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Disciple Making Pathways

Updated: Jan 11

This blog is an invitation to go back and discover Jesus’ original plan for His mission. This blog is also a challenge to go forward by reimagining what that plan looks like in our moment, in our region. It is also the introduction to equip ordinary people as missionary disciple-makers in the pacific northwest and beyond through the launch of our Disciple Making Pathway.

"Most Christians have divorced the teachings of Jesus from the methods of Jesus and yet they expect the results of Jesus." - Bobby Harrington

When I first started on my path

I remember when I first studied the Bible as a cinema studies student at the University of Oregon. Until that time I church hopped various congregations that had no plan, method, or intention of Jesus style disciple making. My life was changed in a discipleship study with other disciples, looking at Matthew 28:18-20 and how different it was from the modern denominational churches I had seen. It presented a pathway, beginning with the end in mind and reverse engineering the first century church. We drew out a simple 3 column outline showing the differences of adding converts verses multiplying disciples to reach billions within a generation. I could feel the primal drumbeat of the ancient gospel pulsing through my veins.


What would it take to disciple the nations? Exponential multiplication was the only answer. What kind of disciple was required for this task? It would take someone willing to go anywhere, do anything, give up everything, and become anyone for Christ. The resources required for such a task would demand complete dependence on Holy Spirit power. It would demand obedient followers of Jesus, making him Lord and saturating their area with the gospel.

At that time the congregation I studied with had nearly 60 members, with a sister church in Portland of another 60 members. Therefore, the only valid strategy to be obedient to Christ was one in which 120 disciples could win the state of Oregon with some 4 million souls. They didn't have a lot of the other services that my previous churches offered, but they had a plan and a pathway to make disciples and obey Jesus' great commission.

I remember one of the first church events I went to was a Marvel Halloween party with karaoke at a frozen yogurt shop. While some may have looked at that small band of disciples and critiqued their ability to multiply throughout the state, I saw a group that was willing to innovate and use adaptive methods to win others. The semester I was baptized, I witnessed about 10 others come to the Lord. Together we were encouraged that Jesus changed the world with just 12 disciples and wondered what we could accomplish for his glory. I saw more than 20 of my peers go into the full time ministry planting churches, joining mission teams, and leading entire regions and sectors of churches, most before the age of 30. This trained up and sent out leadership influencing thousands across the world never would have occurred without something as crazy as a frozen yogurt costume karaoke party. In the state of Oregon alone, I now rejoice daily to see us spread throughout the state as six churches that wouldn't have been possible without those original two. Here is my point: technical training like a pathway is needed, but it will only be effective if adapted to a specific context. Think "costumed yogurt karaoke party".

Back when I first studied the Bible, I was equipped with basic training to baptize other students and that training worked! It was incredibly demanding, but incredible rewarding for our spiritual family of student disciple makers. I was equipped with teachings: the "first principles Bible study series" and "40 days at the foot of the cross quiet time series" I was equipped with methods: 1. Discipleship times on how to make a list of friends I knew who could come to the Lord and how to study first principles with them 2. How to prayer walk 3. Cold contact evangelism 3. A copy of Robert Coleman's "The Master Plan of Evangelism".

That was my original pathway; simple but intentional and Biblically based. I've now had the pleasure of planting a church myself during the Covid era in Bend, OR. I still believe in Jesus' mission and heart for Oregon, but I also fully believe the church must always restore back to Jesus' methods while adapting to our context. The new normal of our culture is changing quickly; too quickly for men of convention. Global pandemics, social unrest, the rise of AI, systemic racism, political fragmentation, deepfakes and fake news, data graveyards piling up into the infopocalypse, and progressive theology are all at the door of the Church. We need disciples of the moment, all over the state trying a 1,000 methods and hoping 5 of them break through, learning from the failure along the way. One thing I learned this last year was that doubling down on what I've always done [preaching at people] won't work on its own. It's time to go off the map into new uncharted territory, to make the word flesh and the Kingdom tangible in adaptive ways. There's nothing wrong with the way that you currently make disciples, but perhaps there's something to be learned so that your way can become more complete.

