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Disciple: What’s in a name, and why does it matter?

I’m a retired engineer living in Australia, now working as a layman, full-time for our Lord.

I had been 20 years an atheist, 10 years an agnostic, but was born again at the age of 30.

God had called me to be a relational evangelist!

We moved house and joined a new church when I retired in 2014.

In August 2017, I conducted a formal anonymous survey of our church members to better understand what they considered “A disciple of Jesus” to be.  Responses differed greatly across our 4 congregations against the following (tick box) options:

  1. Someone who is regularly going to church
  2. Someone who is mentoring other Christians to grow in their faith
  3. Someone who is learning from Jesus to live like him in repentance and faith 
  4. Someone who is really serious about living for Jesus 
  5. Someone who has been a Christian for many years 
  6. Someone who has been baptised and confirmed 
  7. Someone who trusts in Jesus' death and resurrection for their sins 
  8. Someone who is Spirit filled and Spirit led 
  9. Other:

The responses for the church as a whole ranked No 7 highest, followed by 3, 4, 2, 8

I was disappointed that the median response from only 1 of our 4 services (10am) selected No 3.

If our members don’t know what a disciple of Christ actually is, then we must ask whether they themselves have been discipled, and what motivation and ability they may have for discipling others. That points the finger back at church leadership, vision and strategy (the reason for the survey).

Pleasingly, when asked, “Who do you believe is responsible for making and growing disciples of Jesus?” the overwhelming response was “Every fellow disciple of Jesus regardless of gifts”.

When asked, “Why should we make and grow disciples of Jesus?” the ranked responses for the church as a whole were: “To glorify God's beloved Son” followed by “To take part in God's big plan to rescue and redeem a people for himself”, then “To demonstrate God's love for them”, then “To obey the Great Commission“, etc.

Sadly, when asked, “On a scale of 1 - 10 How committed are you to growing in the knowledge, love, and service of Jesus?” only 34% of the church overall claimed to be totally committed (10/10), though it was the median response. 

When asked, “How willing are you to lead someone to Jesus?” the median response was only 21% of church members (at a willingness of 8/10).  

When asked, “How willing are you to help another Christian grow in knowledge, love and service of Jesus?” the median response was only 28% of church members (at a willingness of 10/10), and these respondents indicated they were already doing so.

When asked, “How do you or would you seek to lead someone to Jesus?” the ranked responses were: 

“Live and love like Jesus in the world”, then “Look for opportunities to open up a conversation about Jesus“, then “Discuss issues of life from a biblical perspective”, then “Invite someone to a church event”, then “Invite someone to a Sunday church service”. Sadly, whilst most would pray, only a very small minority would choose to read the Bible 1-1 with someone.

When asked, “How would you help another Christian grow in the knowledge, love and service of Jesus?” the overwhelming majority said they would pray.  Again, only a minority would read the Bible 1-1 with someone.

So what do we make of this?

That most see a duty to make "disciples", but the "disciples" they make would be content in their own salvation and would not seek to make disciples of others (that is, making converts rather than making disciples who would make disciples of others)?

Is this why churches are not growing?

Armed with this data, I urged our church leadership to preach on discipling and to put in place some formal discipling programs for adults. A short introductory sermon series resulted, but other actions failed due to certain extraordinary circumstances which interrupted what we were doing (life threatening illness, followed by staff changes, then COVID).  I continue to work with church leadership to make ours a truly Bible-based discipling church.

Meanwhile, my focus has been on personal relational evangelism, and calling others to follow me into the local mission field.


Are you a disciple of Christ: one who makes disciples, who make disciples of Christ?

How do you do this?  Do you have any favourite resources that work in your context?

Go, Make, Grow, Disciples of Jesus

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