Dr. Aubrey Malphurs on The Meaning of Going and Making Disciples


Perhaps the most important questions that a church and its leadership can ask are: What does God want us to do? What is our mandate or mission? What are our marching orders? The answer to all three questions isn’t hard to find. More than two thousand years ago, the Savior predetermined the church’s mission-it’s the Great Commission, as found in such texts as Mark 16:15; Luke 24:46-49; John 20:21; and Matthew 28:19-20, where he says, “Make disciples.” This commission raises several important questions, such as what is a disciple and what does it mean to make disciples?

If you asked ten different people in the church (including the pastoral staff) what a disciple is, you might get ten different answers. The same is true at a seminary. If the church is not clear on what Jesus meant, then it will be difficult for it to comply with his expressed will. For the church to understand what the Savior meant in Matthew 28:19-20, we must examine the main verb and its object “make disciples” and then the two participles that follow- “baptizing” and “teaching.” What does all this mean?

 “Make Disciples”

First, let’s examine the main verb and its object: “make disciples.” A common view is that a disciple is a committed believer. Thus a disciple is a believer, but a believer isn’t necessarily a disciple. However, that’s not how the New Testament uses this term. I contend that the normative use of the term disciple is of one who is a convert to or a believer in Jesus Christ (though there are some obvious exceptions – Some exceptions are the disciples of Moses [John 9:28], the disciples of the Pharisees [Matt. 22:16; Mark 2:18], the disciples of John [Mark 2:18; John 1:35], and the disciples of Jesus who left him [John 6:60-66]). Thus the Bible teaches that a disciple isn’t necessarily a Christian who has made a deeper commitment to the Savior but simply a Christian. Committed Christians are committed disciples. Uncommitted Christians are uncommitted disciples. This is clearly how Luke uses the term disciple in the book of Acts and his Gospel. It is evident in passages such as the following: Acts 6:1-2, 7; 9:1, 26; 11:26; 14:21-22; 15:10; 18:23; 19:9. For example, Acts 6:7 tells us that God’s Word kept spreading and the number of disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem. Luke isn’t telling us that the number of deeply committed believers was significantly increasing. He’s telling his readers that the church was making numerous converts to the faith. In Acts 9:1 Luke writes that Saul (Paul) was “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.” It’s most doubtful that Saul was threatening only the mature believers. He was persecuting as many believers as he could locate. A great example is Acts 14:21 where Luke says they “won a large number of disciples” in connection with evangelism. Here they preached the gospel and won or made a large number of disciples or converts, not mature or even growing Christians. (Note that the words “won a large number of disciples” is the one Greek word mathateusantes, the same word as in Matthew 28:19!) Disciples, then, were synonymous with believers. Virtually all scholars acknowledge this to be the case in Acts.

So is the command “make disciples” in Matthew 28:19 to be equated with evangelism? Before we can answer this question, we must also examine a second context. The first had to do with the use of the term disciple in the New Testament; the second has to do with the other Great Commission passages: Mark 16:15 and Luke 24:46-49 (with Acts 1:8). In Mark 16:15 Jesus commands the disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” Here “preach” like “make disciples” is the main verb (an aorist imperative) preceded by another circumstantial participle of attendant circumstance translated “go.” This is clearly a proactive command to do evangelism.

In Luke 24:46-48 we have much the same message with the gospel defined: “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” Jesus presents the gospel message and the necessity that his witnesses preach that gospel to all nations. In these two Great Commission passages, the emphasis is clearly on evangelism and missions.

Finally, John gives us the least information in his statement of the commission. In John 20:21-22 Jesus tells the disciples that he’s sending them and provides them with the Holy Spirit in anticipation of Pentecost.

We must not stop here. There’s a third context. Much of Jesus’s teaching of the Twelve (who are believers, except for Judas) concerns discipleship or the need for the disciple to grow in Christ (Matt. 16:24-26; 20:26-28; Luke 9:23-25). For example, Matthew 16:24 says, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, `If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”‘

So how does this relate to the passages in Acts and the other commission passages in the Gospels? The answer is that the Great Commission has both an evangelism and an edification or spiritual growth component. To make a disciple, first one has to win a person (a nondisciple) to Christ. At that point he or she becomes a disciple. It doesn’t stop there. Now this new disciple needs to grow or mature as a disciple, hence the edification component.