Another thing I learned this past year was that the gospel is moving in unprecedented rates around the globe breaking out in generations of new disciples (nearly 10,000 disciples daily amongst more than 1,300 movements making up nearly 1% of the world's population multiplied within the past thirty years). Entire people groups are being saturated with discovery Bible studies and multiplying simple churches. The Holy Spirit is working in ways now that we haven't seen in over 2,000 years of church history. There is a new wine that necessitates a new wineskin. Now more than ever, I feel the same undercurrent I felt when I first studied Matthew 28:18-20. God has been accomplishing his mission in the unseen places, and it's time to join Him there. It's time for a movement of God to happen where we live, work, learn, and play.

I will spend the rest of this blog introducing an immersive disciple making pathway for our time and place, which I hope you will join. Then I'll provide a brief summary of various Biblical pathways that have informed our pathway. Skim through their sequences below to get a basic picture of Jesus' methods. Most importantly, take part in the disciple makers pathway to experience it for yourself. True understanding comes from holding to the teaching. If you aren't yet convinced of signing up for the pathway, take this disciple makers assessment to see if you're in need of being trained further.

"In knowledge and experience, we prefer to read the map rather than visit the place" - Brennan manning

The Disciple Making Pathway

Extraordinary prayer, engaging the lost, disciple-making, community transformation, and multiplication are a few of the constants in movements of God. These are some of the key principles making up the disciple making pathway. The principles are not the next church program to attempt and then move on. They are observed practices and habits from actual movements of God (including what we see in the book of Acts and the life of Jesus). To travel the pathway is to join God among those furthest from Him and be personally renewed along the way. Below is a brief overview of each stage:


1. EXTRAORDINARY PRAYER AND FASTING

  • Prayer precedes movement as we listen for the heart of God and discern where he is calling us. In this Disciple Making Community (DMC) we will go through missional and intentional prayer practices as a team.

2. LIVE AS MISSIONARIES

  • Understanding our identity and the purpose Jesus gives us allows us the freedom to live into rhythms of engagement (BLESS rhythms, gospel conversations).

3. PLANT THE GOSPEL

  • Instead of extracting those God is drawing to himself into our church context, we disciple them with simple tools like discovery Bible study to reach others where they're already at.

4. DISCOVERY GROUPS EMERGE

  • Simple spiritual families are reproducible, allowing the gospel to move more quickly within an Oikos.

5. MULTIPLY

  • The only way to win a city or people group is by multiplying movement principles exponentially. A commitment to Jesus as Lord leads to a commitment of gospel saturation.


Movement Paradigm Shifts for the Western church:

1. Think: EXTRAORDINARY PRAYER AND FASTING as the power.

Don't Think: Human Strategy as the power.

2. Think: PLANTING the Gospel in existing networks of relationships. Don't Think: EXTRACTING people so we can "disciple" them in church services.

3. Think: OBEDIENCE-BASED DISCIPLESHIP.

Don't Think: Knowledge-based discipleship.

4 Think: DISCOVERY BASED LEARNING.

Don't Think: Lecture-based teaching.

5. Think: SEND the ORDINARY & WILLING.

Don't Think: Send the gifted experts.

6. Think: DISCIPLE GROUPS of people.

Don't Think: Discipleship only means one on one.

7. Think: DISCIPLE TO & THROUGH CONVERSION.

Don't Think: Evangelism THEN discipleship.

8. Think: VIRAL MULTIPLICATION.

Don't Think: Addition.

9. Think: "SPIRITUAL FAMILIES", and "MISSIONAL COMMUNITIES".

Don't Think: "Traditional or Legacy American Church."


DMC Expectations

You will join a team to go through the pathway, which we will refer to as your Disciple Making Community or DMC.

The seven-week DMC will be organized by the five principles within the pathway, prioritizing the first three (Extraordinary Prayer & Fasting, Live Like a Missionary, Plant the Gospel). The focus is on applied learning and immediately implementing the principles and rhythms. The DMC is designed in a “reverse learning” model in which participants will finish online preparation work during the week before meeting in-person or online with others in their DMC.

