Your Discipleship Strategy Starts with Your Definition of a Disciple

Are you looking for a discipleship strategy, but don’t know where to begin?

How do churches make disciples?

It is perhaps the central question churches face, and only some of them actually have a well-defined answer. As Mike Breen says, “The problem is that most of us have been educated and trained to build, serve, and lead the organization of the church. Most of us have actually never been trained to make disciples.”

Do we now define disciple as someone who attends worship somewhat regularly, gives to us financially, and engages in acts of evangelism and kindness every once in a while?

Solution: Define clearly and biblically what a disciple is.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – DiscipleShift by Jim Putman and Bobby Harrington

Making disciples is the church’s God-given mandate, but too often our churches fall short of their mission. We fill our pews, but fail to create committed disciples.

Discipleshift walks you through five key “shifts” that your church must make to refocus on the biblical mission of discipleship. These changes will attract the world and empower your church members to be salt and light in their communities.


 One of the marks of any successful team – from the sports world, business, and yes, even churches – is that all players need to be operating from the same playbook. The team must understand and operate with a basic understanding of the task set before them.

For the church, that task is making disciples. But even when churches come to some acceptance of this task, defining just exactly what “disciple” means is all together different.

Any church wanting to implement a successful discipleship strategy must first begin by defining what a disciple is.

A church must agree on the definition of its most important function, discipleship. Therefore, there must be agreement on behalf of all the church’s leaders regarding this simple, yet incredibly vital foundational question: what is a disciple?

There are two practical criteria that must guide any proposed definition of a disciple. First, the definition needs to be biblical (as Jesus defined it), and second, it needs to be clear. What we’re aiming for is a definition that every leader in your church understands and operates by.

If we dig into Matthew 4:19 as a framework and model for understanding discipleship, we find three important attributes of a disciple.

Follow Me

The first two words of Jesus are a simple invitation. This invitation indicates our acceptance of Jesus – his authority and his truth – at the head level.

 And I Will Make You

The next five words in this verse speak of a process of transformation. This tells us that discipleship involves Jesus molding our hearts to become more like his.

Fishers of Men

The final three words in this verse indicate a response of action, something that affects what we live for and do.

Putting all three attributes together, we see that a disciple is a person who:

– Is following Christ (head);

 – Is being changed by Christ (heart);

 – Is committed to the mission Christ (hands).

– Jim Putman and Bobby Harrington, Discipleshift


At your next team meeting, ask each member to write a definition of “disciple” on a blank piece of paper and turn it in. Compile the definitions onto a single sheet of paper and distribute them to the team.

Before the next meeting, ask all of your team members to provide Scripture verses to support all of the definitions. The scriptures do not need to fully support the definition, but must speak to it in some way.

At your next team meeting, write the definitions and scripture verses that everyone brings on a white board or chart tablet. Work through the entire list, arriving at a single definition of “disciple” that is fully supported by Scripture.


The journey to a successful discipleship strategy, like all journeys, will be most successful when you know where you are starting from. Like any journey, you have to start from somewhere, and formulate a baseline definition of a disciple is the best place from which you can launch a successful discipleship strategy.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix Issue 10-1, published March 2015

Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “summary” for church leaders. I’m going to peruse back issues of both SUMS and SUMS Remix and publish excerpts each Wednesday.


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