“Baptizing and Teaching”

Having studied the main verb and its object, “make disciples,” we need to examine the two participles in Matthew 28:20- “baptizing” and “teaching.” The interpretation of these will address whether “make disciples” involves both evangelism and edification. While there are two feasible interpretive options, the better one is that they are circumstantial (adverbial) participles of means (The second option is to treat them as circumstantial [adverbial] participles of attendant circumstance. If this is correct, then the participles baptizing and teaching express an idea not subordinate to as above but coordinate to or on a par with the main verb [make disciples]. You would translate the main verb and the participles as a series of coordinate verbs, the mood of which is dictated by the main verb that in this case is imperative [aorist imperative]. The verse would read: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” A former Dallas Seminary Greek professor, Philip Williams, takes this view in “Grammar Notes on the Noun and the Verb and Certain Other Items” [unpublished class notes, which were used by Dr. Buist Fanning in his course Advanced Greek Grammar, 1977], 53-54. The conclusion here is that the passage addresses a series of separate, coordinate chronological acts or steps. The first is to go, which implies proactivity. The second is to make disciples. The third is to baptize those disciples, and the fourth is to teach them. However, I believe that Dan Wallace makes the better argument for these being circumstantial participles of means. While I don’t believe that baptizontes and didaskontes are circumstantial participles of attendant circumstance, I do believe that the first participle in verse 19 [poreuthentes] is. It draws its mood from or is coordinate to the main verb [mathateusate], which is imperative. Jesus is commanding them to make disciples and to be proactive about it).

The NIV has taken this interpretation: “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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Dan Wallace, a Greek scholar and professor of New Testament at Dallas Seminary, writes: “Finally, the other two participles (haptizontes, didaskontes) should not be taken as attendant circumstance. First, they do not fit the normal pattern for

attendant circumstance participles (they are present tense and follow the main verb). And second, they obviously make good sense as participles of means; i.e., the means by which the disciples were to make disciples was to baptize and then to teach” (Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, 645). If this is the case, then the two participles provide us with the means or the how for growing the new disciples. The way the church makes disciples is by baptizing and teaching its people.

But what is the significance of baptism in the life of a new disciple (believer)? Baptism is mentioned eleven times in Acts (Acts 2:38; 8:12, 16, 36, 38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:15, 33; 19:5; 22:16). In every passage except one (19:5) it’s used in close association with evangelism and immediately follows someone’s conversion to Christ. Baptism was the public means or activity that identified the new disciple with Jesus (See Wilkins, Following the Master, 189). Baptism was serious business, as it could mean rejection by one’s parents and family, even resulting in the loss of one’s life. As we have seen, it both implies or is closely associated with evangelism and was a public confession that one had become a disciple of Jesus. Thus Matthew includes evangelism in the context of disciple making.

And finally, what is the significance of teaching? Luke also addresses teaching in Acts (Acts 2:42; 5:25, 28; 15:35; 18:11; 28:31). Michael Wilkins summarizes this best when he says that “`teaching’ introduces the activities by which the new disciple grows in discipleship” (Ibid., 189-90).The object of our teaching is obedience to Jesus’s teaching. The emphasis on teaching isn’t simply for the sake of knowledge. Effective teaching results in a transformed life or a maturing disciple/believer.

The Conclusion

The conclusion from the evidence above is that the two participles are best treated and translated as circumstantial participles of means. The term make disciples (mathateusante) is a clear reference to both evangelism (baptizing) and maturation (teaching). (Note again the use of mathateusantes in Acts 14:21 in the context of evangelism.) Mark and Luke emphasize the evangelism aspect of the Great Commission (and John the sending out of the disciples). Matthew emphasizes both evangelism and the need to grow disciples in their newfound faith, as he adds the need not only to baptize but to teach these new believers as well to other passages in the New Testament, the latter would lead the new converts to spiritual maturity (1 Cor. 3:1-4; Heb. 5:11-6:3). Therefore, the goal is for them to become mature disciples in time. This would result from a combination of being taught and obeying Jesus’s commandments.

