Discipleship Principles from Christ
One of the benefits in studying the ministry of Christ is that he provides many principles that we can practice as we attempt to follow his methods in making disciples. I would like to share seven of those principles:
A disciple must be obedient to the commands of Christ.
The cultural understanding of the traditional method of discipleship would imply that the disciples of Jesus would eventually have their own personal disciples. But now, during Christ’s earthly ministry, the discipleship process changed for the first time. In the Christian realm, no one any longer was authorized to make a disciple to follow himself. As the disciples implemented Christ’s Great Commission, they were only to make disciples of Jesus. The disciple will emulate the life of the discipler but they never become his disciples—only Christ’s disciples. He is the one the disciples must obey whether it is by clear command or by a principal being taught.
The smaller the group of concentration, the greater the impact.
Jesus ministered to the multitudes and a smaller group called “the Seventy,” but his ministry with the twelve disciples allowed Christ to be more personal and direct in his approach. Notably, Jesus did more than meet with his disciples once a week for a Bible study. He lived and traveled with them for about two and a half years. This allowed him to spend extensive time with his disciples individually―especially Peter, James, and John―as well as in a group. Herb Hodges estimates that Jesus spent eighty-five percent of his public ministry with his twelve disciples.1 According to John 21:25, he taught the disciples much more than what is recorded in the Gospels, but it is clear that his living example had profound impact on their lives. The disciples were forever changed by the concentrated, intensive discipleship relationship that Christ had with them, as they lived and traveled with him.
Every serous young believer should have a person assigned as his personal discipler.
This person answers questions, clarifies truth, encourages, guides, and exhorts the young disciple. According to Coleman, about half of those who make professions of faith and join the church eventually fall away or lose the joy and excitement of their Christian life. He says that fewer still grow in sufficient knowledge and grace to be of real service to the kingdom.2 Why are we failing, and what did Jesus do to prevent such a high percentage of failure? Simply put, he spent time with the disciples. This is what is missing in most churches in the twenty-first century.
We need to disciple people by life example.
If we merely instruct without living what we teach, our protégés will not wholeheartedly receive that instruction—and often, never learn it.
One can never underestimate the impact of life example on another person. The example of our Lord, for instance, demonstrated to his disciples how to live and serve. First, this is clearly illustrated in his prayer life. He prayed daily, many times for hours at a time, even praying all night on at least one occasion (Luke 6:12). He prayed separately and with the disciples. Yes, Jesus gave them instruction on how to pray (Matt. 6:9–13; Luke 11:1–4) but he primarily taught by example.
Second, Jesus used the Word of God often in ministry, as he discussed truths and he fought temptation. According to Herman Horne in his book Jesus the Master Teacher, Jesus made reference to Old Testament Scripture at least sixty-six times in the Gospels, and ninety allusions to Scripture as he spoke to others.3
Third, Jesus talked often and throughout his ministry about believing in him. He exhorted people to believe almost daily and sent out the disciples to do the same. This idea of winning people to Christ was the heartbeat of Jesus and should be emulated by every disciple of Christ. Even the Great Commission requires leading a person to Christ in order to make a disciple. The rest of the commission is about helping the new Christian grow through discipleship.
We must send the disciple on ministry assignments.
Ministry therefore serves as an important aspect of discipleship as it provides opportunities for both discipler and disciple to exemplify Christlikeness. Interestingly, the disciples did little service for their master until they had observed him for the first year. They were there to watch and learn. As Coleman points out, even after Christ formally ordained them into the ministry (Matt. 4:19; Mark 1:17; Luke 5:10), there is little evidence that they practiced evangelism.4
Eventually Jesus put the disciples in situations where they would have to share their faith. He gathered them together and sent them out two by two (Matt. 10:5; Mark 6:7; Luke 9:1–2). This illustrates another important principle we can glean from Christ’s ministry: We must send the disciple on ministry assignments.
A few months after he sent the disciples on their mission he sent out the Seventy on a similar training mission (Luke 10:1:1–16). It appears that the disciples were sent out with this second group as well. There were other ministry experiences the disciples took part in as discussed below. Overall, as Coleman points out, the disciples were told on at least four occasions after the Lord’s resurrection to go out and do his work (Luke 24:38–43, 47; John 20:21; 21:15–17; Matt 28:16; Acts 1:8).5
Accountability and instruction are important aspects of training.
When a young disciple experiences the Holy Spirit working through his life, service becomes a tremendous encouragement and motivator as he continues to grow in his relationship with Christ. The experience also helps her improve the skills used in the ministry and when her disciple maker both praises and critiques her work it becomes even more of a motivator for perseverance and growth. In the case of being sent out by Jesus the disciples also grew in faith after being instructed not to take food or money (Matt 10:9; Luke 10:4). They were forced to live totally by faith while they were away, which allowed them to see God providing for their needs and thereby increasing their faith.
After a disciple participates in a ministry experience a good disciple maker will attempt to hold the disciple accountable. A principle we can glean from the discipleship of Christ is that we must recognize that accountability and instruction are important aspects of training. Holding the disciple accountable by having him report back is an indispensable training tool. Jesus did that after the Twelve came back from their mission (Mark 6:30; Luke 9:10), and again when the seventy-two returned (Luke 10:17). They had a debriefing meeting in which the members of the mission had a chance to share with Jesus what took place and the blessings they experienced. Consider also Jesus’ reaction when the disciples failed to heal the demon-possessed boy (Mark 9:17–29; Matt 17:14–20; Luke 9:37–43). Using the opportunity to impart additional instruction, he emphasized the importance of prayer and fasting in dealing with such cases. In general, Jesus used their ministry as an opportunity to further train his disciples.
Discipleship must include multiplication.
Christ’s ministry reveals to us that discipleship must include multiplication. The entire movement of Jesus was based on this principle. If the disciples only reproduced themselves, Christianity would have ceased in the first century. If every generation would have practiced this principal of discipleship with multiplication as their prime objective, every generation would have won their receptive world to Christ. Our failure to effectively make disciples throughout most of history does not stem from having disavowed Christ’s plan, but from having consistently ignored it.
- Hodges, Herb, Jesus the Greatest Disciple-Maker of Christian History (Germantown, TN: Spiritual Life Ministries), 4.
- Coleman, Robert E., The Master Plan of Evangelism (Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 2001),
- Horne, Herman H., Jesus the Master Teacher (New York: Association Press, 1920), 93–106.
- Coleman, Robert E., The Master Plan of Evangelism,
- Ibid., 86.
(This excerpt comes from chapter 3 of Changing the Landscape of Eternity)