Strategic Disciple Making – Aubrey Malphurs
Why is the Church here? What are we supposed to be doing? Aubrey Malphurs writes in Strategic Disciple Making that the answer is not hard to find. “Two thousand years ago, the Savior predetermined the church’s mission. It’s the Great Commission, as found in such texts as Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:46-49; John 20:21; and Acts 1:8 (13).” Make disciples. Malphurs believes that the Church has lost focus of what is really important. There are many churches who do not know why there are there. They meet to have a good time, sing some songs, and see their friends. Many churches are organized around caring for people, teaching the Bible, evangelism, worship, family ministry or anything else. These are all good things but cannot be the main thing for a church that wants to follow the direction of the Savior. Strategic Disciple Making is not an in-depth guide but a very helpful overview of reorganizing or organizing the Church around its God given purpose; making disciples.
Discipleship is not a ministry of the Church; it is the ministry of the Church. Malphurs lays out what the church is supposed to be doing by making some observations of the Great commission. “The Great Commission has both an evangelism and an edification or spiritual growth component (18).” In the Great commission we see that Jesus was clear that the Church’s mission was to take unbelievers and move them to mature believers. Malphurs stresses in the practical sections of his book that this can be done many way but the key is intentionality.
So what is a disciple? Malphurs starts by defining what a disciple is not. A disciple is not a learner who follows a teacher (28). One can be a learner and not be a disciple. There were many crowds that followed Jesus and learned from him but not all decided to follow him. A disciple is not only a committed believer (29). Disciples are committed but there is more to it and it gets tricky to define committed. “As we have seen, the Scriptures are clear that a disciple is not necessarily a believer who has committed his or her life to following the Savior, but simply a believer (30).” Congratulations; if you believe, you are a disciple. “The concept of biblical discipleship begins when a person accepts Christ (31).” The amazing thing about being a disciple of Jesus is that it does not end when you believe but only begins. Discipleship is the “ongoing process that encourages the believer to follow Christ and become more like him (35).”
Malphurs explains that it is first God who makes a disciple. Father, Son, and Spirit, all work together to call, grow and mature a believer. In 1 Cor. 3:5-7 Paul writes that he and Apollos are just servants and it is “God who makes things grow.” Without God the Son, there would be no church. “God the Holy Spirit is the one who is in the transformation business (39).” It is also the responsibility of the disciple to continue growing. “Too few disciples are taking personal responsibility for their own spiritual growth and development (41).” We can and should choose to grow; it takes the intentionality of an individual working in God’s designed path to move in the direction of maturation. The responsibility of the church “is to come alongside and complement what each person is doing personally to grow and mature in faith (41).”
While Jesus was here on earth, he made disciples. How did he do it? First he preached. When Jesus taught the crowds his primary focus was to turn them into disciples (believers). Then he focused on small groups of people. He specifically called 12 to be his own. They became his apostles; the ones who were sent. Then he spent time with a few individuals and “took the inner circle aside for further disciplining (58).” Finally he counseled individuals in one-time meetings with people who needed some help; such as Nicodemus and Peter. The Church is to follow Jesus’ lead. “It is not to be one of several programs of the church; it is the program of the church (67).”
Disciple making is a process of moving people closer to Jesus. You will need to know what a disciple looks like to make one and have a way to evaluate where someone is in the process. There are excellent quantitative and qualitative questions in Strategic Disciple Making that Malphurs gives to help nail this idea down. Malphurs believes there are three basic steps to putting a Disciple making program in place and making it the heart of your ministry. First you have to determine the church’s mission. This is simple; Make disciples. Articulate this in a short, memorable statement to make sure that everyone inside and outside of the church understand what the church does. The second is to ask “the sanctification question.” Look at what the Bible teaches concerning the characteristics of a mature believer. It is very important that this are (at least two but not more than five (79)” so they can be memorable and organized under your current primary ministries. Then communicate it to people; this is the most important process. People have to know how you are going to aid them in moving closer to God.
In the rest of Strategic Disciple Making Malphurs discusses important issues such as organization, staffing, and funding issues to get the Church firmly rooted in disciple making. In my opinion the book could be bigger and more in-depth but is still very helpful. It is theological and practical and is one of those resources that I see myself coming back to; similar to a compass, guiding the way to make sure I am on task.
The most important thing that I gathered from the book is the fact that the church has no other business than making disciples. Everything else is secondary. It truly reinforces the desire in my life to make disciples who make disciples. Dr. Aubrey Malphurs is a professor of pastoral ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is the author of more than fifteen books as well as the president of the Malphurs Group (www.malphursgroup.com), a training and consulting firm.