Jesus was clear about his intentions for his church. It wasn’t just to teach or preach the Word, as important as those activities are. Nor was it evangelism alone, although the latter is emphasized as much as teaching. He expects his entire church (not simply a few passionate disciple makers) to move people from prebirth (unbelief) to the new birth (belief) and then to maturity. In fact, this is so important that we can measure a church’s spiritual health and its ultimate success by its obedience to the Great Commission. It is fair to ask of every church’s ministry how many people have become disciples (believers) and how many of these disciples are growing toward maturity. In short, it’s imperative that every church make and mature disciples at home and abroad!

Note: I highly recommend Dr. Michael J. Wilkins’s Following the Master: A Biblical Theology of Discipleship (Zondervan, 1992). Wilkins is professor of New Testament language and literature and dean of the faculty at the Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. (Pictured on below)

About the Author: Aubrey Malphurs (Ph.D., Dallas Theological Seminary) is professor of pastoral ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary and president of The Malphurs Group. He engages in church consulting and training and is the author of numerous books, including Developing a Vision of Ministry in the Twenty-first Century.

The Article above was adapted from Appendix B: “Make Disciples” by Aubrey Malphurs. Strategic Disciple Making: A Practical Tool for Successful Ministry. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008 (pp. 159-160). Kindle Edition.

Missional Discipleship by Jonathan Dodson

“Missional Discipleship: Reinterpreting the Great Commission”

In evangelical subculture the ubiquity of the Great Commission is matched by the poverty of its interpretation. Matthew 28:18-20 — the command to make disciples of all nations — is frequently summoned to validate countless and sundry discipleship and evangelism programs, ideas and practices, often ignoring the interpretive wealth of the text. It’s as if we expect that planting the Great Commission flag at end of a sentence will immediately summit our discipleship agendas.

One way to remedy this poverty of our interpretation is by reading the Great Commission in light of other biblical commissions. Depending on how we count them we there are at least five commissions, one in the Old Testament and four in the New (It is certainly possible that there are more commissions. In fact, the Abrahamic covenant in Gen 12:1-3 contains a programmatic mandate for all of Scripture: Go and God will make you a blessing to the nations, which is progressively manifested in making a new people of God, comprised of Jews and Gentiles).

The four commissions in the NT are actually variations of the same mandate (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:48-49/Acts 1:8; John 20:21), each issued by Jesus, emphasizing a slightly different aspect of what it means to be a disciple. The operative verbs in these NT commissions are: make disciples, preach, witness, and send. They are gospel-driven commands. The OT commission, frequently referred to as the creation or cultural mandate, was issued by God before the Fall of humanity, emphasizing creative activity with the following verbs: be fruitful, multiply, rule, and subdue (Gen 1.27-28 – it is variously repeated in the Old Testament e.g. Gen. 9:1,7; 17:2-6; 26:3; 28:3; Ex. 1:7; Ezek. 36:11; Jer. 23:3).By producing more creators who rule and subdue the elements of the earth, the creation mandate is a command to produce peoples and cultures.

A surface reading of these Old and New Testament texts places them at odds with one another. In Genesis it would seem that the purpose of humanity is to produce people and culture, whereas the Gospels appear to advocate pulling away from people and culture. As a result, many have chosen one reading over the other, soul-winning or culture-making, disciple-making or social action. These impoverished readings call for reinterpretation, one that that allows both Genesis and the Gospels to speak. In fact, reading the gospel commissions in light of the cultural mandate will reveal a multi-layered, missional mandate.

Moving beyond poverty-ridden proof texts and into the wealth of the biblical commissions, we will reflect on the differences between the texts. This will require confrontation with the Bible’s demands to make culture and disciples, to care for creation and be agents of new creation. As a result, we will be challenged to understand and embrace discipleship as more than “spiritual disciplines” or an evangelistic program. We will see that Scripture calls us to missional discipleship, a following after Jesus that requires redemptive engagement not just with souls but with creation and culture.