Weekly format:

  • Before the DMC meeting: finish the online preparation work during the week, including the:

  1. Personal Discovery Bible Study

  2. Training video/reading

  3. Practical tool to implement

  • During the DMC meeting: meet together to review and troubleshoot the content/tools of the week, discover critical principles from Scripture, and create personal obedience goals called “I Wills".

  • After the DMC meeting: live it out. Apply what you’re learning and experiment in your context.

  • Attendance: Meetings may be face to face. Virtual meetings will be recorded on zoom and made available on the cloud for the rest of that week so you can catch up. It's permissible to miss a couple meetings, but more than that you may consider doing the pathway at a different time when you are more available.


 

A Summary of Missionary Pathways

[the summary of pathways below is not required reading if you are going through the disciple making pathway, but you are encouraged to skim]


First let's look at some of the basic principles employed by Jesus with his disciples. He had a criteria for selection seeking those who would multiply or invest in others as he invested in them, willing to count the costs and commit to him in teachability, availability, and reliability [Luke 9:57-62]. He intentionally prayed all night for this selection, modeling a Holy Spirit dependence that they too would need [Luke 6:12-13]. He called them personally by name implying the depth of relationship required [Luke 6:13-16]. He sent them to engage the lost then retreated to reflect and learn, debriefing the actions. He limited who he invited and challenged, forming a band of twelve with a core of three. We could add even more criteria, but the point is that the person is just as important as the pathway.


Understanding these pathways gives incite into how disciples are being made by these churches in their contexts. You can see their validity, where they cross over and where they differ. You can see where they're engineered by strategy, or inspired by the Word of God. Discern the most effective route, but don't get stuck over analyzing.


Master Plan

The gold standard of discipleship is the Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman, still in print and being used all around the world. It points to Jesus' basic strategy, how he maneuvered to achieve His objective, and how for us to follow form must follow function. This book has been required reading for most disciples in my movement, including myself. The pathway follows:


1. INCARNATION: Jesus Became a Servant

  • We must take the servants mantle. Serving people brings opportunities to disciple them by finding the felt needs of people and meeting them. Seeking people in need is our responsibility. A shepherd goes after lost sheep.

2. SELECTION: Jesus Looked for Disciples

  • Men Were His Method (Luke 6:13). Jesus selected simple men (Acts 4:13), with twelve apostles (Luke 6:13-19) and a core team of three (Mark 5:37). We must concentrate on leaders and pray for God to raise them up. Notice receptive hearts, especially those drawn to us, because a few such persons are within our influence. Keep a low profile and find a few willing learners with potential.

3. ASSOCIATION: Jesus Stayed with His Pupils

  • We must be close to growing disciples and bring them into the routine of daily life, close enough to life on life disciple one another throughout the week. Seek ways for casual fellowship and arrange times together for prayer and study of scripture. Some fellowship can be scheduled in small groups, occasionally arranging an extended period for reflection. He spent time with them and retreated often, which they continued even after his ascension. In our modern day, leaders cannot be trained with just preaching and every convert must have another Christian guide to follow to keep from falling away.

4. CONSECRATION: Jesus Expected Obedience

  • To obey is to learn. There is a high cost to following Jesus. Every leader must first be a follower. The disciples first followed before they understood. Stress the practical aspect of faith. Accept a discipline of devotion and work, exposing disciples to situations that challenge commitment. Embrace the cross daily. His disciples weren’t educated but they were loyal.

5. IMPARTATION: Jesus gave them His Spirit

  • We must let the spirit of christ have his way, because God's work can only be done in His power. Cherish for every disciple the fullness of the Holy Spirit and trust them to His leadership. To follow Jesus all the way is the only way to know His glory. The presence of Christ is not a reward of heaven; it is the joyous experience of every disciple fulfilling the great commission.

