Disciple-making begins with sharing the gospel with non-Christians. When a lost person receives salvation, one of their first acts of public obedience is baptism. The growth process – turning new converts into fully devoted Jesus followers – continues for a lifetime. After baptism, another important aspect of discipleship is teaching people how to follow Jesus.
Teaching, when narrowly defined as a classroom experience, is too limited an understanding of what is required for training another person to live the Christian life. Teaching, including the classroom experience, is important. But when disciple-making is reduced to communicating information, it becomes an intellectual exercise rather than the attitudinal and behavior-shaping process it is supposed to be.
When Jesus told his followers to teach others how to follow him, he did so in the context of knowing they knew how he had taught them. Jesus’ disciples had learned from the Master how to shape the thinking, attitudes, and actions of people. It starts with instruction, giving people new information. It continues with modeling and life-on-life training.
New Christians need to see how the Christian life is lived – not just hear a lecture about it. This is sometimes described as mentoring or coaching. It means mature believers take emerging believers under their wings and help them learn – step by painful step – how to reshape their behavior to demonstrate their new worldview. This is often hardest for leaders who have been taught in a classroom – often at a seminary. They try to replicate that experience in church – through preaching, teaching, and required reading. That approach is too one-dimensional. Disciple-making requires teaching – but that’s done best when it includes modeling, mentoring, coaching, and life-on-life training.
Disciple-making includes instruction – no doubt about it. But good disciple-makers do more than hold classes, hand out notebooks, and help their followers fill in the blanks. They know living the Christian life includes learning new information – but is much more than that. Good disciple-makers have an intentional strategy for teaching – in the best, most fully orbed understanding of that concept. They teach to shape both attitudes and behaviors of Christians in all areas of life.