Gospel of Matthew: Distinctive Discipleship

Part of what makes the Great Commission great is its scope. When Jesus said: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” he was orienting a primarily Jewish audience to a distinctly multi-ethnic mission. As Ralph Winter has advanced, the commission is not calling Christians to Christianize nation-states, but to evangelize ethnic groups. We get the word, “ethnic” from the Greek word for nations, which refers not to modernist geo-political states, but instead to non-Jewish ethnic groups. Christ does not advocate Christendom, a top-down political Christianity. Instead, in affirmation of the cultural mandate, he calls his followers to transmit a bottom-up, indigenous Christianity, to all peoples in all cultures.

As Andrew Walls has pointed out, the command is to make disciples of all nations not from all nations. The Great Commission is not about soul-extraction, to remove the disciple from his culture, but instead, to make disciples within their cultural context. Walls comments:

Conversion to Christ does not produce a bland universal citizenship: it produces distinctive discipleship, as diverse and variegated as human life itself. Christ in redeeming humanity brings, by the process of discipleship, all the richness of humanity’s infinitude of cultures and subcultures into the variegated splendor of the Full Grown Humanity to which the apostolic literature points (Eph 4.8-13 [Andrew Walls, The Missionary Movement in Christian History, Maryknoll: Orbis, 1996, 51. The original Greek reading of Matt. 28:18 is literally “disciple all ethne” or “make disciples all nations” and does not contain a preposition. However, the grammatical construction of the phrase leads to an “of” reading, not a “from” or “in” reading]).

What we should strive for is distinctive discipleship, discipleship that uniquely expresses personal faith in our cultural context. Disciples in urban Manhattan will look different than disciples in rural Maehongson. These differences allow for a flourishing of the gospel that contributes to the many-splendored new humanity of Christ.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, distinctive disciples are those who who, in following Jesus, refuse a one-sided, soul-centered gospel, and instead live out faith in context. The distinctive disciple retains the image of Adam — a culture maker — while growing in the image of Christ and becoming a disciple-maker.

Gospel of Mark: A Worldly Gospel

Mark’s commission reads: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mk. 16:15, It is widely recognized that this verse and the latter portion of Mark’s gospel (16:9-20) is absent from many Marcan manuscripts. However, we cannot be certain that the ending is missing from the original text. If it was absent, our point concerning the “worldly gospel” of Mark still stands in that Mark repeatedly depicts Jesus as the Restorer of creation: driving out demons, healing the sick, resurrecting the dead, calming the sea). Where Matthew emphasizes the action of making distinctive disciples, Mark stresses the importance of preaching to all creation.

When Jesus used the word “preach” he did not mean converse. The Greek word for preach always carries a sense of urgency and gravity, as though what is to be proclaimed is of great importance. In this case, it is the gospel that is of utmost importance. This gospel is a worldly gospel — a message that is culturally relevant and creation renewing.

The Greek word for “creation” can be used both broadly and narrowly, referring to the cosmos or to people. Here it should be taken broadly, referring to the world, its peoples and its cultures. Preaching the gospel of Christ has cosmic implications. So it is with Paul: “this gospel has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister” (Col. 1:23). Thus, Paul perceives himself as an announcer of a worldly Christ-centered gospel, that through Jesus all things are reconciled to himself, whether on earth or in heaven (Col. 1:20). Paul preaches with Mark’s great commission emphasis — preaching for the redemption of all creation.

While this worldly gospel saves, it also condemns. In Mark, Jesus explains that not all will believe this grand Story or receive its great Savior: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mk. 16:16). Mark’s commission reveals the divisive nature of the gospel. For some it brings life; for others it brings death, but all are to be given the opportunity to be written into the story of God’s redemption of all creation.

As with Matthew, the scope of God’s redemptive activity is important. From the beginning, God’s design for creation was for it to flourish and become inhabitable. Outside of Eden, the earth was uninhabitable. Humanity was charged with the task of caring for the earth and creating culture, making the uninhabitable habitable.

Adam failed to trust God with this task and sought to rule not only over creation, but also over God. As a result, the creation project was subjected to sin and calamity (Rom. 8:20). Israel would follow in Adam’s footsteps. Then came Jesus. Jesus preached a worldly gospel, a restorative message that put the creation project back on track. His glorified, resurrection body is clearly proof of the new creation to come.

