James Howard is the director of Sabbath School and Personal Ministries, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

I am not the best artist. The right side of my brain just does not seem to kick in as I wish it would when I attempt an illustration. But I learned a simple method early on that helped me draw with perfect proportions and beautiful details: tracing. Just put a thin piece of paper over a photograph or illustration and follow the lines. When finished, voilà! A duplicate of a stunning work of art.

Christian leaders have a lot to say when it comes to making disciples. Yet, for all the pages written and sermons preached about discipleship, we do not really have anything original to say. The best and only true model for making disciples is to trace the lines of the Master Disciple Maker, Jesus Christ. Do not try to put your own stamp on the task. Just copy the Pattern, and you will have a beautiful work of art—a mature disciple of Jesus.

That is what this article will do: trace the three essential steps that Jesus used to make disciples. Only by copying the method of Jesus can we find true success.

Step 1: Befriend

The first step in Jesus’ model of making disciples is to make friends. This involves a few different elements, but the first and most important is that we have to take the initiative if we want to win lost people to Christ.

Jesus took the first step toward those He loved. He is the great Initiator. Rather than wait in heaven, He “came to His own” (John 1:11)1 in order “ ‘to seek’ ” (Luke 19:10) lost people. He is the original Fisher of men (see Mark 1:17), the Shepherd who goes “ ‘after the one which is lost until he finds it’ ” (Luke 15:4). Thus, when Jesus commands His church to “ ‘go’ ” (Matt. 28:19) and make disciples, He is telling them to copy what He has already done and continues to do for a sin-sick world.

An additional element of befriending can be deduced from the Greek word matheteuo, which is translated as “ ‘make disciples’ ” in Matthew 28:19. The King James Version translates the word as “teach” rather than “make disciples,” but this falls short of its full meaning. Matheteuo means not only that we convey truth to others but also that we persuade them to become followers of Jesus Christ. It involves not merely telling but persuading. And persuasion requires trust.

For this reason, in addition to taking the initiative to interact with lost people, we must also take an interest in them, sympathize with them, and show them that we care. This is what Jesus did. He “ ‘went about doing good’ ” (Acts 10:38), winning people’s confidence and opening their hearts to hear what He had to say. Some people we encounter are already open to receiving the truth (John 4:35–38), but in many cases, it requires our friendship and service to prepare the soil of the heart for the gospel seed.

Jesus also paid attention to those whom others ignored. He took notice of their physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs. He was not so tied up with His own interests that He did not have time for theirs. The insignificant and invisible in this world found their worth in the eyes of Jesus. He was “moved with compassion” (Matt. 9:36) toward them.

The author Ellen G. White stated, “Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me.’ ”2

Notice that Jesus did not minister to people’s needs with no end in view. He did not go to the soup kitchen just to check it off some list of good deeds. When Jesus mingled with people, He invited them to follow Him and experience a lasting relationship. More than merely being friendly, Jesus sought out people who would become His eternal friends.

Digital specialist Jason Alexis affirms, “We know the best way for people to learn more about Jesus is through friendship (a.k.a. friendship evangelism). One figure suggests that as many as 79% came to know Jesus through a friend. Many times an evangelist was involved at some point, but the most powerful reason for that friend showing up at the meeting or church was the friendship.”3

Step 2: Proclaim

The second step in Christ’s method of making disciples—proclaiming the gospel—is the heart of the mission. When training people to proclaim, you should refer to it in three parts: introducing spiritual truth, studying the full message of truth, and gaining decisions to follow the truth. But for the sake of simplicity, we will here refer to these as one: proclaiming.

Jesus was never fully satisfied with meeting temporal needs because He longed for the salvation of every soul. No matter what entering wedge He used to befriend them—secular interests, physical healing, emotional support, or other help—it always led to sharing the gospel. “From Christ’s methods of labor we may learn many valuable lessons. He did not follow merely one method; in various ways He sought to gain the attention of the multitude; and then He proclaimed to them the truths of the gospel.”4

While expressions of love and kindness may soften hearts, only a revelation of Jesus Christ can convert people (see 1 Pet. 1:13). For this reason, Jesus made preaching the gospel central to both His own ministry and the mission He gave His disciples.

