Life, Theology & Discipleship with Wes Woodell

7 Characteristics of Disciplemaking Leaders: #5 – Disciplemaking Leaders Reproduce Themselves


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

Years ago when I was fairly new to ministry, I listened as three older church leaders counseled a younger one regarding how to judge the effectiveness of his ministry over time.

The first said not to worry about effectiveness – only faithfulness; the second said to make sure each person in the ministry was spiritually growing; the third gave a convoluted answer that didn’t seem to have anything to do with the question.

I kept silent since I didn’t have anything to add, but remember feeling like none of that advice was particularly helpful.

Today, if I could travel back in time and speak to that young minister I’d encourage him to evaluate his present work through the lens of the Great Commission (characteristic #1 in this series), then I’d give him another question to ask himself:

“How am I reproducing myself?”

To be effective in the long run, disciplemaking leaders must not only keep an eye on what’s happening in the present, but also on what will happen as a result of their work in the future.

What are you leaving behind? How can you ensure the hard work of disciplemaking will continue after you’re gone?

The only way to answer those questions satisfactorily is to intentionally and methodically focus on developing the next generation of disciplemaking leaders.

Luckily for us we have a great example to follow in Jesus Christ, because that’s exactly what He did.

Leadership Characteristic #5 – Disciplemaking Leaders Reproduce Themselves

Besides the Bible, few books have been as formative to my personal approach to ministry as has Robert E. Coleman’s classic The Master Plan of Evangelism. If you’ve never read this book stop what you’re doing, get yourself a copy and go read it! Coleman’s book should be a ready reference for anyone interested in leading a disciplemaking ministry.

The power of Master Plan is found in Coleman’s approach to developing a leadership model. Instead of reinventing the wheel, Coleman simply analyzes the leadership style of Jesus as recorded in the gospels. What’s shared in Master Plan are leadership principles forming the model and philosophy of the Master himself.

What was striking to me the first time I read Master Plan was Jesus’ emphasis on leadership development above most everything else.

Coleman begins his book pointing out that Jesus’ own plan to turn the world upside down began with His calling a few men to follow Him – not multitudes. It was through the intentional development of the few – Twelve specifically – that Jesus spawned the spiritual revolution the world enjoys the benefits of today.

Coleman’s study lays out eight Master Plan principles drawn from his study of the ministry model of Jesus. A summary of each follows.

Master Principle #1 – Selection

As mentioned above, Jesus called just a few men to follow Him. It’s not because Jesus was unconcerned for the multitudes. On the contrary – Coleman notes “His concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes, but with men whom the multitudes would follow.” Jesus intentionally focused on the few precisely because He was concerned with the many! He knew His own ability to give personal attention would be limited, and He needed to reproduce Himself in other men in order multiply His efforts.

So what kind of men did Jesus select? Acts 4:13 notes these men were “unschooled, ordinary men” – so what did Jesus see it them?

Very simply, they were teachable.

If you follow the example of Jesus the most important characteristic you will look for in a potential leader is whether they are teachable and will accept correction or not. Attitude and humility matter much more than perceived ability or giftedness.

Does a person you’re considering for leadership training have an attitude that makes them teachable and coachable?

The men Jesus chose weren’t “special” by the world’s standards. They simply had the right attitude and posture that made their development possible.

If you read the story of the New Testament and corresponding history, you already know Jesus took these unschooled, ordinary men and equipped them to turn the world upside down, but how? The rest of the principles laid out by Coleman tell us what occured to make that happen post-selection.

Master Principle #2 – Association

The primary way Jesus taught these Twelve developing leaders to become the men God was calling them to be was simply by being with them. Coleman puts it this way:

Jesus had no formal school, no seminaries, no outlined course of study, no periodic membership classes in which he enrolled his followers. None of these highly organized procedures considered so necessary today entered into his ministry. Amazing as it may seem, all Jesus did to teach these men his way was to draw them close to himself. He was his own school and curriculum.

This is precisely the kind of training referred to in leadership characteristic #2 in this series.

Coleman continues:

His disciples were distinguished, not by outward conformity to certain rituals, but by being with him, and thereby participating in his doctrine (John 18:19).

