Lesson 1 – A Vision for Making Disciples

The word disciple means “a learner; one who is teachable and disciplined.” Many believers are followers of Jesus, but not so many are true disciples. Being teachable and disciplined are probably two of the greatest deficits within the Body of Christ in most western countries today.

We need the Lord’s vision for making disciples. Unless we capture and embrace His vision, what we look at together over these next weeks will be merely more teaching for us to store on our memory shelves. Our goal is not just material accumulation, but true transformation into the likeness of our Master.

King Solomon wrote: “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained (KJV - perish), but happy is he who keeps the Law.” (Proverbs 29:18)

Without a God-given vision, the power to hold us and keep us on course for God’s will for our lives specifically and corporately is lacking. Unless we have a vision for making disciples, we will fail to get alongside new believers and help them mature in the Lord. Instead, we will busy ourselves with many worthwhile activities, but will leave this commission of the Lord unfulfilled. Being unrestrained, we may be unable to choose the best over the good. Not only will we fail to disciple others, but also we will find excuses for being lazy in the spiritual disciplines ourselves.

Without a vision for disciple-making, we will neglect this mandate from God or be only half-hearted in our obeying it. In neglecting the ministry of disciple-making, we leave new believers to their own progress, hoping they don’t fall away from the faith. As a result, many of them will never grow into maturity in Jesus and will not develop and fulfill their God-given potential.

What we will be looking at in these ten sessions is not a vision of a particular man, but the vision and commissions of the Lord Himself! The ministry of Jesus was that of investing His life into 12 men for three and a half years so that they, in turn, could transmit that life to others. He showed them Who the Father was, and how to have a growing, disciplined relationship with Him. He taught them to pray, to understand the Scriptures, to minister with power, and to walk in humility and love.

Jesus’ earthly ministry was divided into two chief areas: (1) He ministered to the multitudes, and (2) He taught and trained 12 men, investing Himself into them.

Jesus described His ministry to the multitudes in Luke 4:18-19, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord”.

John 17:6,8 describes Jesus’ ministry to His 12 men: “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world... I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me”.

John 17:18 – Later, the Lord’s disciples were sent out to do the same:

  • + to preach the gospel and heal the sick
  • + to reveal the character and love of the Father
  • + to convince others of the divinity of Jesus
  • + to disciple people in their personal relationships with God and His Word

Our calling as the Lord’s disciples is exactly the same as that of Jesus and His original disciples:

  1. We are to minister to the masses in the power of the Spirit through preaching, teaching and healing.
  2. We are to disciple others in their relationship with the Lord.

Jesus did not try to disciple everyone. He only trained those whom the Father gave Him; He poured His life into those twelve men. The commissions that Jesus gave to His disciples should be of top priority within the life of every Christian today.

One commission is found in Matthew 9:37-38 and in Luke 10:2. “Then He said to His disciples, ’The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.’ ”

We all have a mandate from God to pray for more harvest-workers. The more we pray this prayer, the more we will want to be one of those that God sends! The opposite is also true. The less we pray for workers to be sent into the harvest field, the more we will feel comfortable staying right where we are. The late Keith Green wrote a song that has these words: “The Lord tells us to go; why do so many feel called to stay?”

We see another commission for us to obey in Matthew 10:7-8. We are to preach the gospel, the good news of the kingdom of God. Our preaching should include praying for the sick and casting out demons. The Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:4-5, “And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God”.

A third commission, commonly called the Great Commission, is found in Matthew 28:18-20. We are commissioned not only to make converts, but also to make disciples. Disciples do more than merely believe; they obey the Lord, adhering to His ways. To make a disciple requires teaching, mentoring, and modeling the lifestyle of Jesus. It is not just the informing of facts; it is the imparting of life. We must “rub shoulders” with those we disciple.

Making disciples involves a multiplication principle. When one person disciples another, and then both of them disciple others, disciples are multiplied! It is the surest way to bring new believers into a mature understanding of the Lord and His ways. Because it involves personal investment into lives and the ability to teach the Word of God to others, many have not attempted true disciplemaking. They are not willing to make these investments into the lives of new believers. As a result, the growth and maturity of the Church has been limited.