6. DEMONSTRATION: Jesus showed His disciples how to live

  • They saw how Jesus prayed. Jesus taught them how to use the scriptures, because he spoke the scriptures. Jesus taught naturally as they went, reproducing himself into His disciples. Others will follow disciples as they follow Jesus.

7. DELEGATION: Jesus assigned His disciples the work

  • He was always building His ministry, instructing His disciples. He taught them to trust God to supply their needs. Jesus always paired up His disciples, two or more. The mission of the disciples is the same as the objective of the Master. He gave them final instructions for His church. This principle must be applied tangibly today.

8. SUPERVISION: Jesus Made Disciples Accountable

  • The Master’s teaching rotated between instructions and assignments. He required them to report back about what they did. He used their failures to teach them spiritual discernment during on-the-job training. We too must keep check on disciples. Have frequent times of review and ask questions to work on character traits. Jesus corrected bad attitudes and kept them directed. Affirm their strengths and self worth. Avoid becoming authoritarian by letting the Word speak. Keep the focus on Christ, not yourself.

9. REPRODUCTION: Jesus Anticipated Fruitfulness

  • Jesus expected His disciples to reproduce themselves. He is committed to using you. Time proves our ministry. The Master’s plan works; shortcuts do not work. We must make disciples. Disciples become like their leader. Develop a vision of multiplication and dream with them about their role in the harvest. Anticipate the final ingathering. This is a working day now; we will rest in the next world.


Discipleshift

Real Life Discipleship by Jim Putman as well as Discipleshift cowritten with Bobby Harrington outline the stages followed by some of the most successful disciple makers in North America, specifically in the Real Life Relational Discipleship Network. With more focus on the sanctification of the disciple rather than the example of Jesus, the pathway follows:


1. DEAD

  • The spiritually dead are unbelieving and rebellious, but coming into seeking and believing. The lost are ignorant, confused, and completely dependent on others as they grow in their infancy. They must be invited into a secure relationship with a mature believer. They need an image of the real Jesus lived out in front of them, answers and evidences for Christianity, an explanation of the gospel, and an invitation to change their life. They need individual attention from a discipler, or a spiritual parent. By this relationship they get explanations of newly found truths and modeled habits of maturing in the faith. They will be tempted to revert back to their old ways, when they struggle.

2. INFANT / 3. CHILD

  • These new followers are still seeking and are spiritually alive, but they are children. As they grow, they may be self-centered, self-absorbed, idealistic, prideful, dependent, or have a low view of self. They may have disillusionment because of their high expectations for themselves or others. Their feelings could be most important which leads to spiritual highs and lows, lacking wisdom about how to use what they are learning [aggressive when sharing their faith, legalistic with friends and family]. They may believe that people do not care for them enough, mimic mature christians to gain praise and look good, and serve others as long as the benefit outweighs the cost. Often enthusiasm about new or controversial teachings is high, while confusion abounds on complex issues with an incomplete view of Biblical theology.

  • At this stage they could have more knowledge about what Christians say than what the Word says. They need a spiritual family, help to start feeding themselves, teaching about who they are in Christ, teaching about how to deepen their relationship with Christ, teaching about how to have healthy one another relationships, and teaching about appropriate expectations for themselves and others. They need a sense of community, where they confess their temptations and sins, while celebrating their victories.

4. YOUNG ADULT

  • Fishers of people are spiritual young adults, who are workers and followers of Jesus. They are action / service oriented, zealous, independent, God-centered, other-centered, mission-minded, but incomplete in understanding. They desire to serve for the good of others and the good of God’s Kingdom and tend to feel responsibility for how others respond to events and lessons. They could have pride if others accept their message and possible discouragement if others do not. While they desire to serve, they are not strategic about how to train others. Naivety, a lack of discernment, and a tendency to be black and white about what the church should be characterize this stage.

  • They need a place to learn how to serve, a spiritual parent who will debrief them on ministry experiences, ongoing relationships that offer encouragement and accountability, help for establishing boundaries in relationships, guidance about appropriate expectations for others, help in identifying and cultivating their spiritual gifts, training their skills and becoming more equipped with the Word.

