What Does It Mean to “Make Disciples”?

What follows are some thoughts based on a study called The Vine Project that a group from Central Oaks are going through with me. I share these thoughts mainly for members of Central Oaks, but also for anyone else wanting to help others follow Jesus.


Jesus gave all of His followers a command in Matthew 28:18-20:

And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

The command can be summed up in two words: make disciples. There are other words to define what that entails later on in the verse. Did you see the modifying verbs that followed? “Make disciples . . . baptizing them . . . teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.” Those last two phrases further elaborate what it means to make disciples.

A disciple of Jesus when He was on the earth was a learner of Jesus. They often called Him “Rabbi,” which means “teacher.” A disciple of Jesus was someone who sought to emulate the teachings and behaviors of Jesus in their life. (Powered by the Spirit of Jesus, of course.) Every true Christian is a disciple of Jesus. It is our goal to become like Jesus in our lives.

But it is also our privilege and responsibility to help other people become like Jesus. Some call this “discipleship.” I’ve heard some simply call it “discipling.” Terminology aside, this command and mission is for every follower of Jesus. Every follower is called to help others follow. Every disciple makes disciples. Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Some claim this process of helping people follow Jesus is something that happens after evangelism (telling someone about Jesus in hopes that they commit their life to Him). With this understanding, discipling someone can’t happen for someone who hasn’t yet professed faith in Jesus. I suggest, however, that the command in Matthew 28 encompasses evangelism.

Why? Because the command to baptize people in Matthew 28 occurs as an elaboration of the definition of “make disciples.” Jesus said, “Make disciples . . . baptizing them . . .” It seems to me that if discipleship is only spiritual growth post conversion, then it shouldn’t include an action that is the biblical profession of someone’s faith in Jesus.

So then, helping people follow Jesus (or making disciples) includes any of the following things:

  • Asking an atheist friend how her worldview supports the existence of an innate sense of justice, shame, or love
  • Inviting an agnostic friend to read The Reason for God once a month over coffee
  • Reading the book of John with a seeker of God
  • Texting Bible verses about justification by faith with a new believer feeling condemned because of past sins
  • Praying with a friend whose parents just divorced or who is struggling with doubt
  • Taking a fellow Christian with you to read the Bible with a seeker

Followers of Jesus can get overwhelmed with the idea of making disciples. We think we have to make someone go from being an atheist to being Billy Graham. That’s not true. We just have to help them take one step closer toward Jesus and making disciples themselves.

What does it mean to make disciples? It simply means to help someone follow Jesus.

Soon, I’ll share a word about how disciples are made.

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