Principles in Selecting One to Disciple

Principles in Selecting One to Disciple

Less is better! For most laypeople, the maximum number you’ll be able to handle at one time is one or two. If a person is fortunate as I have been, as a pastor, to include discipleship in one’s daily schedule, he may be able to handle more. However, it is still better to concentrate on a few individuals. As discussed earlier, effective discipleship includes more than just meeting once a week for a Bible study. One should always look for opportunities to spend time with the protégé beyond the regular meeting. I often take men with me to visit at the jail, hospital, nursing home, and on home visitation. I also look for opportunities for social interaction, like going with them to lunch or having them over to my home. These activities provide an opportunity to minister through relationship and through one’s example. Therefore, a disciple maker should choose a smaller number of individuals, and allow for relational opportunities beyond the weekly meeting.

Should be God-given. Many people may appear needful and desirous of discipleship, nevertheless, God has prepared certain people for you to disciple. Jesus referred to his followers in John 17:6 as men God gave him to disciple. He taught them and spent considerable time praying for them (John 17:6–10). God wants to give men or women to us for the same purpose. Thus, we must make it a serious matter of prayer by asking God to reveal those God-given people to us.

Don’t choose hastily. Jesus took one-and-a-half years to choose his twelve disciples. He didn’t rush; he knew what was at stake. I’m not suggesting that it will take a year and a half to choose someone to disciple, but we should not be hasty. Get acquainted with the prospect, observe the person’s character, and evaluate if he or she meets the “FATHER” or “MOTHER” criteria (I’ll explain this in a few pages). If you believe the person qualifies, meet with him or her and explain the commitment required. The disciple needs to understand the importance of the discipleship process. Once he or she does, the true disciple will be eager to agree to the commitment.

The necessity of prayer. Jesus spent an entire night in prayer before he selected twelve men to be his disciples (Luke 6:12–13). If selection was so critically important to the Son of God, how much more important would it be for finite man? Because of the limited number of people we can disciple, the importance of selecting the right person cannot be emphasized enough. We should look for people who we can pass the torch to—people who will become true followers of Christ who will in turn make the most of their lives in dedication to him. Jesus said, “apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Without God’s direction and help in the selection and discipleship process we will fail; therefore, prayer is the key from beginning to end.

The true value of the prospect’s visible qualities. One would think that when a movement founder recruits key individuals to be leaders in a worldwide movement—armed with the vision to bring transformation to billions in the years to come—abilities would play an important role in the selection process. In my study of Scripture I do not see any of the twelve disciples bringing any assets to Christ―whether finances, personal abilities, or social connections―that would enhance the embryonic movement to make disciples. Ironically, Judas Iscariot may have had the most going for him as far as assets are concerned. And the repeated performances of the disciples revealed that their character lacked something to be desired. This was Peter’s own evaluation as he attested to his sinful condition: “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8).

Writing about the selection process of Jesus, Gordon MacDonald says, “It seems instructive that Jesus did little talking about His disciples’ past. You would think we’d have heard a lot about Matthew’s way of life as a tax collector or about Simon the Zealot’s association with a political movement known for violence. But we don’t. Jesus never exploits their ‘testimonies.’ If dark moments existed in the background of the Twelve (and there had to be), Jesus downplayed them, buried them in redemption. The Lord simply didn’t deal with the past of people in public.”1 Just as in an election, a candidate’s visible qualities often have little to do with his or her true character. It’s the inner qualities, developed in us by the Spirit of God, that really influence success when one is knee-deep in the pressures and temptations of life.

Christ’s selection of his men was not based on what they were outwardly but on what they would become through his discipleing of their lives. We must be careful not to pick a disciple because of his talent, intelligence, gifts, pleasing personality, or outgoing nature. If we were going to select disciples for Jesus, understanding their background and training, we probably would not have selected any of the Twelve. Concerning these men Robert Coleman noted, “They do not impress us as being key men. None of them occupied prominent places in the synagogue nor did any of them belong to the Levitical Priesthood. For the most part they were common laboring men, probably having no professional training beyond the rudiments of knowledge necessary for their vocation.”2 Does this not give you, as it does me, great hope as men and women who, through the power of the Holy Spirit, have the ability to see great things accomplished for Christ?

Praise God for his unsurpassable greatness! Since we also want to select people based on what they could become, it is critical that we not allow ourselves to be biased because of the prospect’s outward characteristics. We must follow God’s direction for the selection of the people of his choosing.

The gender required. Even though it may be obvious, the importance of discipling someone of the same gender is a principle that many have unwisely violated. Discipling another person is a long-term process that becomes both intensive and intimate. Therefore, attempting to disciple someone of the opposite sex is both ineffective and dangerous. The discipleship process involves informal counseling that includes personal and gender-sensitive issues. A wise disciple maker does not enter this type of relationship with one of the opposite sex.

I am often asked if it is okay to disciple one’s spouse. Of course, the intimate and sensitive aspects would not necessarily cause a problem in such a case. However, because of the accountability and authority the disciple maker has over his disciple, it is best that one other than a spouse conduct the discipleship. A person of the same gender can more fully comprehend the problems and needs of another, and can address these needs with more complete understanding. I am not implying that one person should not have spiritual input and responsibility regarding his or her spouse, but rather, that the nature of discipleship is better suited with another of the same sex.


  1. Quoted by Bennett, Ron and Purvis, John, The Adventure of Discipling Others (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2003), 95.
  2. Coleman, Robert E., The Master Plan of Evangelism (Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 2001), 28.

 (This excerpt comes from chapter 6 of Changing the Landscape of Eternity)

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