5. PARENT

  • Parents are those who have made another disciple of Jesus. They are intentional, strategic, reproduction-minded, self-feeding, mission-minded, team-minded, and dependable. They have the ability to think in terms of what a team can do, a coaching mindset, and a desire to see the people they work with mature and become fellow workers. They need an ongoing relationship with co-laborers, a church family, encouragement, and people to help them relax and have fun. They need friends who are not afraid to speak the truth to them in love.


Four Chair Discipleship

Four Chair Discipleship by Dan Spader follows the chronological gospels of Jesus and presents a chronological path of maturity to becoming disciple makers winning, building, equipping, and multiplying. The pathway follows chronological phases or doors Jesus shared to invite and challenge his followers:


1. COME AND SEE: win

  • In John 1:35-39, Jesus gives an invitation to Andrew and John. They were engaged with the ministry of John the baptist, and they were seeking God [John had just identified Jesus as the lamb of god]. Jesus asked them a simple question: “What do you want?” and “Come and you will see”. The Greek word translated “come” literally means “just show up”. Jesus spent at least several hours, if not the full day with them. This is the first step in discipleship. It was easy to duplicate. After spending time with Jesus, Phillip invited Nathaniel to come and see (John 1:46). The Samaritan woman spoke with Jesus and then invited the entire town to “come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” [John 4:29]. Her experience of Christ caused her to lay down her water jar [her needs, schedule, priorities], and she was evangelistically fruitful. She didn’t have a Bible, special classes, a title, specific role, or training. All she had was her testimony and experience with Christ.

  • God is already doing the majority of the work, drawing people unto Himself at this stage. Our job is to discern who these people are and be ready to provide them with an explanation of Jesus [1 Peter 3:15]. A seeker is brought to life by their faith in the love of Jesus, revealed by his sacrifice on the cross. They repent, surrender, and confess “Jesus is Lord” at the waters of baptism. They are saved by God’s grace, through their faith in the blood of Jesus Christ as they follow him into His death, burial, and resurrection, and raised up to new life in Christ Jesus, through their faith and the power of God.

2. FOLLOW ME: build

  • John 1:43 - “…Finding Phillip, he said to him, ‘follow me’.” Baptized disciples are followers of Christ. They have been moved by the Holy Spirit to repent and believe, as they trust and obey Jesus. At the beginning of their relationship, Jesus tells Matthew the tax collector “follow me,” [Matthew 9:9]. He makes it clear in Matthew 10:38, that whoever does not take up their cross and follow Him is not worthy of him. The mark of a true believer is the sheep who hear his voice, know Him, and follow Him [John 10:27]. Even at the end of His ministry, Peter backslid and denied Christ three times, to which Christ responded “Follow me” [John 21:19, 22].

  • The word translated “follow” is the Greek word akoloutheo, and it literally means to come behind, follow the footsteps, to learn, to join in the journey of discipleship. “Come and see” assumes curiosity; “Follow me” assumes commitment. It demands that we walk as He walked, love as He loved, do what He did, and serve as He served. Paul picked up on this challenge in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ”. Paul uses the Greek word mimethes for “follow”, from which we derive mimic or imitate. Just like Paul, we are to imitate Christ, and extend that challenge to others so they can mature in Him.

  • From this point onward, Jesus would be with the crowds 17 times, but focus on the few 46 times. “Follow me” requires us to intentionally spend time learning from and influencing one another.

3. BECOME A FISHER OF MEN: equip

  • Matthew 4:19 - “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” The third challenge is one of the most misunderstood and least lived out teachings of Jesus (Mark 1:16-20, Matthew 4:18-22). Mark 1 takes place 18 months into Jesus’ ministry. They did not instantaneously become fisher’s of men. They had been following Jesus for over a year off and on, but now Jesus asks them to go deeper. Four individuals are present for this challenge: James, John, Simon, and Andrew. They have not yet become the twelve, and Jesus will invest even more time into them, so they can be raised up. He had a clear plan and goal for developing them into reproducing disciple makers, “I will make you…”.