Intentionally and over time Jesus was simply with them.

The time Jesus spent with the Twelve is likened to the time a father spends with his children. Any readers who are parents know raising children to adulthood is not an overnight task – it’s a process. In addition to requiring a lot of energy, it also requires a lot of time.

That’s something that was understood in the early church as evidence by what Paul writes in his instructions to his own mentee Timothy:

1 Timothy 5:22a
22a Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands …

In the first century church leaders would lay hands on new men being commissioned for ministry in a ceremony where they would pray God’s blessings on the new leader.

When Paul instructs Timothy not to be hasty in the laying on of hands, he’s telling him to take the time necessary to develop new leaders and not to rush the process. The requirement of a high level of not only energy, but also time could be the main reason why most church leaders do a poor job of reproducing themselves. It’s a major undertaking that requires a large chunk of your life.

There’s no excuse though, and Coleman doesn’t mince words on this point:

If Sunday services and membership training classes are all that a church has to develop young converts into mature disciples, then they are defeating their own purpose by contributing to a false security, and if the new convert follows the same lazy example, it may ultimately do more harm than good.

Jesus, the Son of God, spent nearly three years being with His disciples day to day, and still one of His potential leaders fell away. What makes us think we could do a better job than Jesus – especially doing less?!

When put that way, the common methods for developing leaders employed today seem more than a little bit silly, don’t they?

Master Principle #3 – Consecration

Jesus expected the leaders He was developing to listen to Him. He didn’t go chasing after them and didn’t waste His time on people who didn’t want to follow. He was training men and women to be leaders in the Kingdom, and didn’t scatter His energy chasing after people who wanted to do things on their own terms. Church leaders today must follow His example in this.

This doesn’t mean human failings aren’t tolerated. Jesus’ closest disciples certainly weren’t perfect, but the Master distinguished between lapses in faithfulness and outright rebellion. Jesus didn’t require perfection, but He did require loyalty from His followers.  Coleman believes that’s because no one can be a leader until they’ve first learned to follow a leader.

As an aside, it’s also interesting to note that Jesus “brought up his future commanders from the ranks.” Most churches today hire professional staff from the outside. Were Jesus among us in bodily form today, it’s unlikely He would consider that option. Jesus trained leaders from within His local faith community – perhaps we should too?

Master Principle #4 – Impartation

The word “impartation” isn’t one that’s typically used in everyday language today. In the context of Jesus’ relationship with His disciples, it simply means “to share” or “to give.” Coleman explains impartation like this:

[Jesus’ life] was a life of giving— giving away what the Father had given him (John 15:15; 17:4, 8, 14). He gave [his disciples] his peace by which he was sustained in tribulation (John 16:33; see Matt. 11:28). He gave them his joy in which he labored amid the sufferings and sorrows about him (John 15:11; 17:13). He gave them the keys to his Kingdom against which the powers of hell could never prevail (Matt. 16:19; see Luke 12:32). Indeed, he gave them his own glory, which was his before the worlds were made, that they all might be one even as he was one in the Father (John 17:22, 24). He gave all he had— nothing was withheld, not even his own life. Love is like that. It is always giving itself away.

This is exactly right. You can read John 3:16 and stop nine words in to get that truth: “For God so loved the world that He gave …” – to love is to give!

One of the greatest gifts Jesus would give His disciples would be the gift of His own Spirit including His passion for reaching a lost world.

Coleman notes when Jesus imparted His Spirit upon the Twelve “they would know the love of God for a lost world.” Jesus imparted so many blessings to His disciples, not the least of which was the passion He possessed for the mission to seek and save a lost world:

[Jesus] lost no opportunity to impress on his followers the deep compulsion of his own soul aflame with the love of God for a lost world. Everything he did and said was motivated by this consuming passion. His life was simply the revelation in time of God’s eternal purpose to save for himself a people. Supremely, this is what the disciples needed to learn, not in theory but in practice.

As the Spirit works in us and our hearts become more aligned with the heart of Christ, we come alive with a passion to share His blessing with others.

What will hinder this work in a disciple’s life is an unwillingness to give up control to God. We must remain humble and teachable not only in the initial stages of development, but throughout our lives.

