MalStra 10-01-014

Strategic Disciple Making

A Practical Tool for Successful Ministry


Aubrey Malphurs

BakerBooks, 2009, 182 pp.  ISBN 978-0-8010-9196-4



Aubrey Malphurs is professor of pastoral ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary.  He is also a church consultant who has written several helpful books on doing church.  This book on disciple making includes considerable biblical examination and describes a classic program approach to making disciples.



“If a new Christian visited your church and asked you or someone in the church how you would help him or her to grow as one of Christ’s disciples, what would your answer be?” (8) [This is a very good question – one we should be asking ourselves. Dlm]


Part 1.  The Preparation for Making Mature Disciples

Chapter 1.  What Are We Supposed to Be Doing?  The Church’s Mission

“More than two thousand years ago, the Savior predetermined the church’s mission.  It’s the Great Commission as found in such texts as Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:46-49: John 20:21; and Acts 1:8.” (13)


“Few churches seem to value evangelism, and not much of it is taking place as it was earlier.  In fact, evangelism seems to be a dying value in far too many churches in the twenty-first century.”  (15)


“I would argue from a theological perspective that the church’s worship of God is one of five functions of the church (worship, fellowship, biblical instruction, evangelism, and service) that come under the church’s mission.  But worship is not the church’s sole mission.” (15)


Observations about the Great Commission.  It is addressed to the disciples.  It is an imperative, Christ’s mandate to the church.  It emphasizes evangelism.  It is a command to go.  It extends to all nations.  There are no geographical limitations.  (17)


The Great Commission includes both evangelism and spiritual growth.  Jesus is clear.  “He expects his entire church (not simply a few passionate disciple makers) to move people along a maturity or disciple-making continuum from pre-birth (unbelief) to the new birth (belief) and then to maturity. …we can measure a church’s spiritual health and its ultimate success by its obedience to the Great Commission.” (19) 


2.  How Are We Doing?  The Current State of Disciple Making

Not very well.


3.  What Are We Talking About?  The Definition of Disciple Making

The common view is that a disciple is a committed believer.  Malphurs argues that a disciple is simply a believer.  There are not two classes of Christians.  “The ultimate goal of the Great Commission is to produce mature believers.”  [I would have said the goal of the Great Commission is to “disciple all the nations.” Dlm]


The term discipleship describes the ongoing life of a disciple, following the Savior and becoming more like him.  (34)


4.  Whose Job Is It?  The Responsibility for Making Disciples

God’s role is to bring about growth (I Cor. 3:5-7).  Scripture holds each disciple responsible for the pursuit of discipleship.  And the church as a body is responsible for helping its people grow as disciples. 


5.  How Did Jesus Make Disciples?  Biblical Disciple Making, Part 1

Jesus worked with a narrow circle (the Twelve) and a broader circle (the crowds).  The Twelve were divided into smaller groups, including an inner circle of Peter, Andrew, James, and John.  Jesus taught the crowd to count the cost of becoming a follower.  Among other things, He taught the disciples to follow him, to serve, to obey, to deny ourselves and embrace his will for us, to hold to his teachings, to love one another, to bear fruit, and to engage in evangelism and disciple-making. 


In the Gospels, Jesus was the primary disciple maker.  He preached, focused on a small group, spent time alone with his inner circle, and counseled individuals.  It does not appear that he disciple many, if any, individuals. 


6.  How Did the [Early] Church Make Disciples? Biblical Disciple Making, Part 2

In the Gospels, Jesus’ message was for Israel but when he commissioned the church he added the nations, including the Gentiles and Samaritans.  The disciples also spoke to the crowds and to other disciples.  Paul’s epistles were addressed to the disciples in various local churches.  Throughout the Acts and the Epistles they lived out Matthew 28:20: “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”


The church’s missionaries taught the crowd how to become believers/disciples.  They taught the disciples to follow in Jesus’ steps (in suffering in particular), to serve each other and to serve others, to die to themselves and to embrace His will for them.  People can know they are His disciples if they abide in his word, love other disciples, and bear fruit.  As a result they will become fishers of men (disciple makers). 


“Thus discipleship for the church continues to follow the same pattern as discipleship in the Gospels. …discipleship was both the mission and the very life of the church.  It is not to be one of several programs of the church; it is the program of the church.  All the activities and programs of the church work together to make disciples.” (67)  “One of my purposes for writing this book is to encourage the approach of using mature believers to disciple the less mature.” (71)


Part 2.  The Process for Making Mature Disciples

Chapter 7.  How Would We Know a Mature Disciple if We Saw One?  The Characteristics of a Mature Disciple

“The goal of a church’s ministry is to bring its people to spiritual maturity, which, theologically, is the ultimate goal of the Great Commission.”  (77)  “The church’s mission has always been and will continue to be the Great Commission.” (78) 


Many leaders don’t know what a disciple looks like.  They don’t know how to make a disciple or how to measure progress.  A group of leaders should develop a list of characteristics of a mature disciple based on their knowledge of the New Testament.  Then place these characteristics under two to five headings.  (e.g. Worship, Fellowship, Biblical instruction, Evangelism, Service).  Put these category titles in a mission statement in a form that people can remember them.  Here’s an example:


