Life, Theology & Discipleship with Wes Woodell

7 Characteristics of Disciplemaking Leaders: #1 – Disciplemaking Focus


This post is a continuation of the series Reaching the Missing Generation: Characteristics of Healthy Disciplemaking Ministries outlined here.

Matthew 28:18-20 records the final words of Jesus Christ to His followers before ascending into heaven:

Matthew 28:18-20
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

This passage is commonly referred to as the Great Commission. It should have special significance for any follower of Christ today because it outlines Jesus’ marching orders to us.

There’s only one command in this passage: the command to “make disciples” (imperative tense -i.e. a command – in the original language). The rest of the words that appear to be commands – go, baptize, teach – simply define how we are to carry out Jesus’ singular command to make disciples.

Some reading may be wondering what’s meant by the word disciple as it’s not one that’s commonly used today.

A good definition of the word ‘disciple’ is a student endeavoring to become like their teacher.

This needs to be explained a bit more though as what we think of when we hear the words student and teacher are quite a bit different from what Jesus had in mind.

In the first century when Jesus was walking the earth, the word “disciple” was not a religious word at all. Jesus lived in a day when Greek philosophical culture had become very commonplace.

Philosophers of Jesus’ day and the centuries leading up to it would commonly allow young men to follow them and learn their way of life. Learning for a disciple not only encompassed the kinds of things one might commonly learn in a classroom, but also a way of living everyday life as exemplified by the teacher.

What I mean is students/disciples learning under certain philosophers were not only expected to learn what we would think of as classroom information, but also eating habits, cadence of voice, style of dress, personal hygiene rituals and other minutia related to day-to-day living as laid out by their master.  The strictness of such things varied from teach to teacher, but the point remains:

To be someone’s disciple in the first century involved much more than a passing of information from one person to another. It was a way of life, and that was a commonly understood concept.

Today the average person reading the Great Commission quoted above will not feel the impact of the command because the language and concepts presented are foreign, but also because this isn’t taught or carried out well in the average church.

I believe all of Jesus’ words are important – every one of them. But I also believe He chose His final words very carefully, and He intended them to hold a place of preeminence in the minds of His followers until He returns.

If there’s a single passage that should serve as a lens through which we see our mission in the world as followers of Jesus Christ, Matthew 28:18-20 is it.

Key to leading a healthy disciplemaking ministry is to embrace Jesus’ command to make disciples as your mission.

Church leader, do you believe Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:18-20 were meant for you?

Is His command to make disciples something you’re passionate about carrying out?

How have your structured your ministry through the lens of Matthew 28:18-20?

Leadership Characteristic #1 – Disciplemaking Focus

In my initial research into disciplemaking campus ministries one of the things that stood out to me immediately was the focus of leadership within the groups reaching a lot of people verses those that weren’t.

Campus ministries consistently reaching lost students were led by campus ministers passionately focused on carrying out the Great Commission while those that weren’t were focused on several things.

That may illicit a “duh” from some readers, but you’d be surprised how uncommon it is in church circles to find a leader truly focused on Great Commission ministry and not a bunch of other things.

If you don’t believe me then think about this: how does the average church judge success?

What’s generally the first thing cited when you ask a preacher how their church is doing?

Most of the time, it’s Sunday morning attendance. It’s assumed that if a person or family is attending church, they must be healthy and growing spiritually, and interconnectivity between members is such that no one really knows for sure.

If you attend church you’re familiar with the “how are you doing” – “I’m fine” culture. It’s very common!

But what a lot of people don’t think about is that culture is extremely unhealthy. It allows sin and spiritual immaturity to flourish.

In healthy ministries, disciplemaking is the standard metric used to judge success.

Jesus said to go and make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything.

If that’s our standard for success, we should be asking different questions than how many are showing up on Sundays.

For instance, if Jesus says to “go” – how is our outreach to new people going? How many Bible studies with outsiders are occurring? How many people are being baptized?

For those already baptized, how many are learning to apply Jesus’ teachings to their lives? How many are getting help dealing with deep issues that have been holding them back? How many are learning to have close relationships and handle conflict in a way that’s godly? How many are developing into leaders?

We could add much more to this list, but you can quickly see when the standard for success changes from “How many are showing up?” to “How are we doing at carrying out the Great Commission?” the ballgame changes.

In ministries that are truly making disciples, the primary metric used to define success by leaders is the Great Commission.

This disciplemaking focus is the first commonly-shared characteristic among leaders in healthy, disciplemaking ministries.


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