The Disciples Missionaries Made

A disciple-maker should know where he’s going. If he does, then he probably knows his end depends on starting in the right spot. He also won’t be surprised when he arrives at his goal.

John Piper wrote a concentrated post on missions two weeks ago pointing to the January/February cover story in Christianity Today, “The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries”. The CT article describes the findings of sociologist Robert Woodberry who spent a decade researching “the effect of missionaries on the health of the nations.” Piper quotes Woodberry:

Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations.

When men “convert from false religions to faith in Jesus Christ” things start to change not only for them as individuals, but also in their community. That’s why a map showing First World, Second World, and Third World countries relates directly to the presence of the gospel in those places. Most of the First World knows, or at least once knew, gospel roots.

Woodberry observed, and Piper presses, that cultural change surprised the missionaries. Woodberry says, “Colonial reforms (came) through the back door” and “all these positive outcomes were somewhat unintended.” Piper concludes,

The implication is that the way to achieve the greatest social and cultural transformation is not to focus on social and cultural transformation, but on the “conversion” of individuals from false religions to faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life.

In other words, “Tree first, then fruit.”

But saying that we should “focus on…conversion” is similar to saying that farmers should “focus on planting.” Trees grow from seeds and seeds must first be sown. Sowing, however, is only the start. Farmers must also water, weed, fertilize, and cultivate the tree to health and strength. They expect and work for more than a successful plant. When buds turn into branches and branches bear fruit all across the field farmers don’t say “these positive outcomes were somewhat unintended.”

It is true that we won’t “achieve the greatest social and cultural transformation” without conversions but, brothers, we are not conversionists. Christ commissioned us to make disciples, not converts. Discipleship starts with conversion but it ends with “teaching them to observe all that [Christ] commanded.” We labor to present every man complete in Christ and that includes teaching them to think like Christ, to talk like Christ, to act like Christ. That kind of stuff gets out.

Why would we seek, and even expect, conversions by God’s sovereign grace but not also expect an entire culture to change as grace grows whole groups of men in their obedience to Christ? Why would we call men to repent and believe, then move on to other fields? Evangelism is only the opening stage of discipleship. What is surprising about believers obeying in obvious and coordinated ways? We don’t say that our arrival at the supermarket was unintended because we had to get out of the driveway first.

“The fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:11) only grows from new creations of the Spirit, but the fruit of transformation affects votes, vocation, parenting, medicine, schooling, economics, government, and every other lawful cultural activity on earth. If Christ cares about it, then image bearers can and should, too. If we’re supposed to make disciples of all men, but not all men are supposed to be teachers, then disciple-makers are responsible for knowing how to disciple Christians of every calling. That means we will need a plan for the many at some point down the road since, where two or three sheep are gathered together, they will need to learn how to get buy or sell car insurance from each other.

So, “missionaries that will do the most good for eternity and for time–for eternal salvation and temporal transformation–are the missionaries who focus on converting the nations to faith in Christ. And then on that basis and from that root teach them to bear fruit of all that Jesus commanded us.” But many missionaries and pastors want proselytes and then have nothing else for the proselytes to do except read their Bibles and make more proselytes while they wait for heaven. That’s why talking about our aim as making disciples helps us approach our work better than making converts. When we remember that conversion is the start, not the end, we won’t be surprised that God takes whole cultures to better places.

Rabbits with Greek Names

*We finish our Omnibus class discussion on The Histories: The Landmark Herodotus in the morning. The long intestines of Herodotus measure more than 700 pages followed by 21 appendices and a hundred more pages of indeces. The rabbit trails in this book get more attention than the timeline, but I don’t want to split hares. At least most of the rabbits had Greek names.

I did not read the whole thing. I listened to Books 4-7 in this audio version which is neither the same translation as the hard copy I have nor did it shake the typical ennui that chaperones dates between audio books and me. It was free. Also, the audio edition has no maps. I will admit that somewhere around Book 9 I actually started paying attention to the maps which also meant that they no longer helped me skip forward in my reading. Such is learning. By now I even have an opinion on whether the Battle of Marathon or the Battle of Thermopylae was more important. Who’da thunk it?

