Becoming a 360 Degree Disciple-Maker
By Paul Lawler
Whether you lead a Missional Community, small group, or disciple others “one on one,” a robust understanding of discipleship has the potential of greatly enhancing effective disciple making. Thus, we devote the following to the consideration of our becoming 360-degree disciple-makers.
THE FIVE FOCUSES OF A 360 DEGREEE DISCIPLE-MAKER
1. A 360 DEGREE DISCIPLE-MAKER PRAYS FERVENTLY
A 360-degree disciple-maker prays for the persons they disciple.
Over the last decade, I have had the privilege of spending time with Christ-followers in various parts of the world. Among many of these, we are witnessing some of the most high impact disciple-making movements in history. These movements are characterized by God’s empowering presence as a fruit of a regular prayer and fasting.
With the awareness of the Scriptures instructing us that “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working,” I have witnessed Christ-followers spend weeks in prayer and fasting for un-reached people groups consisting of Hindus, Muslims, animist and Buddhist. After considerable prayer, an appointed time follows for sharing the gospel of Christ with these un-reached persons. These efforts have resulted in hundreds of thousands of persons coming to faith in Jesus Christ.
These patterns of prayer we have witnessed, which result in palpable power and confidence in the gospel, are not unlike the accounts we read in early Methodism. Early Methodist Thomas Walsh describes what he experienced as the result of fervent prayer in the early discipleship engines of the Methodist societies:
“And ‘Oh,’ adds he, ‘how wonderfully did we experience the power and love of God, whenever we made prayer and supplication to Him! We had a heaven amongst us; a paradise within us! The Lord poured such peace and joy into our hearts, we were often so happy, that we did not know how to part. We lived as brethren, and strove together for ‘the hope of the gospel.’ We were of one heart and of one mind in the presence of God. And is not this the communion of saints?'”
As we observe what is happening around the world, and what has happened through history, we arrive at the following axiom: Where there is much prayer, there is much power. Where God’s empowering presence is at work; disciple-making takes on divine momentum.
A 360-degree disciple-maker prays for the persons they disciple.
2. A 360 DEGREE DISCIPLE-MAKER DEVELOPS THE INNER LIFE
Jesus taught, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” There is a direct correlation between our inner life in Christ and our outer effectiveness for Christ. We can program activity in the name of Christ, but we cannot produce fruit apart from abiding in Christ.
Joel Comisky, who has studied and equipped disciple-makers all over the world, notes the following: “A small group leader’s (disciple-maker’s) success is directly attributed to the amount of time the leader spends in daily devotions and in their reliance upon the Holy Spirit.” Comisky has observed that the development of the inner life of a disciple of Jesus Christ is essential to the practice of effective disciple making.
The effectiveness of Jesus’ public ministry seemed to flow out of the effectiveness of His tending the inner fire of His private ministry. The Apostle Paul, who developed disciple-making movements in the Middle East and Europe, affirmed the essential nature of developing the inner life.
Let us take note of the direct correlation of disciple-makers who develop their inner-life in Christ, which enhances their effectiveness in disciple making for Christ.
A 360-degree disciple maker develops the inner life.
3. A 360 DEGREE DISCIPLE-MAKER CULTIVATES DEEP ROOTS IN OTHERS
Jesus described the nature of discipleship when he gave us these commands: “Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you” and “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples.”
Based on Jesus’ words, the genius of the early Wesleyan movement was reflected in how people developed deep roots in Christ and in Scripture. The early Wesleyan movement helped people tap into Jesus’ command to “make disciples” by “teaching all that (He) commanded . . .” After all, When John Wesley defined the term “Methodist” for the 1753 English Dictionary, he describe a Methodist disciple as “One that lives according to the Method laid down in the Bible.”
As the early Methodists were faithful to instruct the church through Scripture and accountability through the societies, classes and bands, critical masses of people slowly began to be fruitful. As they were fruitful, they reproduced. Out of depth came breadth. The church experienced life and surrounding cultures were transformed one life at a time.
Many are all too familiar with the words of George Whitfield, the 18th century evangelist, upon observing how his converts compared to his contemporary, John Wesley’s. Whitefield was observing the difference in converts who experienced ongoing discipleship through Wesley’s class meetings, verses his own converts that did not. Whitefield famously lamented, “My Brother Wesley acted wisely, the souls that were awakened under his ministry he joined in class, and thus preserved the fruits of his labor. This I neglected and my people are a rope of sand.”
