Stage Five – Inspire

Series | Making Disciples

This is the final stage in the practical discipleship plan of attack. In Stage Five the disciple exits the process as a discipler.

The disciple has been taught. He’s watched how it’s done. He’s rolled up his sleeves in the work of the ministry alongside his discipler. He’s received constructive criticism to help him get better. By now the bulk of his training is complete and he’s ready to be on his own. So the fifth TASK of the disciple-maker is to inspire. This is probably my least favorite word, but it fits (for more than just alliteration). The PURPOSE is encouragement. Making disciples is hard work. Difficulties and heart heaviness are regular occurrences. Sometimes disciples need a shot in the arm.

The ROLE of the discipler becomes that of a resource. The need for constant interaction diminishes, but the disciple turned discipler may run into something he hasn’t encountered before. Maybe an unusual circumstance or knotty theological question surfaces. Maybe he needs seasoned counsel, wisdom from experience, or just someone to pray for him. But he has access to advice whenever he asks. Therefore the discipler utilizes the MOTTO of “Keep it up.” and is always available for assistance.

The PRINCIPLE is spiritual reproduction, much like the proper goal of parenting. Good parenting isn’t about providing or doing everything for the children. It aims to train kids how to be adults; how to accept and fulfill responsibilities. That doesn’t happen if dad always builds the Soap Box Derby car or never lets his son make a decision. Mom hinders growth by always being the one to braid her daughter’s hair or by constantly defending her. Yes, kids need more care at the beginning and it may be a slow train to maturity. But parents find out whether they were successful when their young person leaves the house, not by them living at home forever. Even then, however, they provide a different kind of attention when the kids are grown and have families of their own. So a discipler knows he’s succeeded when he sees and serves spiritual grandchildren.

Jesus was gone when the disciples took the gospel from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and then to the ends of the earth. He could do that because everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. (Of course, Jesus didn’t leave His disciples without a Helper). When we entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also the process continues even when we’re absent.

Our goal is to see every person complete in Christ. Another way to say it is, we work to see each person independently dependent on Christ. An independent person is one who looks for things that need doing and does them without someone else constantly looking over their shoulder. A mature disciple doesn’t need constant supervision though every disciple remains dependent on Christ. So a discipleship purpose statement might look something like this:

We labor to help every person establish godly habits, motivated by love for Christ, that will cause them to be independently dependent on Christ for the rest of their lives, while helping others do the same.1

The relationship between a disciple and his discipler purposefully changes over time if discipleship is effective. But whether disciples move on to minister near or far, disciplers are always ready resources.


  1. We don’t expect to complete this objective in student ministries, even by the time a senior graduates. But we do aim to equip students as much as possible in the six years we have them and hope they enter the next stage of life more like Christ in character and service than when we got them.

Stage Four – Improve

Series | Making Disciples

There are always more ways for a disciple to grow no matter how well instructed they are or how many examples they’ve observed or even if they’re heavily involved the process. That’s what Stage Four is for.

stage four: improve

By this point in the process the disciple should be busy reaching out to others. He’s been pushed out of the comfort of the nest and is learning to fly on his own. If he’s normal he will suffer through at least a few crashes. So the fourth TASK of a disciple-maker is to help the disciple improve, not only in personal obedience but in ministry. The PURPOSE is to increase their effectiveness. Though no technique exists that guarantees spiritual success, the discipler can give guidance and encouragement even when it appears the disciple flopped.

As the disciple ventures out on his own the discipler takes the ROLE of a constructive critic. This evaluation isn’t for the sake of discouragement but for betterment. Maybe an evangelism exchange could have been more accurate or a counseling conversation could have been more gentle. But mistakes and failures are not the doom of discipleship, instead they provide platforms for development. In this stage the MOTTO is “I watch you.” and then help make it better.

Again, the Master lived with His disciples, taught them, trained them, modeled for them, sent them out, and then debriefed them. For example, in Mark 6 He sent them out with partners and gave them all the instruction they needed for their short term assignment. Later they returned to Jesus and told Him all that they had done and taught. This retreat was for rest and no doubt they also discussed their successes, setbacks, and what they could do better next time.

The PRINCIPLE is supervision; follow up for the sake of adjustment, correction, and encouragement. In order to make progress disciples need to make decisions and do the work without always having their hand held. But diligent and regular review will realign and reinforce where necessary.

Maturing disciples don’t always need their discipler present. But they do need faithful follow up in order to move forward with only one more stage to go.

Stage Three – Involve

Series | Making Disciples

The practical plan of discipleship starts with instruction and includes living illustration. In Stage Three the disciple develops even further toward becoming a discipler.

stage three: involve

Teaching biblical doctrine and demonstrating how to follow Christ is fundamental to making disciples. But that’s not all we can do. Since we also want our disciple to make disciples of his or her own we must bring them in to the process. So the third TASK of a disciple-maker is to involve the disciple in service and ministry for the PURPOSE of giving them experience.

