How Can You Effectively Make Disciples? Practical Steps and Personal Insights

How Can You Effectively Make Disciples? Practical Steps and Personal Insights

Making disciples is at the heart of building a vibrant and impactful church community. Here’s a comprehensive approach on how to make disciples, from identifying the right individuals to fostering deep, and lasting relationships. Discover how intentional disciple-making can transform lives and strengthen every church’s foundation. 

1. Select the right person.

When you begin to make disciples in your church, beginning with the right person is critical. I can remember when I was a new pastor and God was burdening me about making disciples. I remember one of the businessmen who invested in me saying, “Craig, just pray for God to give you one man to pour your life into.” So, I started praying. 
After a few days, a young man walked into our church whom I had never met before. He was in his early twenties, stocky athletic build with short hair, and fresh out of college. I introduced myself to him. “Hey, my name is Gibson,” he replied. He just felt impressed to come to our church that day and check it out. Immediately I felt the Spirit prompt me. “You prayed for a guy. Well, here he is.” 
That next week, I invited Gibson out to eat and I asked him if he would be interested in meeting together for some time to grow in his relationship with Christ. He said he would love to. In the meantime, God brought two other college grads across my path. The four of us started meeting early in the morning. We studied God’s word, memorized scripture, prayed together, and talked openly about struggles. I walked them through a study that they could use to reproduce with other people.
As I look back on that season, God did a great work in the lives of those men. Today, each one is married and has a family of his own. Two men work in Christian schools, one as a principal and the other as a coach. They are faithfully investing their lives in men and students. Gibson graduated from Seminary, got married to a girl on our church staff, has four children, and is planting a church in Philadelphia. He still hasn’t lost the fire to make disciples. 
In fact, just a few months ago Gibson told me his side of the story. He had been praying for God to bring a man into his life to show him how to grow spiritually. As he was driving down the street of our church, the Spirit of God quickly prompted him to pull into the parking lot. He said, “I had never been in that church before, but God told me to pull in that night.” That was the night we met. 
Here is what I know…God sees the big picture, and He is always willing and ready to bring a faithful disciple across the path of an open seeker. If you are asking him to lead you, then He will lead you to the person you are to pour your life into.

Here are some things to look for when you select a person to disciple: 

  • First, start with your existing leaders. 
As I’ve said before, the people in the church expect you to spend time with existing leaders. So, start there. Are there any existing leaders who would be open and hungry to be trained to walk with God? If so, then begin with them. 
When I came to Colleyville, I started with our Leadership Team and worked from there. If they are already in leadership, I certainly want them walking with Jesus. So look first to your leaders. 
  • Second, look for people who are hungry for more. 
We call them “poppers.” These are people who pop up out of the crowd. They are always there. They are eager to learn. They have spiritual questions. They are growing and you sense a teachable attitude. Paul told Timothy to select “faithful men” who had the capacity to teach others (2 Timothy 2.2). I’ve always heard the acrostic F.A.T.—faithful, available, and teachable. 
  • Third, start with already seasoned believers. 
This may sound a bit counterintuitive. You would think to start with a new believer who doesn’t know much and really needs it. But in the beginning you want to start with people who are solid and could rapidly reproduce. Soon you will have an army of people who can come alongside new believers. 
  • Fourth, follow the prompting of the Spirit. 
As you start looking for men to train, the Spirit will lead you to the right person, just as he led me to Gibson.
every disciple maker has a tool that they use to invest in others