Matthew 28 and the command to make disciples is, of course, not the only place where the church’s mission is communicated. Consider the predominant focus placed on proclaiming the gospel in each of the other six mission commands in the New Testament:

  • Matthew 24:14: “ ‘And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world.’ ”
  • Mark 13:10: “ ‘And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations.’ ”
  • Mark 16:15: “ ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.’ ”
  • Luke 24:47: “ ‘Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations.’ ”
  • Acts 1:8: “ ‘You shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’ ”
  • Revelation 14:6: “Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth—to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people.”

The early church understood that the core component of making disciples is to preach the gospel and persuade people to follow Jesus (Acts 14:21). After being scattered by persecution, the lay members of the early church—everyone “except the apostles” (Acts 8:1)—“went everywhere preaching the word” (v. 4). In the Bible, “preaching” does not refer only to speaking from behind a pulpit. More often, it refers to sharing Bible truth in personal settings.

The growth of the early church was greatly dependent upon this personal “preaching” of its members. “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14).

Step 3: Train

The final stage of Christ’s method of making disciples is often neglected. Unlike befriending and proclaiming, most of this important step occurs after baptism. It was after Jesus’ disciples had been baptized that He called them to follow Him. Jesus was the Master Mentor, teaching His disciples by precept and example how to win souls for the kingdom of God.

“ ‘A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher’ ” (Luke 6:40). Jesus made it clear that making disciples is about training people to become like their Teacher—Jesus Christ. Using the same methods that Christ used, His disciples are to labor for the salvation of others.

Jesus also said that “ ‘every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old’ ” (Matt. 13:52, ESV). The phrase “who has been trained for the kingdom” is translated as “instructed concerning the kingdom” in the New King James Version and “who has become a disciple in the kingdom” in the New International Version. The idea being conveyed in the translations is the same—the one who has been trained “brings out of his treasure” things new and old to share with others. A mature disciple is one who, after being instructed in the truth of God’s Word, is now instructing others.

Perhaps the most well-known verse identifying the importance of training is Mark 1:17: “ ‘Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ ” Jesus did not say, "And you will become” but “I will make you become.” In making disciples, Jesus took upon Himself the responsibility of training them to win souls. “In all His work He was training them for individual labor.”5

To a great degree, our success depends upon this third step in the disciple-making methodology of Jesus. “When we are successful in the work of soulsaving, those who are added to the faith will, in turn, use their ability in giving the truth to others.”6

Copy the Pattern

Pastors have the sacred responsibility of teaching their members how to follow Christ’s method of ministry: befriending, proclaiming, and training. We should never assume that they will not be willing. The reason many members are not active is that they have never been encouraged or trained. “Many would be willing to work if they were taught how to begin. They need to be instructed and encouraged.

“Every church should be a training school for Christian workers.”7

Some members, based on their gifts and personalities, will be better at befriending. But all can make an effort to interact with lost people. Others are gifted at sharing Bible truth in clear and persuasive ways. Yet even those who do not feel proficient at this can still share literature, invite their friends to a Bible study, or share their testimony. Still others are especially effective at nurturing and training new members. But even those with little experience can pray for and encourage those newer to the faith.

Every disciple is called to make other disciples. Not sure how to teach others to make disciples? No need to worry. Just take out a proverbial piece of paper, lay it over the Gospels, trace the three simple steps of Christ’s method, and voilà!

  1. Unless otherwise noted, Scripture is from the New King James Version.
  2. Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1905), 143.
  3. Jason Alexis, “Let’s Talk Modern Evangelism in the Seventh-day Adventist Church," Digital Evangelism (blog), May 7, 2018, https://www.sdadata.org/digital-evangelism-blog/lets-talk-modern-evangelism-in-the-seventh-day-adventist-church.
  4. Ellen G. White, Evangelism (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1946), 123.
  5. Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), 32.
  6. Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), 86.
  7. White, Ministry of Healing, 149.

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James Howard is the director of Sabbath School and Personal Ministries, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

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