invitation was clear. The invitation was full of challenge. The invitation did not change in regard to the person or the situation. The impact of the invitation was dependent upon the response of the one to whom the invitation was extended.

When Jesus crossed paths with Peter and Andrew, he extended the invitation to follow him. And at his invitation it was reported, “They left their nets at once and followed him” (Matt 4:19).  For them, the invitation of Jesus resulted in them letting go of what was in order to discover what could be.

In another invitational conversation, he offered a wealthy person the invitation to follow him. The wealthy person’s first response was enthusiastic. But, Jesus noted something in him and added a challenge to his invitation. The challenge was to sell all that he had, then to follow him (Mark 10:21). This dampened the man’s enthusiasm. “At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions” (Mark 10:22). This person responded to the invitation by holding on to the known at the expense of the unknown. It seemed his willingness to follow was contingent on minimal risk.

The invitation to follow Jesus has not changed. As it was in the first century, so it is in the twenty-first century; people are being compelled to respond to the opportunity extended by Jesus to come follow him. It is those who respond, as Peter and Andrew did, who set out on the path of discipleship. The question becomes: How do we effectively make disciples at this time in God’s history?

There are five key principles that influence effective disciple-making. These principles determine process, structure, and material for disciple-making. Effective disciple-making must incorporate the following:

1. Effective disciple-making must be relational: It has to have an element of life on life. People are discipled in relationship, not in the transference of knowledge or content.

2. Effective disciple-making must be biblical: The word of God is the central basis for making disciples. A disciple is a follower of Christ. How better to understand who you follow than to read about who he was, how he thought, and what he did.

3. Effective disciple-making must be applicable: If a disciple-making process does not impact how people live out in the world, it is merely religious ritual. Disciples bring the Kingdom of God into the realms they have been placed. They need the foundation to do this.

4. Effective disciple-making must be accountable: Accountability is the runt of many a disciple-making process. This accountability goes beyond getting assignments completed. It holds those serious in following Christ to living out that faith in daily life.

5. Effective disciple-making must be reproducible: Reproducing other disciples is often the missing piece of disciple-making. Genuine disciple-making has happened when other disciples have been multiplied. The going and making of disciples is a lifelong process.

These five principles should be the filter used in developing, implementing, and evaluating disciple-making in our ministries. Consistently ask the five disciple-making questions:

What is the relational impact?
How is the bible used?
How are you applying what is being discovered in daily life?
How are people being held accountable?
How is what you are doing begin reproduced?

Disciple-making is the call of every Christ follower. The call to “Go and make disciples” continues to be the intent of Jesus’ mandate to his church. What will we do to fulfill this mandate in our lives and faith communities?