2. Pick a tool. 

Every carpenter has a hammer. Every surgeon has a scalpel. Every mechanic has a wrench. And every disciple maker has a tool that they use to invest in others. When I say a tool, I mean some kind of material that intentionally trains the person being discipled in the skills you think they need to know. Remember, this training is to instill in new believers the character and competencies of Jesus, so pick a tool that accomplishes that and use it. 
Now some people have said, “The Bible is my tool.” And that sounds really good. The only problem with that is when you get three to four generations deep, there is no way to know if what you trained your guy to do is going to be what is reproduced down the line. 
Tools help ensure that the investment you make is easily reproducible. All the great disciple-making ministries (Navigators, Campus Crusade, CBMC) have tools they have created and that they use consistently over time. You may want to create your own, but you certainly don’t have to. 
There are many materials available today that you can choose from that will work just fine. My suggestion is to look around and find the tool you are most comfortable with and start using it. You might even want to test drive a few to see how you like them, but find a tool and stick with it. 
At our church we utilize many of the tools written by Navigators. We also use a tool called “One on One with God” that was written by Jerry Fine, one of the men who discipled me in Oklahoma City. These are tools we have used and we know are easily reproduced. As you find a tool that works best for you, over time you will see people reproducing it to the third and fourth generation!  
Now, let me add a warning here. The tool in no way replaces the person. You can get someone through material. But life change happens when they see your life and your example. Tools are helpful for reproduction. But the power of disciple making comes in your personal investment.
Guard your time. 
This is, of course, one of the biggest issues for pastors. There is so much to do and so little time to do it. Often personal investment in people gets pushed to the side for more urgent matters. But I have found that if I schedule something, I can protect it. 
For years my wife and I have had planning date nights. We will go on a date, maybe a nice dinner or out for coffee. Then we will open up both of our calendars (or pull them up on our phones) and we will schedule our lives for the next four to six months. We will put down all the school dates and kids’ activities. We’ll input all the key events at church. Then we will schedule our date nights. 
We go out on a date at least once every two weeks. When we were younger with no kids we went on a date once a week. But with our hectic pace, once every two weeks works perfectly. Now we do this for one reason. If we don’t schedule our date nights well in advance, they don’t happen. The busy-ness of life crowds out what’s most important—our marriage. The same is true with disciple making. 

The matrix of importance and urgency

Dr. Stephen Covey has a matrix familiar to most business leaders. On the X axis is urgency, and on the Y axis is importance. The top left quadrant is very important but not urgent. The top right quadrant is very important and very urgent. The bottom left quadrant is not important and not urgent. And the bottom right quadrant is not important but very urgent. 
Most people live in the bottom right quadrant. It’s not important but it’s highly urgent. These are the things that come across your desk that are someone else’s emergency that you have to drop everything and fix. It is not important to you. It might even be a distraction to you, but it’s urgent. 
Then there are many things that fall into the top right quadrant—highly urgent and important. The deadline for that client. The bills getting paid. The sermon for Sunday. An emergency at the hospital that is life or death. These are highly important and highly urgent matters. Pastors tend to live in these two worlds. High urgency, more or less importance. 
But more often we don’t get to move over to the quadrant that really matters—the top left quadrant which is highly important but not urgent. This is the quadrant of visioneering and planning. This is the quadrant of relationship building. This is the quadrant of prayer. And this is the quadrant of disciple making. 
Chances are good that no one is going to burst into your office tomorrow and say it’s vitally urgent that you disciple men right away. It is not urgent. In fact, there are many more things that are urgent. The proposal for the leadership team is urgent. Addressing that blow up on the youth staff is urgent. Stepping into a marriage conflict with one of your leaders is urgent. 
Disciple making isn’t urgent, but it is vitally important. The way you make room for the top left quadrant is you schedule time for it. So I set aside certain times in my week when I am available to meet with men. Most men in our church can meet early in the morning or after dinner. So I have Thursday mornings from 7 a.m. – 9 a.m. blocked off to meet with men. I also have an evening block late on Wednesday nights where I can meet with men. 
Now, I have to be flexible. These times may have to change. Right now I just finished meeting with two young men who could only meet on Saturday mornings at 7:00a.m., so that’s when we met. But I block off times when I am available; that way it happens. If I don’t block it off, it won’t happen.
start off by asking a man to just give me five weeks

3. Disciple in stages.

I always found it helpful to start off by asking a man to just give me five weeks. We use a simple tool called, “Lessons on Assurance” produced by The Navigators. It’s a very thin piece, simple and direct. But it allows me to start investing in a man’s life by showing him the five great assurances we have as followers of Jesus. 
He is usually not intimidated by the small book and the short amount of time. If he will meet with me for five weeks and he is there faithfully, he is engaged, he comes prepared with his verses memorized, and he’s wanting more, then I will continue to invest my time in him using other tools designed to take him deeper. If he is not faithful about showing up and coming prepared, then I won’t keep investing in him. I will complete the five weeks and move on to someone else. 
I look at it this way…I’m giving this man something far more valuable than my money. I’m giving him my life. And if he can’t make five weeks with me, then he’s not a wise investment of my time. Possibly it is not the right time for him. Maybe he’s not ready for that kind of challenge. Either way, I need to move on. Because I have a short piece up front, I can assess the readiness and faithfulness of the man I’m discipling. 
Find a tool that is only a few weeks long. Use that time to invest in this man and assess his teachable-ness and eagerness. If he wants more, then take him to another level that will require more time and accountability. If he doesn’t want more, then cut the line, re-bait, and keep fishing.