Just prior to ascending to heaven, Jesus told those who believe that they will be given power to heal the sick, restore the demon-possessed, and to speak new languages (Mk. 16:17-18). This worldly gospel is for the redemption and renewal of the earth, the body, the heart, the mind, and the cultures of the world. It is a saving message that rescues people from their unbelief, not their world, and reconciles their alienation from one another, their world, and their Creator.

According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus died to bring life to all creation, to restore the environment, renew cultures and remake peoples, spiritually and physically. We are called to preach a worldly gospel.

Gospel of Luke: Resurrection Stories

Luke’s commission also emphasizes preaching the gospel: “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:47-48). In particular, we are called to preach “repentance and forgiveness of sins.” A social gospel will not suffice. Christ calls us to repent — to turn our heart allegiances away from all things other, and to receive forgiveness for betraying our Creator. But a forgiven and repentant person is not idle; they are compelled to witness — to tell the story of their transformation.

Where Matthew and Mark respectively emphasize distinctive discipleship and preaching a worldly gospel, Luke calls us to witness — to tell our distinct gospel stories. No two stories are alike, but all share the same Savior. What does it mean to be “witnesses of all these things”? Well, at the very least it means sharing Jesus’ self-sacrificing offer of forgiveness, but that is just one thing. What of the other things?

We are to tell of Jesus’ death, but we are also to tell of His resurrection.

Consider the context of Luke’s commission. The eleven disciples were discussing the reliability of Jesus sightings, when suddenly Christ appeared in the room. Thinking he was a ghost, they were filled with fright. Jesus responded: “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (24:39). To make his point, Jesus proved he had a body by eating some fish and chips. In flesh and bone, Jesus charges his follower to be witnesses of his resurrection.

The problem with many of our stories is that they contain all spirit and very little flesh. We communicate our mystical encounters with God, our mountain top experiences with Jesus, and our superhuman victories over sin. Many people see right through our spiritual stories, precisely because our witness is too good to be true. We fail to mention our bad, unless it is in the past, failing further to witness of resurrection, in the present. People want to touch redemption, which means they need to see resurrection power in our personal struggles.

Jesus’ body was resurrected as an expression of God’s commitment to creation (1 Cor. 15). God does not jettison the body for the soul. His gospel of redemption is for the whole world, beginning with enfleshed people. His resurrection is a bright reminder of new creation in the midst of bleak darkness, of tangible transformation in gross dilapidation. The stories we tell should boast of Jesus’ death and resurrection, of his forgiveness of sin and of his restoration of sinners — reconciled families and marriages, restored and housed homeless, renewed life among AIDS orphans, and so on.

According to the Gospel of Luke, we are to be witnesses of death and resurrection, to live and recount the stories of a resurrected, fleshly Jesus who lives in the midst of broken humanity offering healing and hope.

Gospel of John: Humble and Cultural Accommodation

John’s commission is short and sweet: “As the Father sent me, I am also sending you” (John 20:21). Whereas the previous gospel writers emphasized Jesus’ command to make distinctive disciples, preach a worldly gospel, and witness a fleshly Jesus, John stresses Jesus sending his disciples. As the text continues, Jesus makes plain that the disciples are sent as a forgiving community, offering the grace they have received from him to others.

According to John Piper, we are either goers, senders, or disobedient, but according to Jesus we are all the sent. Missionary activity is not the exclusive task of people who sell all their possessions and move overseas. All followers of Jesus are called to live as missionaries in their culture. If we are all sent into our cultures as distinctive disciples to share a worldly gospel about a fleshly Christ, how then are we to live as the sent? Jesus said, “As the Father sent me, I am also sending you.” Our paradigm for living a sent life, a missionary life, is the sending of the Son by the Father.

When the Father sent the Son, Jesus left the glory of his trinitarian abode and became a helpless infant in the care of humans he created. This required an accommodating humility. Jesus grew up and became a first century, toga-wearing, sandal-sporting, temple-frequenting Jew. He accommodated first century Jewish culture (also known as contextualization). So, within reason we should take on the trappings of our culture in order to contextually relate the gospel. This can entail wearing broken-in jeans, togas, hand-made sandals or a suit and tie.

