Making Disciples: Does One Size Fit All?

Jesus said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you” (Mathew 28: 19, 20, NLT).

Jesus’ commandment is clear, unequivocal, and non-negotiable. What is more important to our God-ordained mission than making disciples? Nothing! Stated in the present active imperative, making disciples is an ongoing expectation. It is not bracketed by time, location, circumstance, or individual status. Every Christian at all times, in all places, and in all circumstances is to follow this command.

It is of interest that Jesus’ words are descriptive—commanding us what we must do—but not prescriptive—describing explicitly how we are to make disciples. Of course, we have his example and the example of the disciples and apostles as models. We also have principles set forth in the Bible. While following the examples set before us and adhering to biblical principles, we still need some flexibility in how we can make disciples. On the one hand, every disciple maker has unique spiritual gifts, talents, and levels of spiritual maturity. On the other hand, every new disciple begins discipleship at a unique place spiritually, responds differently to various inputs, and progresses in an individualized manner.

In a recent blog post, Bob Logan reports some observations based on the work of one of his colleagues: (a) most leaderships problems are actually discipleship problems and (b) most of the qualities of effective leaders are the qualities of disciples. Therefore, in order to develop effective leaders, we need to put first things first: make effective disciples; then develop competent leaders. These observations are sobering. Given the ineptitude of many of our leaders, these findings suggest that we fall short in carrying out our discipleship mandate. They also remind us of the challenge as well as opportunity we have to carry out this Great Commission.

So here is a question. How do we use our freedom in Christ (Galatians 5:1) and its corresponding flexibility to make disciples? Somehow we must model the examples set before us and adhere to the principles provided for us, while authenticating our uniqueness and ministering to each disciple as an individual?  I wonder if some of the programs we call discipleship are overly inflexible, bounded, and ensnared. Does one size of discipleship fit every time, location, circumstance, and individual? I don’t think this is what the Bible teaches. Remember Paul’s testimony: “Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some” (I Corinthians 9: 23, NLT).

We need conversation on how disciple makers as unique individuals find common ground with new disciples as unique individuals. I hope to participate in the conversation.