4. Take them with you. 

As I mentioned before, the curriculum or tool is not a substitute for a godly example. Disciple making is about life on life, not getting people through the material. So as you invest in a man, spend time with him, both in ministry and casually. 
I learned this from David Guinn. When I first met David, he was leading the college ministry for a large church in Waco, Texas. David was a former Olympic wrestler. He was broad and strong, with a full beard and booming voice. David also loved Jesus with all his heart. 
While running that campus ministry, he led many of the Baylor football players to Christ. God was using him powerfully. Every weekend, hundreds of students at Baylor University would pack into the church to hear him teach the Bible. 
David was also passionate about making disciples. In fact, it was David who first introduced me to disciple making. He wrote his own material. It was nothing complicated, but it trained students on how to spend time in God’s word, to pray, to share their faith, and to love people. 
I was in Seminary at the time, working with college students, and so I would often ask David to come speak to our group. Every time he would come to speak, I noticed he always had a college athlete with him. Sometimes the student would lead us in a prayer. Sometimes David would have him share his testimony. But David always had a guy with him. When I asked David about it, he said, “Craig, never do ministry alone. Always have a guy with you so you can model for them what ministry looks like.” I’ve never forgotten his words. 
Ministry and life is more caught than taught. Following David’s example, I started discipling students in our college ministry. At the time, Liz and I lived in a small (I mean really small) studio apartment. It was so small you could vacuum the downstairs using one plug! We invited college kids to come over for discipleship on Sunday nights. 
Looking back, we did it all wrong. We had guys and girls mixed together. We had probably fifteen to twenty crammed into our apartment instead of gathering in small groups. The place was so packed that we had students sitting on the stairs. We practically read through the material with little interaction. 
We broke all the disciple-making rules. But we invested in their lives. We spent time with them. We had fun together. We went on trips together. We experienced life together. Today, more than half a dozen of those in that group are in full-time ministry, and many more are faithfully making disciples in their churches. 
As you invest in people, spend time with them. Take them with you as you care for people. Have them over to your house to watch football. Let them see how you interact as a family. Spend time together. Remember, high contact equals high impact.
Expose them to evangelism opportunities

5. Expose them to evangelism opportunities. 

Hopefully you know by now that disciple making is not just sitting around a table with a cup of coffee writing in a workbook. Disciple making is imparting your life into another person with the purpose of training them to walk with God, reach their lost friends, and reproduce. 
As I have already stated, evangelism is the first step in the disciple-making process. Jesus spent roughly half of his earthly ministry in the “come and see” phase, engaging spiritual explorers and confronting them with his claims to be the Christ. When Jesus began discipling his men, he took them on tours throughout the villages in Galilee preaching the gospel. It was as they walked along the way that Jesus invested in their lives, teaching his men and engaging them in conversation. 
Jesus modeled for his men a love for people far from God. According to Jesus, any real disciple-making strategy must include training men to reach their lost friends with the gospel. So, part of your strategy needs to include helping your men be active, faithful witnesses at home, at the office, on the ball field, and in the neighborhood. 
Over the years, I’ve trained men to use the simple “bridge illustration” as a way to present the gospel. Training in evangelism is important, but practice is vital. It is best if you can take the men you are discipling to places where they can practice having spiritual conversations. 
Any ministry that serves a meal to the homeless or visits men in minimum security prisons or hands out backpacks in local apartments is a great place for men to practice sharing their faith. Also, it’s great to encourage your men to invite a lost friend to do something with the two of you. Play golf, go shooting, or take in a ball game together. In this way, you can model how to build relationships and spark spiritual conversations. 
There are many ways to keep evangelism central in your time with this man. But remember, how you train him is how he will most likely reproduce. If you don’t train him in evangelism, he will never train men to actively share their faith. If you show him how to effectively share the gospel, he will do it and train others how to do it for the rest of his life.
This blog features an excerpt from one of our books, Bold Moves.

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