As someone who tried to learn a new language later in life, I kept studying new words that sounded so much like words in English but meant something completely different. Sometimes they would even have vulgar meanings. It made life interesting and full of embarrassing stories. But confusion about the meaning of words can have serious consequences in a ministry. Consider the graphic below based off of Barna’s 2015 “State of Discipleship” study.
What was interesting was that in the same study, churchgoers said the goal of discipleship was “learning to live a more consistent Christian life.” Church leaders on the other hand said the goal was “being transformed to become more like Jesus.” So which is it- consistency or transformation? Different definitions can result in different ideas of success.
When you read “disciple making” what does that mean to you? Are you thinking more evangelism or discipleship? What does it mean to your church members? You probably won’t be working towards the same things or measuring success the same way if you’re not on the same page. Clarifying definitions is important.
It’s good to remember that making disciples involves the totality of the Great Commission. We feel disciple making covers both evangelism, pre-conversion activity focused on Christ, and discipleship, post-conversion activity towards growth and Christlikeness.
Writing Your Own Definition
You should own your definition and the best way to do that is to try to define it yourself. Here are three questions that can help you come up with a working definition for your ministry:
1) What/who is involved in the disciple making process?
2) What does disciple making work towards?
3) How will you know if you’re on the right track?
That’s enough to get you started on your own definition. Once you’ve wrestled with it and got it just right, get it in the hands of your disciple makers and have them teach it to everyone else. Define it often and publicly. Don’t ever fear over-communicating. It can’t be done!
Here is a sample definition from the International Mission Board:
“Disciple making is the Christ-commanded, Spirit-empowered duty of every disciple of Jesus to evangelize unbelievers, baptize believers, teach them the Word of Christ, and train them to obey Christ as members of his church who make disciples on mission to all nations.”
It’s a mouthful but it’s good.