Explaining Scripture and being a Christian example isn’t necessarily the same thing as discipling. It is possible (though not as valuable) to watch someone from a distance and listen to good teaching on the radio. I assume there are probably people watching me who have little to no relationship with me. That’s okay because I can still model obedience for people I don’t know. And I can certainly instruct people without ever talking to them individually.

But disciplers get involved. They open the hood, take the engine apart (or put it back together), and get four hands dirty, not just two. The ROLE is more than teacher or example, it is partner. The MOTTO is “We do together.” The discipler says, “I’ve told you about it, you’ve seen me do it, now we’re both going to do it.”

Jesus lived with His disciples for three years. As they matured He increased their responsibilities. Jesus wanted His disciples to work side by side with Him. He assigned them to pass out the loaves and fishes. They listened to Him, watched Him, and worked alongside of Him. The Master’s plan followed the PRINCIPLE of delegation. No doubt there were discipleship purposes, not just logistical advantages, when Paul took young men along on his missionary journeys.1

Practically speaking, Stage Three requires a focus on the few to reach the many. No one has enough time to be involved and be partners with everyone. Jesus Himself didn’t do that. He had 12 key disciples and three of them were even closer than the rest.

We cannot experience growth and ministry with everyone. Besides, will we have greater influence by spending 60 minutes with one person or one minute with 60 people? How will we maximize our investment? By pouring much time and energy into a small number of disciples (maybe only one at the beginning) the earlier they’ll be ready to pour into others, multiplying our ministry.

Working shoulder to shoulder exposes not only the disciples’ weaknesses and shortcomings, but ours too. Sometimes we can hide certain elements of our example. But we can’t work together very long before our partner realizes what we’re good at and what we’re not good at. It takes humility to involve someone else in our lives and in our ministry, but it is a necessary part of the development process. And it’s good for them to see our deficiencies because it isn’t about our perfection, it’s about participation.


  1. Discipleship Evangelism utilizes the same procedure. At the start, verses and the evangelism outline must be memorized. Then there are visits where the trainer does all the talking as an example. At a certain stage, the trainer involves the trainee in the discussion. Eventually the trainee is expected to do all the talking and the trainer is just a resource. But that’s an upcoming stage.

Stage Two – Illustrate

Series | Making Disciples

Making disciples requires instruction, but verbal communication isn’t the end of the process. Now we come to Stage Two.

stage two: illustrate

Teaching others the truth is crucial. So is practicing it in front of them. Therefore our second TASK is to illustrate; to put instruction on display. The PURPOSE is exposure to the difficulties and delights of being a disciple. Our Lord left us an example in order for us to follow in His steps. Likewise, we are to live as examples for our disciples to watch.

A master trains his apprentice both by telling him what to do and by showing him how to do it. We take the same hands-on, eyes-on approach. Therefore in Stage Two the ROLE of the disciple-maker is that of a model. Our MOTTO is “You watch me.”

At least two benefits come from disciples seeing their discipler’s personal obedience. First, they see how it’s done. But second, the teacher establishes credibility and underscores the believability of the truth. Expecting others to do what we won’t or don’t do undermines integrity. On the other hand, living out the truth corroborates our knowledge and love of the truth. People pay attention when we practice what we preach.

This presumes the “life on life” precept. We cannot make disciples remotely; it requires a relationship. We cannot effectively model–or watch for that matter–from faraway. Living rooms and waiting rooms supplement classrooms. Yes, truth can be taught in a living room. Yes, some life on life occurs in a classroom. But this component of training looks at a discipler’s lifestyle at work and play.

We must spend a quantity of quality time or else our disciples will be ill-prepared. We’re all busy, but Stage Two must be intentionally included at every opportunity. Dinner time isn’t sufficient for diligent parenting. Kids need car rides and late night conversations. Part-time shepherds put the sheep at risk. So discipleship is the product of many moments, but it is never momentary.1

While Christ’s substitutionary atonement is the primary purpose of the incarnation, His life on life discipleship was part of the reason as well. God could have dropped a copy of His Word from the sky instead of sending His Son to earth for so long. Jesus called His disciples to follow Him and to be with Him. They watched Him in public and in private. They saw Him spend nights in prayer, respond to religious authorities, care for little children, teach the masses, heal the sick, and do all sorts of miracles. They observed Him when He was tired, hungry, interrupted, angry, and sorrowful. As the time of His crucifixion came closer He focused more personal attention on His disciples, not less.