  • Immediately after the challenge, Jesus lead them on six fishing trips, where he did the majority of the work [Mark 1:21-2:17]. They saw him interact with six different types of people in six different scenarios. Each step of the way, the disciples were learning new methods of sharing their faith as they watched Jesus.

  • After these trips, Jesus invites a tax collector to join them, Matthew (Mark 2:13-20). This challenge was not only relational and intentional, it was missional. Jesus and Matthew throw a big evangelistic party with the “sinners”, making the disciples very uncomfortable at first. This level of disciple making is more demanding and fewer will make it to this level, because of the sacrifice and intentionality that it requires.

4. BEAR MUCH FRUIT: multiply

  • John 15:16 - “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit” Jesus had just finished His last passover meal with His disciples. For the first time, Jesus calls His disciples “friends”. This intimacy increased gradually. In John 1 they are called seekers. In John 2:11 they are identified as disciples. In John 13:13, Jesus calls them servants and coworkers. It's worth noting, that this level of collaboration should coem after someone has become obedient to Christ and His mission.

  • Fruit bearing requires that we abide in the Vine (Jesus) and allow Him to produce fruit through us. Our task is abiding, walking as He walked, and making disciples as He made disciples.Jesus recognized that people were at different stages in their spirituality. He started where people were and intentionally moved them to a deeper level of growth and maturity. He called them to produce fruit and multiply, repeating the process for each new generation.




Seven Sails

"From Megachurch to Multiplication" by Chris Gilanos shares how he shifted from his church of 10,000 members to a group of church planters aimed at making a million disciples in the US! The pathway is presented as sails to a ship. A sailboat doesn’t get movement without the wind. If you have no wind, you have no movement, and you aren’t going anywhere. The same is true with a movement of God. No movement can happen without the wind of the Holy Spirit. If there is plenty of wind, but our sails aren’t up, we aren't going sailing. We cannot control the wind of the Holy Spirit, but we can control whether our sails are raised to catch the wind. These 7 elements are consistently found in the lives of ordinary believers who are making many disciples in disciple making movements all over the world. The elements are:


1. CAST VISION

  • If you are excited about something that’s yet to be, then you are a visionary. As it turns out, God is also a visionary. He has dreams for both you and his church.

2. FOCUS ON GOD'S WORD

  • Do you focus on hearing and obeying God’s Word or do you just read and study it? The difference can be knowing God versus knowing about him. “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock." - Matthew 7:24 NIV

3. MULTIPLY PRAYER

  • Prayer movements precede God’s movements on the earth. Prayer is the lifeblood of all of his movements. In order to see God move there is one constant theme - much prayer. If we desire to see the wind of the Holy Spirit empower us to do his work we must commit ourselves to ever increasing, persistent and extraordinary prayer. Then He (Jesus) said to his disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”

4. ENGAGE THE LOST

  • There can be no movement unless lost people are becoming disciples of Jesus. Therefore, we are called to go out among the “lost”, those who are separated from God, in order to gain access to their lives and see movements start. We must see individuals as doorways to families and gateways to communities in order to “win" as the Paul the Apostle stated, "as many as possible." "For the Son of Man (Jesus) came to seek and save those who are lost.” -Luke 19:10 NLT

5. FIND PERSONS OF PEACE

  • When we go out among the “lost”, our ultimate goal is to engage with the "persons of peace" that Jesus spoke about in Matthew 10 and in Luke 10. These are receptive people, whose hearts God has already prepared to receive the gospel and become bridges to provide us with access to their families and their community.

6. START DISCOVERY GROUPS

  • When Jesus launched the first century church at Pentecost he used a disciple making strategy that reached every corner of the Roman Empire by AD 100. The early church started with a strategy to focus on small gatherings of devoted followers who met daily in fellowship. These disciples were mutually linked together as they shared meals with great joy and generosity. Their gatherings promoted both group processing and accountability in order to discover God’s truths and obey his words, resulting in transformed lives and growing numbers.

