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Making Disciples Jesus' Way

Have you ever been to a shooting range? Everyone is trying to hit the bull’s-eye. How do we, as ministers, know if we’re hitting the mark and “winning” in discipleship? The BCNet discipleship team questioned 107 college ministers across the United States. We asked them seven open-ended questions regarding their discipleship strategy. One survey question was “What is your vision/strategy for discipleship?” and we received the following results:

  • 29% teaching by mentoring and one-on-one relationship with teaching
  • 27% building relationships—spending time with students
  • 26% multiplying disciples—leading students to reach and disciple their peers
  • 8% meeting in small groups
  • 10% other

First of all, it is important to determine if a discipleship strategy is successful, in other words, a win. College ministers have only a limited number of years with students—four years or less for most and six for those professional students. For years, we have defined a win by gathering a small group for Bible study (the larger the attendance the bigger the win). A small group is good, but it’s not the win. Is salvation a win? Of course! Any time a college student becomes a Christ-follower, it’s a win. But if we stop with students coming to Christ, we cut short the vision of Jesus. What about all the different programs and events we do? Are they wins? Sure, events and ministry programs are good, but they too fall short of hitting the mark of discipleship. Let’s learn from Jesus’ strategy for disciple making.

Jesus made disciples the rabbinic way. Of all the cultures and time periods that God could’ve sent His Son to earth during, God sent Jesus into a rabbi/disciple system. A rabbi had a small group of students (disciples) that he trained so that one day they each would become rabbis and have their own disciples. The purpose was for the rabbi to multiply disciples. Jesus had 12 students He spent three years with. At the end of the three years, Jesus and His disciples stood on a mountain as He was about to ascend into heaven. In His last words on earth, Jesus told them to go make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus commanded them to repeat what He did with them the last three years. They were no longer disciples. They were rabbis ready to go multiply disciples across the globe. Jesus’ strategy was multiplying disciples. That’s how we should define a win in our ministry.

Knowing the way Jesus discipled, I believe 26 percent of the college ministers we surveyed are leading winning ministries by intentionally teaching students to multiply themselves. The word intentional is key here. Jesus was intentional in all He did with His disciples. Jesus didn’t spend time with His disciples for the sake of hanging out, nor was His desire only to give them more information about God. His intentional strategy was to mobilize them to multiply. His strategy worked. Two thousand years later, we are His disciples as a result of their strategy of multiplication.

It’s easy for us to let programs and events keep us from multiplying disciples through relationships. I once told a friend that I care deeply about multiplying disciples. To which he asked me, “Does how you spend your time reflect that?” My calendar was full of a lot of good stuff—events, meetings, large group times—but it wasn’t set up to allow me the time to relationally invest in students and teach them how to make disciples of others. The danger can come in thinking that all the fun events and busy activities equal discipleship. Our college discipleship strategy must be sharply focused to accomplish discipleship the way Jesus intended.

When a small group gathers for the purpose of learning how to invest and make disciples of their peers, discipleship is happening. The ultimate win is when those groups actually multiply themselves. When the new believer immediately reaches out to his friends and makes disciples, you know students are living out Jesus’ design for discipleship.

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Peter Hyatt is the campus minister for Baptist Collegiate Ministry at the College of Charleston and The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina.