Are you actively involved in making disciples? Although we may think of it as a “missions verse,” the Great Commission sets the agenda for our churches and our lives: we are to make disciples (Matt 28:19). But what does that actually mean? What does it look like to make disciples? Paul makes it pretty clear in Colossians 1. He says everything he does has in mind the aim to present everyone mature in Christ (Col 1:28). That’s it. That’s the goal of disciple-making: to present everyone mature in Christ. That is both simple and profound, easy and difficult, all at the same time. Being mature in Christ means being conformed to his image. It means experiencing a transformation of the heart that leaves us longing less for sin and more for God. That change is seen in how we live and think each day. It’s a process that involves three things: evangelism, encouragement, and equipping.
Disciple-Making through Evangelism
Notice that it’s “everyone” that Paul seeks to make mature in Christ. This means that disciple-making isn’t just about maturing believers. We often use the term that way. But if you look at the New Testament, making disciples includes the whole process of evangelism, conversion, and sanctification. It includes everything we do in engaging with people in the world to see come to faith in Christ and them helping them grow in their maturity with Christ. Thus, maturity in Christ begins with faith in Christ. If one puts faith in Christ, he or she experiences salvation and is transferred by God from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of Christ (Col 1:13).
Disciple-Making through Encouragement
But evangelism is only the beginning. After someone comes to faith in Christ, they continue to experience spiritual growth. And this doesn’t happen all at once. It happens over a lifetime of a thousand small changes, and other believers are expected to help them. From pastors to everyday Christians, our growth is meant to be a community project. Just do a search for the phrase “one another” in the New Testament, and you’ll see the level of involvement and care that should form our relationships among God’s people. More direct are verses like Hebrews 10:25–“let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Believers are meant to encourage others in their maturing, and the best way to do this is by offering appropriate words from Scripture itself that bring Christ to bear on their lives. This is what Paul did to accomplish the task of presenting everyone mature in Christ: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Col 1:28).
Disciple-Making through Equipping
Finally, as believers mature in their faith, they are expected to engage in ministry; that is, make disciples. How will they learn to do this? Simply put: they will be equipped by the church. What is “equipping”? It’s means being trained for ministry. And while Paul envisions the leadership of a local church to be responsible for this (Eph 4:11-12), that doesn’t mean that others can’t be part of that training as well. Basically, if someone has already been equipped for ministry, they are in a position to help equip others. This is another crucial part of our ongoing maturity in Christ–being trained for ministry in service to Christ and his Church.
Keep a “People List” for Making Disciples
Now, this is a big task. And it would be easy to err on the side of one thing or another. It would be easy to gravitate toward one of those components that we most resonate with. However, all three of these things–evangelism, encouragement, and equipping–are part of our own experience of maturing as well as our calling to help others mature.
Keeping up with these things requires a plan. The usual plan involves some kind of “to-do” list. But what if our focus shifted? Since people are the focus of our ministry, why not make a people list? This is the suggestion of Marty Sweeney. He says:
“Don’t just have to-do lists. Have people lists. Think through the people who are closest to you and how you can disciple them. This will reshape your to-do list, which will also reshape your prayer list and your reading list.”
How will it reshape things? Simple. Different people have different needs. Consider what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians. He writes, “we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thess 5:14). Each person he describes needs something different. If you admonish the fainthearted, or encourage the idle, or fail to help the weak, you won’t be helping any of them at all. They each have specific needs. So, how do you keep straight who needs what? Consider a simple chart where you can list out the people around you—people at work, people who live near you, people in your family or friends at church. It might look something like this:
Here you can list the people you’re working with and what you need to do in order to help them grow in Christ. The benefit is that it focuses the kinds of things you pray for, read, and plan to do in working to help people mature in Christ. (I’ve already made up a pdf that is formatted with two per page.)
This is just one tool among many. Regardless of what you use, let’s get discipling!