The apostle Paul also understood the importance of being a living object lesson. He exhorted the Corinthians, Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.2 He told the Philippians to keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example and that they should practice what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me.

This stage of discipleship is hardly flashy, not easily evaluated, and often unappreciated. But it is relevant, effective, and as we’ve seen, it was the Master’s plan.

For those who want to grow, listen to good teaching and find a good follower of Christ. Get in their back pocket. Make yourself available to serve them and hang out with them as much as possible. Watch how they respond to everything. Don’t isolate yourself from those who are further down the discipleship road than you.

Christ is life, not class.3 Examples without teaching are useless without knowing what the example is for. Of course, instruction without personal illustration won’t have the same influence. Truth must be proclaimed, believed, and practiced to make disciples.


  1. Herein is the reason for every retreat we run, why we drive 20 hours to and from the Shepherds’ Conference and Preview Weekend at The Master’s College, why we have small groups, and why we work to schedule life “path crossings” like running errands, drinking coffee, or scraping gum off the gym floor: to be together.
  2. I know some people are uncomfortable with the arrogance of asking another person to imitate us. Instead, they say, we should tell everyone just to follow Jesus. That’s fine as far as it goes, but exposing our lives and letting others see we’re sinners gives us an opportunity to repent and show how that works too.
  3. By this I do not mean the same thing as those who insist “Christ is life, not doctrine.” That’s bologna. I went out of my way to say discipleship depends on doctrine in Stage One. I simply mean that formal, corporate learning is only one slice of the discipleship pie, not the whole.

Stage One – Instruct

Series | Making Disciples

Each stage in our practical plan of attack includes the Task, the Purpose, the Role, the Motto, and the Principle (as the table below shows). In Stage One we insert a disciple into the very beginning of the process.

discipleship bullseye

To make disciples we start by proclaiming good news, specifically the gospel of Christ as revealed in Scripture. Our first TASK is to instruct and our PURPOSE to educate. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ. Therefore, Christianity requires communicated truth and discipleship depends on properly understanding doctrines of theology rooted in God’s Word.

We received a message from our Lord. Our responsibility is to pass that message on to the another person and the next group and the following generation so that they will do the same. Disciples aren’t made if the baton of truth is dropped anywhere along the way.

The apostle Paul explained that all believers–those who are no longer slaves of sin–have been committed to the standard of teaching. Disciples are delivered into a form of truth, into principles and teaching that mold their lives. Christians are those shaped more by doctrine than by sin.

So our foremost ROLE as disciple-makers is teacher; we explain and defend the truth. Jude called us to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. “The faith” is the objective, fixed body of truth, not personal belief (since it makes no sense to say any particular person’s faith was “once for all delivered to the saints”). Trustworthy servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God love, protect, and pass on the truth.

The core of disciple-making includes teaching [disciples] to observe all that [Jesus] commanded. We can’t be faithful to our commission without knowing and instructing. That’s why our MOTTO is “I tell you.” Paul explained the process in a similar way: what you heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

Jesus modeled this better than anyone. He regularly preached in front of large crowds and instructed His disciples in private. Whether by sermons or conversations, teaching was at the heart of our Lord’s disciple-making plan.

And every Christian can follow His example. The teacher typically knows more than his student. Most of the time the educator is also the elder, that is, they are older. Titus 2 describes a pattern of the older teaching the younger and more maturity brings more responsibility to disciple. But anyone who knows more truth than someone else can and should participate. You can always find someone who knows (at least a little) less than you do. Just because you’re learning from someone doesn’t mean you can’t also be passing that on to someone else.

This Stage incorporates a few PRINCIPLES from The Master Plan of Evangelism such as Selection (of faithful men just as Jesus chose His disciples), Association (being with people just as Jesus appointed disciples to be with Him), and Impartation (giving what has been received to others).

Disciples never move beyond the need for instruction. Though Stage One could be done independent of the others (resulting in delayed growth and therefore a defective plan), the other stages depend on teaching for effectiveness.

Like Father, Like Son

Two years ago today my dad died. We had less and less in common after I answered the call to pastoral ministry but I still miss talking to him. There were so many things over the last year I wanted to share with him. I think that’s because for all I learned from him and everything I prayed for him, most of all I really liked him.

More than a few things have kept him on my mind recently, most of which relate to Calvin. One of my greatest disappointments is that my father never met my son. They lived together on the planet for almost four and a half months, but were separated by three time zones, dad was too sick for travel, and our scheduled visit in June wasn’t soon enough. Just like my son, though, I never met my dad’s father.

There’s no doubt my dad would not have entirely appreciated Calvin’s thundering (“shake the gates of hell” kind of) ambition, yet there is much he would have liked. They could have watched ball together all day. The specific sport doesn’t matter so long as a ball’s involved: baseball, football, basketball, golf. All three of us love the game like our fathers.