There are many things that could be said about this book; I’m sure of it, whatever they are. That said, here’s one threatening riddle from Book 6 that has kept me thinking for a couple weeks.

Now Miltiades was highly respected by Croesus the Lydian, and when Croesus learned what had happened to him, he sent a declaration to the Lampsacenes commanding them to release Miltiades, threatening that if they did not do so, he would wipe them out as if they were a pine tree. The Lampsacenes who tried to interpret this message were at first belwildered as to why Croeses would use the phrase “wipe them out like a pine tree” in his threat, but then, after much hard thinking, one of the elders came to the realization of its true significance: the pine alone of all trees does not produce any new shoot once it has been chopped down, but is utterly destroyed and gone forever. (442)

Part of the reason that we started a school, and part of the reason that we’re paddling the river of Western Civilation with Omnibus oars, including the one supplied by Herodotus, is that we want our students to come back even when we’re “cut down,” whenever and however that might happen. If Christians reproduce true disciples, then our disciples will live and grow and bear much fruit even when we die. By God’s grace we won’t be wiped out like pine trees, instead we’ll keep popping up like irrepressible bamboo shoots.1


  1. Credit for the bamboo analogy goes to our school Headmaster. I texted him this question: “What kind of tree/plant is virtually impossible to kill, even if you chop it down?” He immediately replied that it was a good question and gave four answers, a few from personal experience. He also thinks Herodotus is fantastic. That’s why he’s the right person for the job, and the teacher of our Omnibus class.

Organizing Answers

A couple nights ago someone asked me if I thought that believers are lazy in sharing their faith. I answered, without a doubt, yes. I don’t think, however, that believers are lazy in terms of learning the way to evangelize like the Master, giving directions down the road in Romans, or carrying tracts to leave with the tip after dinner at Denny’s. I think believers are lazy mostly by failing to cultivate their faith, hallow Christ as Lord, and grow in hope that would make others ask what’s going on (1 Peter 3:15). In other words, in our evangelical camp, most of us work harder collecting verses and arranging our apologetics outlines than we work at living with hope. I suspect that’s because organizing answers requires less effort than being Christians.

The Mutual Funds of Missions Funding

The Mutual Funds of Missions Funding

Doug Wilson writes about a local church’s advantages “to support a hundred missionaries at $25 a month,” namely, to diversify and minimize risk. The entire article is worthwhile, but this is his summary.

I think it was Andrew Carnagie who said to put all your eggs in one basket, and then to watch that basket. But watching the basket involves work. We would rather put 25 eggs in 25 different baskets, and then not watch anything.

The mantras of “personal knowledge” and “investment in lives” sound really good, almost hip even. But there is no way to do it without the willingness of the elder board to say to someone that they want him to “stop that.” And it cannot be done without an acknowledgement on the part of those who are sent that they are submitted to personal and real authority.

And the final kick in the pants:

But because we love our independence, because we are soft in our doctrine of how the Trinity knits us together, we would rather diversify the risk. We love our mutual funds.

Making Disciples – The Seminar

I’m passionate about discipleship. Because of that I wrote Making Disciples – The Series which later became Making Disciples – The Booklet. Now I’d like to introduce:


Making Disciples – The Seminar


From the details page on the seminar website:

[T]rue discipleship is absent in many churches. For all our progress, how did Christians get so busy that they forgot their most important work? Though exhausting, the assignment is clear: make disciples.

So where do we start and what do we do? That’s why we’ve scheduled an entire Saturday on the subject of discipleship.

Registration closes September 12 and can be completed online [now closed] or in person at GBC.

The Criterion of Successful Churches

Indeed, the criterion of successful churches in the future is not how much Bible knowledge their people have, [or] how strong their pastor is in the pulpit….While content and pulpit expertise aren’t to be minimized, the biblical measure of success is whether they’re making disciples.