However, our accommodation is not purely cultural; it is missional. It leads us to immerse ourselves into the humanity of our neighborhoods and cities in order relate the gospel to people and their needs. Being a local missionary requires more than relevant attire; it demands humility of heart to listen to the stories of others, to empathize with their frustration, suffering, and brokenness and to redemptively retell their stories through the gospel. To be sent by God is to follow the example of the incarnation, to redemptively engage others with a humble heart and cultural accommodation.

In John’s commission, the paradigm of accommodating humility is accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is not too holy for distinctive discipleship. After sending his disciples, Jesus breathed on them and they received the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). The power of missional living does not spring from cultural savvy or social sensitivity; it requires the otherworldly, utterly personal power of the Holy Spirit. Only the Spirit of God can make men new.

According to the Gospel of John, we have been sent as missionaries to humbly demonstrate and culturally accommodate the gospel of Christ through the power of the Spirit. In being sent, we do not abandon the cultural commission, but instead, unite it with our redemptive mission.

The Gospel of Genesis: Creation Mandate

The “good news” of Genesis 1-2 is that God created all things to be enjoyed, managed, cultivated, and recreated by humanity. The gospel of Genesis 3 is that, though Adam rejected God, God did not reject Adam. Still possessing the creation mandate, Adam was expelled from Eden, but clothed with the hope of a new creation (Gen 3:15, 21).

The creation mandate charges us to be fruitful and multiply, to rule and subdue the earth. This fruitful multiplication continues both physically and spiritually through the reproducing ministry of missional disciples, who increase in number and good works (Acts 6:7; Col. 1:6, 10). These good works include ruling and subduing creation through the careful, creative arrangement of the elements of the earth into art, technology, infrastructure etc. for the flourishing of humanity. The basis for our cultural activity is found in Genesis.

Retaining the cultural impulse of Genesis, the Gospels call us to a missional discipleship that entails creation care, cultural engagement, social action, and gospel proclamation. Missional disciples will not content themselves by preaching a culturally irrelevant, creation indifferent, resurrection neglecting message. Instead, they redemptively engage peoples and cultures through Christ for the renewal of his creation.

By digging deeper into the great commissions, we have unearthed a wealth of cultural and theological insight. This rereading of familiar evangelistic texts has demonstrated that God in Christ has called us not to mere soul-winning, but to distinctive discipleship, to heralding a worldly gospel of a fleshly Christ who humbly accommodates human culture and understands the human condition. These commissions call us to missional discipleship — to redemptive engagement with all peoples and cultures.

About the Author: Jonathan Dodson (M. Div; Th.M, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) serves as a pastor of Austin City Life in Austin, Texas. He has written articles in numerous blogs and journals such as The Resurgence, The Journal of Biblical Counseling, and Boundless. Dodson has discipled men and women abroad and at home for almost two decades, taking great delight in communicating the gospel and seeing Christ formed in others. His first book – and its fantastic – was published by Crossway Books and is called Gospel-Centered Discipleship. This article originally appeared on http://www.boundless.org on February 12, 2008.

The Discipleship Process by Glenn C. Daman

Going From Conversion To Completion in Christ in the Discipleship Process:

(Adapted from Glenn C. Daman’s Shepherding the Small Church, Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2008, p. 170)




Scripture Reading Doctrine & Theology Leadership Skills
Prayer Bible Study Skills Mentoring Relationships
Obedience Conduct Personal Vision
Fellowship Service Encourage Others
Service Disciple Infants Disciple the Mature
Stewardship Shedding the Horizontal Vertically Focused

Book Review: Gospel-Centered Discipleship by Jonathan K. Dodson

Brilliantly Integrating the Gospel in all of Life

In 2009 I took a core group of leaders with me from San Diego to Dallas, Texas for an Acts 29 Boot Camp. The highlight for all of us while we were there was hearing Jonathan Dodson give a Biblical Theology on the Person and Work on the Holy Spirit from the Old and New Testament. I knew great things were going to come from this man’s life upon hearing him speak.

