I think it was Dr James Kennedy who said, “It is more important to train a disciple maker than to make a disciple”.
When I first heard that statement I was with a large group of others. Those words caused quite a stir as debate raged about their truth, or otherwise. What some saw as the devaluing of an individual soul, others understood as having other, much deeper implications.
I suggest that the statement is very much in accord with Paul’s Spirit inspired words in Ephesians 4:11ff, which speaks about the function which God requires of those who are truly called, and gifted to be elders.
Jesus charge to His disciples was to make disciples, not converts, and I suggest that we need to take His words very seriously when seeking to understand passages which speak of ministry. ALL ministry, in one way or another, must be about discipling!
After all is said and done, the word “disciple” from a N.T. viewpoint, is first of all applied to the followers of Christ, and occasionally to the followers of John the Baptist and the Pharisees. As to its principle use, it is applied to followers of Jesus Christ; in the first place, the twelve who were called to follow Jesus (Mt 10:1 11:1 20:17).
Without doubt, every genuine member of the congregation of Jesus Christ must be a disciple. It follows that those who are recognized by the congregation as elders are also disciples. A disciple maker is, first of all, a disciple. A disciple is one who learns from another. Its rather interesting to find in a quick perusal of a concordance that the word “disciple” is used more than 200 times in the Gospels and Acts. Have a look at how many times the word “Christian” is used!
For our purpose in this article, a disciple, in the Christian sense, is defined as one whose assurance regarding his/her life, death and final end rests in the finished work of Jesus Christ; His life, death and resurrection, and His ongoing advocacy with God the Father, on their behalf. Such a person became a dwelling place of His Spirit at conversion. Such a person recognizes that Jesus Christ is their Sabbath.
As such a disciple grows (matures), as a result of this relationship with, and focus on Christ, the qualities of character which marked Jesus the Man, who walked the earth, will be their ideal in life and function. They will be followers of Jesus, as were those whom Jesus first chose, and called to Himself.
They will also be marked by having their feet firmly on the ground. They will be comfortable being human, recognizing that the work of Jesus Christ was, indeed, a finished work which paid the consequences of their sin, and purchased a place in heaven for which God has begun preparing them by His indwelling Spirit. They will be comfortable because they know they are a work in progress, which will be completed, by God.
Like Peter and Paul they will absolutely hate sin, in whatever form, and in whom ever it appears, but openly and honestly confess that its awful stain lingers in themselves to such an extent that their heart must cry with Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” They will have such confidence in what Jesus Christ has accomplished on their behalf, that their heartfelt gratitude will well forth with Paul, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”
Because of this they will be humble, self- abnegating men/women who have no regard for false piety which draws attention to themselves as the example, rather, their example, their words, their lives, will direct attention towards Christ.
Religious formalism will grieve them because of its legalism and performance orientation, which, by its very nature, denies the absolute sufficiency of Christ, and, by no means least, they will love the brethren in such a way that there will be no doubt of Christ in them.
We could add much more of a negative nature regarding the common accretions of worldly, humanistic traditions, but it is sufficient to say that, if our description is reasonably accurate of a disciple, it has to be also true of a disciple maker, who, themselves are a disciple.
It, therefore, must follow that being a discipler is about reproducing themselves, which reveals to us why it is more important to make a disciple maker than a disciple: multiplication instead of addition.
That’s exactly what Eph.4:11ff is describing. Instead of one disciple making one more disciple we see individual disciples, whose ministries are described, being used to make several disciples, who are being equipped for the work of service (ministry) of training disciples.
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus made it clear there was no order of ascendance, or importance amongst disciples?