-Aubrey Malphurs, Planting Growing Churches For The 21st Century (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004), 30 (via mijah)

Like His Teacher

God continues to give me the merciful privilege of speaking with young men who believe that God is calling them to pastoral ministry. I am one of those guys myself, though I started down the shepherd’s road over 19 years ago. The most common and critical question is, Where should I go for training?

Not only is that a ridiculously consequential question, but there are too many ingredients that defy a canned response. Even if the young man demonstrates desire, character, and aptitude for overseeing work, practical considerations such as cost and distance often eliminate certain options at once, especially if they (or their parents) listen to Dave Ramsey every afternoon.

So what are principles and determining priorities? Having gone through the process myself, and having opportunity to think about and attempt to answer the question frequently, here is my “look for this” list.1

The Sacred Writings

Go to a place that believes the Bible has all the answers. This belief should be a living faith, both explicit and implicit. By explicit I mean that the institution affirms the inspiration, inerrancy, and sufficiency of Scripture. If the doctrinal statement is unclear, or if teachers are allowed liberty on the ground level, don’t even enter the building. The Bible in the pastor’s soul food, his training manual, and his shepherding staff. Being educated to doubt and question the Book is no blessing. This criteria eliminates a number of options, but based on statements of belief alone, there are still a fair number of flowers in the field.

Implicit belief in the Bible throws a bunch of those flowers into the oven to be burned. Attitude and practice are as important as, and maybe even more important than, an institution’s written documents. One window is the scope and sequence of the course work, as well as the electives. Are the original languages expected? Are they even offered? Are there more elective classes such as Genesis, Psalms, Matthew, and Ephesians? Or are subjects such as church administration, psychology/counseling, and leadership given greater priority? Though the latter group of classes aren’t unimportant, they are all secondary, and should be built on the Bible. It isn’t enough to sprinkle Bible verses into the syllabus. Be schooled in a place that loves the Bible and points pastors to study the Bible itself, most of all and first of all. We’re already in a very tiny corner of the evangelical field.

Examples to the Flock

Pursue a person (or persons) that you want to be like. Every disciple when he is fully trained will be like his teacher; choose well. Even the most non-conformist student can’t help but be influenced over the course of two, three, or five years of instruction. That’s how it’s supposed to be. That’s why Bible college and seminary aren’t weekenders. So go after faculty who love God’s Word and love God’s people. Watch them. Camp on their lawns. Get in their back pockets. Find those who have practiced finding the point of paragraphs and who have persevered in patiently pastoring sheep.

There will be things you see that you won’t want to do. That, too, is expected and profitable in the process. Only Christ is the Chief Shepherd and only He is a perfect shepherd. But in general, it’s proper to follow leaders who follow Christ. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Pursue training by men whose hearts are in a better condition than their grammar. Find those worn by church discipline battles in living rooms, not only exam grading in classrooms. Pay attention to men who minister publicly and from house to house. Pastoral ministry is personal, so search out men that will train you as a person, not as a professional.

A Church to Cherish

Plan to invest in church ministry while being trained for future church ministry. Most of what I learned about being a pastor had little to do with books or papers or exams. Learning to pastor comes by learning to care more for people and less for grades. Effective Bible colleges and seminaries put tools in in the shepherd’s box, but the point is to use the tools, not gather and admire the tools indefinitely.

It makes absolutely no sense to put off heavy ministry involvement under the excuse of training for ministry. I understand the sentiment, that it might enable someone to finish school more quickly, but that approach is counterproductive. My wife would be appropriately disturbed if I abandoned her for three years in order to learn how to be a better husband.

When choosing a college or seminary, the trainee must be as certain as possible that there is a healthy local church in the area. It doesn’t have to be a perfect body; those don’t exist anyway. But the more closely associated a school for pastors is with a church, the more likely the graduate will be equipped to bless.