I hope that this will be the first of many books that Dodson writes integrating the gospel with all of life. What he does in this book in a very cogent manner is demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses in “traditional” discipleship and shows how the gospel should not be bifurcated, but central to the pre-Christian and post-Christian’s understanding of discipleship. He makes a great case for the “Great Commission” becoming the “Gospel Commission” and shows how repentance and faith in the context of community are constants in the gospel-graced disciple of Christ.

Tackling discipleship biblically, theologically, and practically Dodson has given pastors, church planters, and all kinds of Christians a wonderful handbook for understanding biblical discipleship, and how to practically live out the gospel in the context of community.

The best part of this book is how it exalts the gospel of Christ by pointing to a grace based discipleship that doesn’t err toward the extremes of self-righteousness, nor of antinomianism, but simply living out one’s new identity in Christ. According to Dodson, discipleship is our identity in Christ and everything else we are is related to our distinct roles as a disciples of Christ.

Our new identity in Christ has three distinct aspects that are developed in the book: rationality, relationship, and being missional. He also demonstrates that we must not err on the side of being only vertical (pietistic), nor horizontally oriented (missional). We must seek to diagonally balance the vertical and horizontal aspects of our identity in Christ — the head, heart, and hands aspects of discipleship in the context of community.

I highly recommend this book as one that will increase your understanding of, and application of the gospel – no matter how long you’ve been a Christian. It is one of the best books on discipleship to come out in a long time.

*Jonathan K. Dodson (M. Div; Th.M, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) serves as a pastor of Austin City Life in Austin, Texas. He has written articles in numerous blogs and journals such as The Resurgence, The Journal of Biblical Counseling, and Boundless. Dodson has discipled men and women abroad and at home for almost two decades, taking great delight in communicating the gospel and seeing Christ formed in others.

Profiles of a Convert, Disciple, Worker & Leader


((Adapted from Leroy Eims, The Lost Art of Disciple Making, pp. 184-186)

 Profile of a Convert:

  • Gives evidence of possessing new life (2 Cor. 5:17)
  • Attitude toward Christ is now favorable.
  • Attitude toward sin is unfavorable.

Profile of a Growing Disciple:

  • As a follower of Jesus Christ, places Christ first in the major areas of life and is taking steps to separate from sin (Luke 9:23; Romans 12:1-2).
  • Continues in the Word through such means as Bible study and Scripture memory; is regular in applying the Word to life with the help of the Holy Spirit (John 8:31; James 1:22-25; Psalm 119:59).
  • Maintains a consistent devotional life and is growing in faith and intercessory prayer (Mark 1:35; Hebrews 11:6; Colossians 4:2-4).
  • Attends church regularly and demonstrates Christ’s love by identifying with and serving other believers (Psalm 122:1; Heb. 10:25; John 13:34-35; 1 John 4:20-21; Galatians 5:13).
  • Is openly identified with Jesus Christ where he or she lives and works, manifests a heart for witnessing, gives testimony clearly, and presents the gospel regularly with increasing effectiveness (Matt. 5:16; Col. 4:6; 1 Peter 3:15).
  • A learner who is open and teachable (Acts 17:11).
  • A visible follower and learner of Jesus Christ, and demonstrates consistency and faithfulness in all of the above areas (Luke 16:10).

Profile of a Worker

  • Evidences growth in the virtues and skills outlined above (1 Peter 3:18).
  • Shows a growing compassion for the lost and demonstrates ability to lead others into a personal relationship with Christ (Matt. 9:36-38; Rom. 1:6).
  • Being used of God to establish believers who have become disciples, either personally or in a discipling group context (Col. 1:28-29).
  • Is currently engaged in the task of making disciples (Matt. 28:19).
  • Regular intake of the Word by all means and the quiet time are now regular habits (Philippians 4:9).

Profile of a Leader 

  • Is an equipped worker who evidences growth in the virtues and skills listed above.
  • Has been used of God to help disciples become workers.
  • Is banding and leading workers in evangelizing the lost and establishing believers.
  • Displays faithfulness and integrity in balancing life and ministry.

Time Element: Convert to disciple – 2 years; Disciple to worker – 2 years; Worker to leader – 3 years.

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