Discipleship example: The world’s most powerful evangelist who could win 1000 souls to Jesus each day of his entire life from the day he was born, would never win the world in his generation. [80 years = 29,200,000] However, if one person disciples another person for an entire year and then each of them disciples another person the next year, there will be four discipling one person each the following year, etc. This could yield the amazing result of the earth’s population being discipled (not just converted) in one generation!33 years = 4,294,967,296 or 34 years = 8,589,934,592

It is not surprising then, that one of the greatest attacks against the Body of Christ for the past 2000 years has been in this area of true disciple-making. Throughout history, the corporate Body of Christ has been it’s weakest when the vision of making disciples has been lost or forgotten.

Here we are – 2000 years since the redemption plan was initiated – and the world is not yet won to the Lord because most Christians are not participating in disciple-making. As a result, the Body of Christ has been debilitated because countless Christians have not been taught how to grow in their knowledge of God. They lack the godly discipline of how to appropriate His Word and His principles in their lives. They grow up crooked and bent because they have had no one to invest in them personally. They have had no one to answer their questions, and to train them to study God’s Word for themselves and to apply it to their lives. Rather than becoming leaders and being able to disciple others, they stay immature and often remain carnal (see Hebrews 5:12-14).

Spiritual leaders today are busy with many areas of ministry, but they often neglect this crucial work of making disciples. So, the Body of Christ is frail in areas. Instead of being strong in the Scriptures, some Christians are pursuing humanistic psychology and New Age philosophies for answers to their problems. They cannot apply the Word of God personally, and cannot teach others to do so. The Church has failed in not investing time and making adequate efforts to disciple and equip the saints for the work of ministry.

The Lord’s ordained method for preparing ministries was and is personal disciple-making. The importance of making disciples cannot be overstated. Dr. Keith Phillips says, “Discipleship is the only way to produce both the quantity and quality of believers God desires.”

Consider these recent evangelistic statistics: 80% of those accepting the Lord fall away from Him within the first year! WHY? For the most part, because they were never personally discipled. Some of the great evangelists of our time (as of 1994) have commented that only about five percent of those who make a decision for Jesus in the former Soviet Union continue more than a few weeks in the faith (quoted from The Harvest Volume 2).

The Great Commission is not to go and make converts, but to go and make disciples.

In our evangelical zeal to save people from hell, we may sometimes be guilty of sealing their damnation with a gospel message that has only inoculated them against true salvation. We have many “infant deaths” within God’s kingdom; they receive the gospel but they don’t grow up in the faith. God does not just want us to bear fruit; we’re to bear fruit that remains. (John 15:16)

The devotional writer Oswald Chambers wrote in “My Utmost for His Highest”

“Our work begins where God’s grace has laid the foundation; we are not to save souls, but to disciple them. Salvation and sanctification are the work of God’s sovereign grace; our work as His disciples is to disciple lives until they are completely yielded and surrendered to God. One life wholly yielded to God is of more value to God than 100 lives simply awakened by His Spirit. God brings us to a standard of life by His grace, and we are responsible for reproducing that standard in others.”

God’s plan for discipleship is two-fold: transformation into the likeness of Jesus, and reproduction (the principle of one teaching another). We will look at these in detail in a later session.

Pastor Rick Joyner wrote these prophetic words in his book, The Harvest Volume 2:

“When revival has come in the past the Body of Christ has seldom been prepared for it. This time can be different. The Lord is right now moving on mature, stable men and women of God to prepare to raise these new spiritual infants so they will not be lost again to the world. Newborn believers are dependent on the Body to provide for them spiritually until they are mature enough to take care of themselves.
Now is the time for us to all prepare by sinking our own roots deeper into the Word of God and by developing our personal relationships with Him. We must know what we believe and know how to teach it. Some are called to teach groups of new believers once a week; some will be devoting every night to this work; He will give us the grace and strength to accomplish it.
Let us prepare now before the flood comes. First we must get our own lives in order, eliminating any sin or compromise. These are the King’s own children He is entrusting us to teach. Let us not only be careful how we teach them, but how we ourselves live. Our lives will be teaching them just as much as the knowledge we impart. The Lord said that after one has been taught he “becomes like his teacher.”
The Holy Spirit is about to challenge all mature believers with the same challenge that He gave to Peter before his ascension. He will be asking us repeatedly if we love Him. If we say “yes” we must be ready to feed and tend His sheep.”

Memory homework for next week: Isaiah 50:4-5, Luke 6:40