7. MAKE DISCIPLES

  • He gathered his closest followers together and gave them his final marching orders. He instructed them “as you go” make disciples. But he was instructing them to do more than cause people to mature in their spiritual journeys. He called these first century followers to make disciple-making disciples.

8. MULTIPLY LEADERSHIP

  • Leadership multiplication was the method that Jesus modeled with his disciples and that was practiced by the early church. In Luke 5, Jesus chose 12 disciples. In Luke 9, he sent them out, and though it does not say it in this passage, we learn later that his pattern was to send them out 2-by-2 (6 pairs x 12 = 72 disciples). In the next chapter, Luke 10, Jesus sent out 72 (36 pairs x 2 = 72 + 72 = 516 disciples) which resulted in the 500 plus reported by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:6. Once Jesus ascended to heaven these 500 disciples multiplied again (250 pairs x 12 = 3,000 disciples) the number reported as being saved on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:41. From the sage advice that Moses got from his father-in-law in Exodus 18, to Jesus, to Paul, over and over again reproducing and empowering other leaders is the pattern we see in the Scriptures.


The Five Levels of Disciple Making

In 2016, Discipleship.org and the Exponential Church planting conference brought together some of the greatest disciple makers in the nation to find consensus on a criteria of healthy disciples and discipling churches. Other partners included Jim Putman – and Real Life Ministries, Bill Hull – and the Bonhoeffer Project, Todd Wilson – and the Exponential team, Ralph Moore – and the Hope Chapel Movement, Robby Gallaty – and the Replicate Ministries team, Monte Stark – and the Life-on-Life Missional Discipleship Team, Dave Buehring – and the LionShare team, Luke Yetter – and the Relational Discipleship Network. The scope of contributors alone should grab our attention and validate the criteria they've created. They created an assessment by which disciples can evaluate their progress divided into five levels. These levels are a pathway as well as a healthy evaluation of disciple making efforts:

LEVEL 1

  • People who are not growing in their relationship with Jesus through obedience to Jesus’ disciple-making command. They don’t personally or intentionally focus on helping others become more like Christ, and they don’t help others make disciples. They could actually have a negative impact on the great commission because they allow culture to have a greater impact on the people around them than they do for the cause of Christ.

LEVEL 2

  • People who identify with Christ but are not yet growing in their relationship with Him. Similar to Level 1, they are not directly making disciples. They do aid in disciple-making efforts by attempting to be a consistent part of groups or gatherings that involve others who are growing and becoming disciples. They prevent disciple making from progressing as rapidly as the next three levels (3, 4 and 5) because those assessing at Level 2 don’t seek to influence others for spiritual growth.

LEVEL 3

  • Disciple makers who intentionally advance the disciple-making efforts of others by serving and aiding in the activities and gatherings of the church. They are loyal to their local church, His body and to the leaders who promote disciple making. They are personally growing in their relationship with Christ. They can be depended on in for the cause of disciple making and may personally make baby steps toward making disciples of others and inviting others into the disciple-making activities of the church.

LEVEL 4

  • Disciple makers who are intentionally growing and are actively making disciples. They personally invest in relationships so that they can make disciples and assist in others’ disciple-making efforts as well. They are committed to the process of disciple making, do it themselves, and join with the leadership of their church or ministry to lead people. They wake up to see disciples made through their efforts.

LEVEL 5

  • A mature disciple maker—intentional and effective at raising up disciples and new disciple makers. Those assessing at Level 5 have a long-term view of God’s Kingdom, well beyond the level of their own ability. They wake up to train people who will make disciple makers who will then make other disciple makers, many of whom they will never know. They are fully engaged in catalyzing and fueling disciple-making movements within their church or fellowship of churches.


There are dozens more pathways, including T4T, 3DM, and others. Pathways are helpful in that they give you a direct route to your destination rather than every possible path. Remember that they are just a tool or a utensil compared to the meal that is the Word of God. Always return to the gospels as your curriculum for discernment, which will also prevent these pathways from becoming mechanical.

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