Discipling or Disciple Making – where’s the difference?

When Jesus came he taught those around him that the Kingdom of God has come to earth, calling them to repent and believe and showing them what that looked like in a practical sense –  heal the sick, cast out demons and baptise new Believers, all while looking after the poor and marginalised. Most of his early followers were illiterate and poor.

Along the way, his disciples and followers discovered who he was. “Who do people say that I am?” he asked his disciples one day.  “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” said Peter.

They discovered who Jesus truly was, by obediently following him. They didn’t know who he was at first, they discovered who he was along the journey and followed him based on who they saw him to be and what he did. They were disciples, or followers, before they really believed.

Isn’t that so different from what we do today?

Today we have switched almost full tilt, the MO of Jesus’ command to “Go, make Disciples”.

It begins when we ask people into our church. Immediately, we have substituted the command to “Go” with “Come.” Our intent, is not to lead people to discover Jesus for themselves, but to bring them to a rapid conversion, usually based around “accepting Jesus into their heart”.  There is little reference, if any, made towards obedient submission to Christ.

Any “believers” from this point on, are navigated towards a discipling programme. Typically we disciple new believers, not to discover Jesus by obediently following him, but by teaching doctrine. Knowledge trumps obedience, and we continue that emphasis ongoing, knowledge over obedience for the rest of a believer’s life.

There is a sharp difference between following Jesus’ command to ‘Go and make Disciples’ and our version of ‘discipling a new convert.’

By introducing people to discover Jesus for themselves, the emphasis is on obediently following him, and sharing what they discover with others. They usually discover Jesus in small, like-minded groups such as their family, or a close affinity. It is possible to have many groups that continue to grow and multiply, with few or even no believers directly involved. We have known 16 interconnected groups, all meeting around the Bible, discovering Jesus for themselves – and not a believer in sight.

In teaching obedience from the outset, we immediately set the bar for what following Jesus looks like. Part of that is sharing him with others (yes, even before becoming a believer) and so multiplication begins. Part of that is also accepting that through the Word and the power of the Spirit, anyone can discover Jesus for themselves, and follow him. Do we really believe that though?

It’s time to reset our thinking around what he actually taught; one is but a shadow of the other.

8 thoughts on “Discipling or Disciple Making – where’s the difference?

  1. Ailsa

    Yes I’ve heard and pondered these thoughts before. I am also aware not only our words/teachings are making disciples but also my/our very lives are speaking and teaching what it looks like to follow Jesus. That is our words, our decisions, relationships etc. Sobering.


  2. Ian Thomson

    Excellent. I would go further and declare that the one is a deception– the utter reverse of the other. Like many sayings of Jesus so many think they have understood but yet are deceived and are so committed to their view it is almost impossible to convince otherwise. So we see powerless religion and not the Kingdom manifested. Yet with God nothing is impossible.


  3. Thanks for the insights. It seems if you are taught obedience to Jesus as a mandate to following him, then your life should reflect righteousness, which is very important in making disciples and more followers.


  4. russ

    ‘They discovered who Jesus truly was, by obediently following him.’

    Sums up so much. Sticking close to Him, and keeping in step with Him. Relationally. And growingly.

    As simple and difficult as that.

    How DESPERATELY we need The Help of The Spirit, to be built into the Body of Christ, discipling disciples. And being disciples. In the footsteps of our Lord. In humility, Agape love, promotion downwards in The Kingdom of God.

    “He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He Walked.”


  5. Isaac

    Wow this is really inspiring
    Today we have indeed interchanged what Jesus commanded us to do
    But i pray we get inspired and do accordingly to Jesus’ command ” Go make disciples”


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