Master Principle #5 – Demonstration

In addition to personal teaching and attention, a big part of the reason the disciples’ time was well spent with Jesus was simply because they were able to watch Him. They were able to observe His prayer life, use of scripture, emphasis on reaching the lost, and His unique style of teaching.

Coleman points this out:

They observed how he drew people to himself; how he won their confidence and inspired their faith; how he opened to them the way of salvation and called them to a decision. In all types of situations and among all kinds of people, rich and poor, healthy and sick, friend and foe alike, the disciples watched the master soul winner at work. It wasn’t outlined on the blackboard of a stuffy classroom nor written up in a “do it yourself” manual. His method was so real and practical that it just came naturally.


The method of Jesus here was more than a continuous sermon; it was an object lesson as well. This was the secret of his influence in teaching. He did not ask anyone to do or be anything that he had not demonstrated first in his own life, thereby not only proving its workability but also its relevance to his mission in life. And this he was able to do because he was constantly with his disciples. His training classes were never dismissed.

This ties in to the principle of exemplification discussed in a previous post. Being an example does not require leaders be perfect – it simply requires we be vulnerable and honest. When we sin, we confess and repent. We apologize to those we’ve wronged. We lead not only from strength, but also from weakness.

Transparent sincerity in following Christ is all that’s needed to demonstrate well what it means to be a faithful disciple.

Master Principle #6 – Delegation

Jesus was always building the Twelve with an eye to the future – a time when He would no longer be with them day to day.

In Jesus’ own evaluation of His ministry, a key question He must have been asking Himself is “What am I leaving behind?”  More specifically, “WHO am I leaving behind? What kind of people with what kind of character?”

If the Master Himself was concerned with these questions, we must be too.

Coleman notes these early disciples didn’t do much more than watch Jesus work for the first year or so they were with Him, but then as Jesus started His general tour of Galilee (Mark 6:6; Matthew 9:35) He decided they’d at least seen enough to get started.

In looking at Mark 6:6-12 and Matthew 10:1-15, we see Jesus giving his disciples instructions regarding their mission before sending them out. The mission and method for carrying it out Jesus gave these men was no different from His own and they’d spent enough time with Him to be familiar.

Jesus delegated the work he’d been doing to those He’d been training and reproduced His efforts twelve-fold through that process. Even though they’d gotten to work, their training still wasn’t complete – that brings us to the next principle.

Master Principle #7 – Supervision

Jesus made a point of following up with His disciples to get a report on how things went after they’d carried out His instructions. We see this in Mark 6:30 and Luke 9:10.

Mark 6:30
30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught


Luke 9:10
10 When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves …

Coleman notes that this teaching of Jesus “rotated between instruction and assignment.” While the disciples were far enough along in their training to begin doing the work of Jesus, He still made it a point to continue mentoring them in a supervisory role. All this was designed to bring out their best:

The important thing about all this supervisionary work of Jesus was that he kept the disciples going on toward the goal he had set for them. He did not expect more from his disciples than they could do, but he did expect their best, and this he expected always to be improved as they grew in knowledge and grace. His plan of teaching— by example, assignment, and constant checkup— was calculated to bring out the best that was in them. No less patient yet determined supervision is needed today among those who are seeking to train others for evangelism.

There’s a simple three-step formula for leadership development I learned years ago that I’ve found helpful:

1) I do, you watch, we talk.
2) I do, you do, we talk.
3) You do, I watch, we talk.

In step one the leader is doing the work as the developing leader watches. The job of the developing leader is simply to observe in this step. As time passes and the developing leader learns more, they move on to step two where they work alongside their teacher. In the last step the developing leader has been trained to the point of taking on the role of leadership themselves, but they’re still under the supervision of their mentor.

In each step after ministry work has taken place, intentional time is spent between mentor and mentee evaluating what happened and explaining the rationale and philosophy driving their method and action. During this time correction and encouragement can take place in order to help developing leaders become better prepared for their next assignment.

The intentional work behind all the principles mentioned up to this point including delegation and supervision should lead to principle #8, the goal – that of reproduction.