The sons love the yard like their dads too. My dad got me started as early as four months. Calvin already has his own John Deere.

dennis and sean on tractor 4.5 months

cal for site

There’s also the injuries. When I was 14 I wrecked my bike pretty bad. When my dad saw the wounds he told me he didn’t remember being a “human scab” when he was a teenager and that if I wanted to see 15 I should probably slow down some. My son can’t even ride someone else’s knee without getting black-eyes and big scabs. I guess like father, like son.

And the other night at dinner I realized both my father and son are fascinated with belly-buttons. My dad enjoyed looking at his, keeping it free from lint, and talking to other people about theirs. So far Calvin follows his grandfather’s preoccupation, however, this trait apparently skipped a generation.

My dad wanted better for his son; so do I, though my hopes concern spiritual things more than earthly ones. My dad was too often cranky or even angry; so are his son and grandson. But for all the similarities (and differences), and though in God’s providence it didn’t work out, it would have been nice to get together. I know we would have liked each other.

Making Ministers through Difficulties

*I finished reading Lectures to My Students yesterday. The journey took almost two years and included some breathtaking sights. The Void previously published highlights related to the preacher and praying, preaching with clarity, and holding on to the truth. While creating my index inside the back cover I retread precious, providential, faith-focusing ground concerning how God makes His ministers through difficulties.

Afflictions make sensitive shepherds.

It is of need that we are sometimes in heaviness. Good men are promised tribulation in this world, and ministers may expect a larger share than others, that they may learn sympathy with the Lord’s suffering people, and so may be fitting shepherds of an ailing flock. (155)

These infirmities may be no detriment to a man’s career of special usefulness; they may even have been imposed upon him by divine wisdom as necessary qualifications for his peculiar course of service. (155)

Troubles make clean vessels.

The scouring of the vessel has fitted it for the Master’s use. (160)

Adversities make humble instruments.

Those who are honoured of the Lord in public have usually to endure a secret chastening, or to carry a peculiar cross, lest by any means they exalt themselves, and fall into the snare of the devil. (164)

Serve God with all your might while the candle is burning, and then when it goes out for a season, you will have the less to regret. Be content to be nothing, for that is what you are. When your own emptiness is painfully forced upon your consciousness, chide yourself that you ever dreamed of being full, except in the Lord. (164)

Instruments shall be used, but their intrinsic weakness shall be clearly manifested; there shall be no division of the glory, no diminishing of the honor due to the Great Worker. (163)

Trials make trusting servants.

Put no trust in frames or feelings. Care more for a grain of faith than a ton of excitement. (164)

Continue with double earnestness to serve your Lord when no visible result is before you. Any simpleton can follow the narrow path in the light; faith’s rare wisdom enables a man to march on in the dark with infallible accuracy. (165)

A Vision for Young People

Here’s a great start to a new series on a gospel vision for the rising generation of young people. From someone who’s in the thick of parenting and pastoring youth:

living for the glory of Christ is not on hold until you are eighteen or twenty-one. There is a way for six-year-olds to make much of Christ and a way for ten-year-olds to make much of Christ and a way for sixteen-year-olds to make much of Christ. And there is a way for parents and church leaders and all of us to create a matrix of relationships and teachings and expectations and blessings that awaken young people from the emptiness and aimlessness of our popular youth culture and give them a vision for Christ-exalting significance throughout their pre-teen and teen years.

The Practical Discipleship Plan of Attack

Series | Making Disciples

Making disciples is job #1 for every Christian. So far we’ve identified the three target levels of discipleship: we evangelize unbelievers, we edify all believers, and then we aim to equip believers to make disciples themselves. Those are the goals of discipleship, or where we’re going, but how do we get there? How do we make a disciple? What is the process?

Many Christians simply don’t know. Even if making disciples is on the radar they have no instruction or training for it. No doubt there are other believers doing a lot of the right things but who couldn’t define their approach or pass it on to someone else. That’s why we need to outline a practical discipleship plan of attack.

There are (at least) five stages for developing a disciple. The stages overlap; they are not entirely exclusive, but isolating each phase in our discussion should be helpful in the equipping process. Just as everyone fits somewhere on the bulls-eye, so everyone is found at some stage of development.

It is also important to say (again) that this is not new or original. I’m simply trying not to drop the baton that’s been handed to me. In particular, the seed of these stages grew in the soil of The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman.1 It is the classic study on discipleship and a must read. I believe every Christian should own a copy and it continues to be one of the most influential books on me. It traces the Master Himself, Jesus, as He modeled the most effective method for making disciples.


  1. I had the privilege to hear Dr. Coleman in person when I was in high school along with my youth pastor who, not coincidentally, was my first real discipler.