Christ followers known as Methodist were once a great movement because the movement cultivated deep roots in believers. Christ following Methodists became disciples worth reproducing. Depth fueled the breadth necessary for disciple making and church multiplication.
A 360-degree disciple-maker develops deep roots in others.
4. A 360 DEGREE DISCIPLE-MAKER GOES FISHING
Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Therefore, an externally focused 360-degree disciple-maker goes fishing.
Jesus used words of intentionality in describing the nature discipleship. He said, “Go, and make disciples.” This is not the language of passivity, but intentionality. Discipleship does not happen by chance, it’s intentional. While Jesus taught us to be intentional, He also modeled intentionality by investing in the lives of His twelve disciples.
In the life of an effective disciple maker, they are constantly attuned to persons of peace, and keen to the awareness of every relationship as a potential ‘fishing relationship” for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Friends, waiters, persons at the gym, neighbors, family members, acquaintances, all serve to make up the harvest fields in the minds of 360 disciple-makers.
A 360-degree disciple-maker goes fishing.
5. A 360 DEGREE DISCIPLE-MAKER IS IMMERSED IN A DISCIPLE-MAKING TEAM
Jesus first disciples were a team of disciple-makers. Based on the Scriptures, being a part of a disciple making team is normative for a New Testament disciple-maker.
In the words of Bob McNabb, “The groups that do the best job of both helping their members grow and multiplying groups of disciples are the groups that meet for the express purpose of being a disciple-making team. Their outward focus raises all the right issues and pushes all the right buttons for inward growth. This is one of the paradoxes of the kingdom. Groups focused on giving their lives away end up gaining life the most for themselves.”
It was Steve Addison who once said; “The New Testament has no categories for a disciple who is not grounded in a local church.” While true, it is unfortunate that all local churches are not healthy disciple making communities capable of creating healthy disciple-making teams. Because of this reality, we need to labor for the development of a resurgence of healthy disciple making cultures and teams within local churches.
A 360-degree disciple-maker is immersed in a disciple-making team, prays for those they disciple, cultivates deep roots in others, develops the inner life, and regularly goes fishing.
Paul Lawler is the Lead-Pastor of Christ Church UMC, and founder of The Immersion School, a discipleship training center in Birmingham, Alabama. He and his wife, MJ, have four children and one daughter-in-law. In addition to serving as a pastor, Paul and his brother, Dallas area businessman, Patrick Lawler, founded the Patricia B. Hammonds Girl’s Home for 60 orphans at high risk for human trafficking in Thailand. The home is operated through the international ministry of the Compassionate Hope Foundation. Paul also serves on the North Alabama Conference Discipleship Team. He often tweets Kingdom thoughts at @plawler111
i James 5:16d (ESV)
ii Thomas Walsh, quoted in Wesley’s Veterans Vol. 5, pgs 30,31.
iii John 15:5 (ESV)
iv Mark Nysewander, Quoting Joel Cominsky, Chase Valley Church Leadership Conference, February 2007.
v This pattern can be observed in multiple settings in Jesus’ ministry. In Mark 6:45-46/Matthew 14:23, Jesus dismisses a large crowd in order to go to a mountain to be alone and pray. We see the same pattern in Luke 6:12.
vi The Apostle Paul instructed his disciples to be aware of the essential nature of developing the inner life in Romans 7:22, Ephesians 3:16, and 1 Peter 3:4. In Ephesians 3:10, Paul shares his ultimate purpose in living is found in intimately knowing Christ.
vii John 8:31 (ESV)
viii Matthew 4:19
ix Many Christ-followers assume discipleship is happening through some type of osmosis via the people sitting in pews on Sunday morning. This is a dangerous assumption still permeating much of North American Christendom. In 2009, George Barna released a study indicating that up to 66% of the people in North American Churches would be characterized as “Casual Christians.” In light of Jesus’ warning in Revelation 20 to casual, lukewarm Christians, we are not only in grave danger, we are presently disciples not worth reproducing.
x Spiritual Multiplication in the Real World, Bob McNabb; p. 63
xi Steve Addison; Twitter account: @movementsnet