“Our mission is to share Christ and build believers.  Believers display four marks:

  1. Worship – they worship God both corporately and privately.
  2. Word – they live by God’s Word, understanding that it is the authority for all of life.
  3. Work – they contribute to God’s work by using their gifts to serve the body, to give financially, and to relate experientially.
  4. World – they impact the world by reaching out to their unchurched, lost friends, and becoming personally involved in world missions.”  (82-3)



Chapter 8.  How Do Churches Make Mature Disciples?  The Church’s Ministries for Discipleship

“It is your ministries and their sequencing that make up your disciple-making pathway or game plan.” (87) “Every ministry must have a clearly articulated purpose or end that answers the question, why are we doing what we are doing? …it must have a clearly understood and well-articulated purpose…and must in some way lead back to and contribute to the church’s mission….” (88)   


Churches have primary ministries and secondary ministries.  Every believer is expected to participate in the primary ministries.  The idea is to move new people into the life of the church, embracing all its primary ministries. 


All of the secondary ministries, not essential to the church’s purpose, are electives.  These ministries are a distraction.  They add confusion and complexity.  They diffuse energy from the purpose and absorb staff and funding.  These should be eliminated, minimized, or incorporated into the primary ministries. 


Design the disciple-making process in three phases. 

  1.  Construct a maturity matrix.  List each of the qualities of a disciple in the appropriate category from your mission statement.
  2. Identify your primary ministries. 
  3. Evaluate each primary ministry for spiritual impact.
    1. Is this ministry designed to develop at least one of the disciple characteristics?
    2. How well is this ministry developing that characteristic?
    3. Do any ministries need to be changed or replaced?
    4. Are there ministries that do not produce any of the characteristics?
    5. Are there any disciple characteristics that aren’t produced by any ministry?  (96-97)  


Chapter 9.  Are You Making Disciples?  Measuring Mature Disciples

The strategy is to develop your characteristics of maturity with your primary ministries.  Informal evaluation occurs all the time, often unknown to us.  Visitors decide whether to return.  Parents ask their children what they learned.  Unbelievers check out whether the pastor is interesting, the people are friendly, and the kids are safe.  And so on. 


Deliberate evaluation serves several purposes.  What we measure tells people what we expect and that’s what we tend to get.  It encourages people to evaluate their ministries.  It affirms the importance of ministries and those leading them.  It leads to improvement. And it provides the basis for important ministry changes. 


You must decide who will lead the evaluation process, whom will be evaluated, what will be evaluated, and how frequently.  Certainly the key people involved in the disciple-making process must be evaluated to determine the effectiveness of ministry. 


Evaluate clarity of the process, number of committed people, and attainment of goals.  The primary statistics you need are attendance figures.  Do people understand the process?  Are they in the process?  Ask them in interviews, focus groups and surveys.  Track the numbers.  Check to see if you are meeting your participation goals.  [Some missional church books suggest we should be tracking service activities in the community rather than attendance at church events.  I’m wondering if either of these really helps us know whether people are becoming more like Jesus in many aspects of their lives.  Dlm] 


Chapter 10.  How to Recruit the Right Staff.  Staffing for the Development of Mature Disciples

“Your church is only as good as the people who make up the team.” (119)  The team includes your board, staff and “a well-mobilized congregation.”


Chapter 11.  How to Prepare a Strategic budget.  Budgeting for the Development of Mature Disciples

“I believe a church that desires biblical numerical growth…assigns a percentage of funds to four key areas: missions and evangelism, personnel, programming, and facilities.  All of these contribute in some way to fulfilling the church’s mission and vision to make disciples.”  [of all nations dlm]  “Both missions and evangelism should be priorities of the church.”  “…both evangelism and missions are critical to any church that wants to live and breathe disciple making.” (146) 


“People give to big, dynamic visions that, in turn, produce passion that is vital to giving.”  “To a certain degree, raising finances is a measure of the church’s vision.  People’s giving response will often tell you something about the quality of your church’s vision and the leader’s ability to cast that vision.  The only way people can really know the church’s vision is through the vision caster and how that person articulates and frames it in the context of disciple making.” (149)  [People tend to give to what church leaders emphasize with the most frequency, clarity, vigor and genuine enthusiasm.  Therefore the income from special offerings can reveal what is really most important to church vision casters, something they may not even realize themselves. Dlm]


“I strongly encourage churches to conduct regular capital campaigns to fund special projects, such as missions giving, ….  Though missions should already be included in the budget, you would be wise to raise additional support to expand your missions network.  In general, people support and seem always to find more money for missions.  [This gives rise to the temptation to raise money for other ministries under the name of missions. Dlm]


Appendix B.  What Did Jesus Mean in Matthew 28:19-20 When He Commanded His Church to Make Disciples? 


“…we must examine the main verb and its object ‘make disciples’ …. [It may make some difference that in the Greek, the main verb is disciple (mathateusate) and the object is nations (ethne).  Mathateusate panta ta ethne.  Literally, disciple all the nations.  Dlm]


Appendix D has a good list of survey question.   Appendix E has a good list of character assessments.



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