Biblically, to be a disciple is to make disciples. But if you were to ask Christians today what it means to make disciples, you’d probably get jumbled thoughts, ambiguous answers, likely even some blank stares. This is a problem.
If we’re going to know how to do anything as Christians, we need to know how to make disciples. So what does it mean to make disciples? Here’s my best attempt to sum up disciple-making based on Matthew 28:19. There are four things we do.
1. We Share the Word
We speak about the gospel as we live according to the gospel. We tell people how they can be saved from their sins through Jesus’ death on the cross. There’s no question that this is the thrust behind Christ’s command to go and make disciples.
Jesus was not telling these eleven guys on a mountain to pair up and disciple each other. He was telling them to reach people who have not been reached with the gospel. And Christian, remember: this is why you have the Spirit of God inside of you! To speak the gospel.
So who are you speaking the gospel to? Who has God put in your life that you can share the gospel with? If not, what are you waiting for? To make disciples is to go to people who don’t know the love of Christ and lead them to experience the life of Christ.
2. We Show the Word
Once we share the Word and people put their faith in Christ, we baptize them. Have you ever wondered why Jesus includes instructions on baptizing people in His command to make disciples? Because baptism symbolizes identification with the person of Christ and inclusion in the body of Christ.
Disciple-making is not about sharing the gospel with people and then leaving them to figure out the Christian life on their own. Instead, we show them how to follow Christ on a day-by-day basis. This is why we can never limit disciple-making to a weekly meeting in a classroom. Disciple-making is what happens when we walk through life together, showing one another how to pray, study the Bible, grow in Christ, and lead others to Christ.
And remember, God has designed disciple-making not only for the good others, but also for our growth in Christ. If you lead a new believer to Christ, then how is that person going to learn to pray or study the Bible or share the gospel? By watching you! God has this thing rigged.
3. We Teach the Word
The Great Commission also involves “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19, emphasis added). As followers of Jesus, we don’t just receive the Word; we reproduce the Word. Now there’s obviously a sense in which some in the church are particularly gifted to teach (Ephesians 4:11–12). However, every disciple of Jesus is intended to saturate his or her words with God’s Word. We are teaching people all that Christ has taught us.
4. We Serve the World
Finally, obeying the Great Commission will mean not only serving our neighbors, but also the world. We are to make disciples of “all nations” (panta ta ethne) (Matthew 28:19). Nations here is not a reference to the approximately two hundred geopolitical nations, or countries, recognized in the world today. Nations refers to tribes and families and clans and peoples, what we call people groups today. We see this concept all over Scripture: Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites, and Jebusites.
Today there over 11,000 people groups in the world. These are groups of people that share a similar language, heritage, and cultural characteristics. So this is not just a general command to make disciples among as many people as possible. This is a specific command to make disciples among every people group in the world. And there are 6,000 people groups who still have not been reached with the gospel. Making disciples of all nations necessarily involves intentionally going after these 6,000 people groups.
David Platt is the president of the International Mission Board (IMB) and founder of Radical. He is the author of several books, including Radical, Follow Me, and Counter Culture.
This post is adapted from David's message titled "Defining Disciple-Making."