So go to a place with exemplary men that live and keep His Word and spend their lives for His bride. These aren’t arcane principles, but they frame a paradigm that very few places fit.2


  1. The title for the post springs from Luke 6:39-40. The list sparks from 1 Timothy 3:12-4:4, 1 Peter 5:1-3, and Ephesians 5:25-32 respectively.
  2. At least that I’m aware of.

Making Disciples – The Booklet

*A few months ago I blogged through a series of posts on Making Disciples. My ulterior motive was to prepare a booklet from those notes to share with parents of new students coming into our ministry. I wanted parents to get a glimpse of our passion and plan to help them help their students become complete in Christ.

That booklet is now complete. I want to say thank you to Jonathan Sarr and my mom for lending their editing pens and pencils, and thank you to Jesse Martin for transforming the text and diagrams into a fabulous printed page format.

By no means is this booklet the deep-end of the pool on the subject, but hopefully it invites (or pushes) more people into the waters of discipleship. Eventually I hope to make a 6×9, saddle stitch copy available through Lulu, but in the meantime you can download the PDF and print your own copy free of charge.

UPDATE [4:47PM September 3]: After downloading applications and scripts and spending a couple hours of trial and error, you can now download the PDF for booklet printing. Make sure to use the double-side, short-side binding print options.

From Disciple to Discipler

Series | Making Disciples

The Practical Discipleship Plan of Attack aims to take in a disciple and produce a discipler. The following chart gives an overview of the whole process.

the kit and caboodle

To recap: the discipler instructs his disciple in doctrine, illustrates truth in daily practice, involves the disciple in the work of the ministry, helps the disciple improve his effectiveness, and inspires the disciple when he’s discouraged. These five stages of development span the Biblical Discipleship Bulls-eye from evangelism to edification to equipping. Disciplers labor to help new coverts grow in Christ and train them to make disciples in fulfillment of the Great Commission. Maturity and multiplication are beautiful things.

As we wrap up this series, here are some final thoughts on disciple-making.

We learn about discipleship from Jesus!

Jesus already walked the road ahead of us and all we need to do is follow Him. As I mentioned before, The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman traces Jesus’ steps and is must read material. Jesus called disciples, lived and associated with them, taught them, modeled for them, partnered with them, delegated assignments, did follow-up, and then He left. We are here, not because Jesus filled stadiums with hundreds of thousands of people and preached great messages, but because He focused on twelve ordinary men1. Apparently making disciples like Jesus it is effective (not to mention biblical).

Though not complex, discipleship is not easy.

In fact, discipleship may be the toughest thing we’ll ever do. It’s so easy to focus on other things. It isn’t always pleasant having other people look into our lives and it’s often messy when we get involved in theirs. But no matter how difficult, making disciples is our Lord’s commission.

Discipleship is all about the people and not about the program.

The best curriculum cannot guarantee growth. There are no checklists to complete or shortcuts to maturity. Some structure (like organized small groups) may be helpful, but the best program with the wrong people won’t make disciples. On the other hand, the right people with the worst program–or even no program at all–will move forward.

You are missing out if you just partake and don’t participate.

I changed the person of the pronoun on purpose. If you come and soak and don’t give you won’t grow like you should. Your joy will be half of what it could be if you’re not using your spiritual giftedness and pouring back out into someone else’s life.2 There is always someone who knows less than you. You can encourage someone. You’re ready. Every believer has a responsibility to reach out to someone else and make a disciple.

What stage are you in? What will it take to get you to the next level? My prayer is that God would give us all a passion for discipleship, that not just the pastor or the youth staff or parents, but that all of the saints would take ownership. May He give us a vision and burden for others and keep us from sitting on the sidelines. Let us commit to make disciples of all the nations until everyone is complete in Christ.


  1. Yes, this is a shameless reference to John MacArthur’s book by the same name.
  2. Besides, it would probably help you stop whining about your own life.

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.