Master Principle #8 – Reproduction (or bearing fruit)

One of the ideas I always stress in evangelistic studies with people is a simple principle derived from nature: apple trees produce apples, orange trees produce oranges, grape vines produce grapes, etc., etc. What begins as a seed changes when planted, and healthy growth leads to healthy reproduction.

If you’re a healthy disciplemaking leader, your work will produce healthy disciplemaking leaders.

Everything discussed so far is leading us to this.

Jesus specifically and intentionally chose how to spend His limited time on the earth, and He chose to spend it developing people who would in turn develop people.

If we are to be disciples faithful in carrying out the Great Commission, we must understand ourselves to be in the people development business.

Coleman states that “Jesus expected His disciples to become like him and lead others to become like Him thus reproducing Himself over and over again.” In speaking of Jesus teaching regarding the vine and the branches in John 15, Coleman notes “the life-sustaining power of the vine was not to be bestowed endlessly on lifeless branches” and the parable makes clear “any branch that lived on the vine had to produce to survive, for that was its intended nature.”

Jesus’ expectation for disciples to produce fruit is not something presented as optional in the gospels, and it’s not presented as something that is limited to a select few. Every disciple is expected to reproduce themselves, and this should especially be a concern of those of us called to lead in the Lord’s church. Church health depends upon healthy leadership.

How should one judge success or failure in ministry? Here’s what Coleman’s intensive study of Jesus’ own methods led him to believe:

… the criteria on which a church should measure its success is not how many new names are added to the role nor how much the budget is increased, but rather how many Christians are actively winning souls and training them to win the multitudes. The ultimate extent of our witness is what matters, and for this reason values can be measured only by eternity.


[In the average “successful” church today] the costly principles of leadership development and reproduction seem to have been submerged beneath the easier strategy of mass recruitment. The nearsighted objective of popular recognition generally took precedence over the long-range goal of reaching the world, and the methods of evangelism employed by the church collectively and individually have reflected this same momentary outlook … Jesus’ plan has not been disavowed; it has just been ignored.

I appreciate the way he words this.

Coleman describes judging a ministry’s effectiveness solely by what’s happening in the present as nearsighted – one must also have an eye on the future.

To be a church leader who ignores the intentional development of the next generation of leaders is to be a church leader who is un-Christlike.

We must realize that if we’re to put the kind of energy into leadership development it takes to foster healthy reproduction of ourselves, we must be intentional in doing so and would be wise to follow Jesus’ own plan and method.

In sum …

As disciplemaking leaders, we must be careful to select humble and teachable candidates for leadership development.

We must make a habit of regularly being with them.

We must expect radical loyalty and obedience to God – nothing less.

We must be passionate about carrying out Christ’s mission ourselves, and infuse that passion into our mentees.

We must exemplify the day-to-day habits and practices of a disciplemaking leader.

We must delegate responsibility in an increasing measure as new leaders develop.

We must provide ongoing mentoring in a supervisory role.

Most of all, we must intentionally put in the time, energy and effort needed to reproduce ourselves understanding if we neglect this, we’re not only hampering our own ministry – we’re being unfaithful to God and His mission.

Concern for the development of the next generation is basic to being an effective disciplemaking leader.

This is the new evangelism we need. It is not better methods, but better men and women who know their Redeemer from personal experience— men and women who see his vision and feel his passion for the world— men and women who are willing to be nothing so that he might be everything— men and women who want only for Christ to produce his life in and through them according to his own good pleasure.

I’ll leave you with one final, challenging quote from Robert Coleman:

Clearly Jesus did not leave the work of evangelism subject to human impression or convenience. To his disciples it was a definite command, perceived by impulse at the beginning of their discipleship, but progressively clarified in their thinking as they followed him, and finally spelled out in no uncertain terms. No one who followed Jesus very far could escape this conclusion. It was so then; it is so today. Christian disciples are sent men and women— sent out in the same work of world evangelism to which the Lord was sent, and for which he gave his life. Evangelism is not an optional accessory to our life. It is the heartbeat of all that we are called to be and do. It is the commission of the church that gives meaning to all else that is undertaken in the name of Christ.

Robert E. Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism

Purchase your own copy of The Master Plan of Evangelism here.

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