Every disciple is a disciple maker. This is not a peripheral truth. On the contrary, we ought to keep it in the forefront of our minds as we follow Christ and grow in our love for Him.
But we aren’t naive enough to believe that disciple making could ever be reduced to a simple equation or single-dimensioned formula. The fact of the matter is that there is a wide array of spiritual gifts that are intended to be used for building up believers in the local church. These gifts often lend themselves to various roles in the church (e.g., someone builds community through hospitality and generosity, someone else leads musical worship, someone else preaches, someone else leads a Bible study, someone else is a faithful Bible study participant, etc.). On top of that, each person has different strengths and different weaknesses. It makes sense, then, that from discipler to disciple, these gifts, roles, strengths, and weaknesses won’t always match up, and sometimes this can get messy. Yet this is how God intended disciple making to work.
On one level, each believer is supposed to make disciples in an evangelistic sense. This is vitally important to the accomplishment of the Great Commission. We are to seek out nonbelievers from every nation and proclaim the good new to them: that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim 1:15).
By now you probably know that once a disciple is initially made (i.e., someone repents of their sin and trusts in Jesus), the disciple making process is not over. In many ways, it is only beginning. Now begin maturing in their faith as they learn how to actually follow Jesus, growing over time by God’s grace through His Spirit.
At this point, Jerry Bridges, Christian author and long-time disciple maker, has some helpful comments. He submits that in the first stage of post-conversion discipleship, new believers should be personally discipled in how to pray, spend time with the Lord, read their Bibles, rightly apply biblical truth to their lives, etc. This first stage is something that all believers should be engaged in… bringing up baby Christians to the point where they can “self-feed.”
He then discusses a second stage for elders and church leaders, saying that this is not something every believer is necessarily equipped or gifted for. This stage entails what is described in 2 Timothy as entrusting biblical teaching “to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” According to the 2 Timothy context, Bridges calls this “training,” specifically in the realm of church leadership. This would involve church elders identifying and discipling future church elders. Not every believer is intended to participate in this.
Check out his entire twelve-minute audio interview at Desiring God.
Bridge’s observations on 2 Timothy make it clear that not every believer is meant to disciple everyone in all the ways they need. So, you shouldn’t feel defeated if you find yourself in a situation where you can’t seem to meet a particular need for the person you’re discipling. Be faithful in building into him or her as the Lord allows, and then allow others to use their gifts to meet other needs. Each of us is wired and gifted in unique ways. If the person you’re discipling needs teaching and equipping that you can’t adequately provide, connect them with another believer who is gifted in this way. In some ways, this is what makes discipleship so messy. Yet this is also where we see the beauty of Christ’s Body shine through.
In summary, every believer is to make disciples in terms of engaging unbelievers evangelistically, and every believer should look to build into younger Christians as they begin to grasp the basics of following Christ. However, due to our different giftings, roles, strengths, and weaknesses, disciple-making requires a team effort. Gratefully, God has given us the church for this. Just as every person is not supposed to teach high school calculus, so not every believer will be equipped to train up future pastors and teachers for the work of ministry. Bridges reminds us to be faithful in the role God has given us.