Turning to Jesus!

Jesus' Method of Disciple Training

A Vacation Bible School Curriculum by Barry McWilliams
an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America

Jesus' 7 Steps in Disciple Training

The Gospels have a two fold purpose:
  1. To present Jesus and the Gospel!
  2. To prepare the church to continue His ministry!

The second is not as obvious as the first, but with careful study of Jesus' methodology, a pattern becomes clear. This summary of His steps in training disciples is based on the following studies: With Christ in the School of Disciple Building, by Carl Wilson (Zondervan, 1979) - a detailed exposition of these stages. The Master Plan of Evangelism(Fleming H. Revell Co., 1979), by Robert E. Coleman ; The Training of the Twelve(Kregel Publications, 1971) by A. B. Bruce - very valuable studies of Christ's methods of training his disciples. The Gospels are more than sources for our teaching about Jesus, they are also "manuals" for continuing His mission!

What was Jesus' master plan to reach the world?

His Mission was to...

His Task was further complicated by...

His Goal...

His Method was simple...

We can see a pattern in the ministry of disciple training that Jesus carried on. He did not try to reach all the masses with the Gospel. Even if He had wanted to, the task would be too big. Rather He concentrated on a few selected ordinary men, who were "with Him" and to whom He gave both verbal instruction and a constant example - preparing them though their time with Him to do the same. A similar method of discipleship was practiced by the early churches in Acts.

The Gospels were written not only to teach us about Christ and His ministry, but also to serve as a pattern for us, guiding the church in its mission to reach the world. That is why they are much more than a biography of Jesus. While each has its own particular themes and emphases, together they give us a rather complete picture of the Master's plan that he has passed on to His church.

Jesus trained first 12 disciples, then a second generation of 70, using basically the same pattern. This pattern continued in the growing church in Acts. When you have grasped the stages of Jesus' plan for disciple building, then you can much better understand both the Gospel accounts and the unfolding of various events in the life of Jesus. And you will see the value of careful reading and study of the Gospels' accounts of the ministry of the Lord for you as you seek to be His disciple.

The Seven Step Disciple Training Program

Step one: Bring someone to repentance and faith - conversion: Mark 1:14,15; John 1:29ff

Before anyone can become a disciple of Jesus, they must first be born again. This salvation is entirely God's work through the atoning death of Jesus on the cross. Having been redeemed in Him, a man or woman responds in repentance and faith, embracing Christ as Savior and Lord.

The testimonies of Jesus' early disciples, recorded in John 1 show the faith they had in Him right after they became believers.

Step Two: Enlightenment and Guidance - Help them develop a personal relationship with Jesus.

A new Christian needs to get to know Him better. A believer needs to understand the significance of Christ's person, natures, and ministry. He also needs to understand God's will for us as disciples: learning, following, serving one another, and sharing our faith with others.

Only John records for us the 8 months of Jesus' beginning ministry with the first disciples. A period of time when they became better acquainted and learned much listening to Jesus teach and watching Him minister. (cf John 2:11)

Step Three: ministry training and encouragement. - Give them increasing opportunity to minister and serve.

Jesus was engaged at this time in His ministry in Capernaum, where His tremendous miracles of healing attracted large numbers of people, crowds greater than He could handle alone and and this increased public ministry required more workers. The disciples learned how to minister gradually through assistance in small tasks and by observation of the master at work.

Eventually Jesus issued a call to his disciples to become fishers of men: i.e. disciplers. This was more than a call to faith, it was a call to join Him in His mission to mankind.

Step Four:Leadership development and Christian character - prepare them to serve the body of Christ - the church

Jesus was ready to establish leadership for his church with the designation of "The Twelve" apostles. He spent several months training and selecting them out of a much larger group. (This method parallels the NT Church's method of designating leadership.) Jesus selected those who had already the commitment to follow and serve, and who had already shown their quality and potential to Him.

With the establishment of organization and leadership, they were structured as a team - there were no "bosses" - they were all submissive to the Lord and mutually to each other. Jesus rebuked any attempts at power plays. Jesus began sending them out into the outlying regions (in pairs on carefully defined missions under His supervision. (Mt 9:35-11:1; Mk 6:6-13, Luke 9:1-6).

At the same time, Jesus withdrew to less populous regions. During this time there was increased teaching about the kingdom of God, emphasizing the character of believers. (The Sermon on Mount and the Kingdom parables were given at this time.) He used any miracles to strengthen individual believers, no longer to attract crowds.

Step Five: Reevaluation and Separation - Helping disciples to evaluate their values and separate themselves from the world to follow Christ fully.

Many were following Jesus for temporal reasons: economic and health benefits, rather than for the "eternal" life He offered. They needed to be forced to choose between Christ and the World. Eternal values must take precedence over temporal concerns. Here the reality of their faith and repentance was tested repeatedly.

This testing in Step five came about in a series of crises: John the baptist was first imprisoned, and then beheaded (Mt 14:13). Jesus resisted the crowds wanting to making him King, because his mission was to bring the Bread of life. (John 6). The Feeding of 5,000 (Jn 6:1-14), and the storm at sea (16-21) [cf Psa 107:23-32, Psa 77:19; Mark 6:52] also became tests of the disciples' faith in Him. In the Bread of Life discourse, Jesus confronted those who followed him for temporal benefits.

This testing was necessary because the disciples needed to know who Jesus was if they were to remain with Him in the face of the growing opposition of the Pharisees and when the crowds deserted him. Jesus' bread of life discourse and other hard sayings caused many to depart. (Jn 6:60ff)

In the events on the Mount of transfiguration, we see Jesus' closest disciples (James, Peter and John) wrestling with their own values and faith, and this continued as as Jesus began to teach them about the cross. (cf Matt 16:16-20 and 22,23!! 17:4 ("Shelters" = "tabernacles" = "places of worship"?) and 6; 17-23!! Such confusion in their hearts and minds.)

Jesus' "Take up your cross" saying in Mark 8 comes in this context. His disciples must be ready to hold fast to Him whatever the cost.

Step six: Participation and delegation - development of the community of believers (Mt 17:22ff ,Mk 9:30ff , Luke 9:44ff)

There were again growing numbers of disciples (due in part to the ministry of the Twelve) but there were also growing tensions. It was about this time that a second generation of disciples were called in the choosing of the Seventy. (The exact details are unclear, but it appears that they too were going step by step through the stages of discipleship.)

These Jesus sent out to specific cities in advance of His coming in 35 teams of two. About this time we have a repetition of earlier teaching for this new group of disciples. Only Luke records this period of Jesus ministry which we call the Perean ministry. (Luke 11-13)

The Gospels record the giving of many guidelines for interpersonal relationships at this time. The body has to learn how to relate to one another and the world around them. (Mt 17,18, Mk 9:33-50; Luke 9:49-62)

Jesus' teaching about the Church is reaching completion. About this time Jesus made some important claims of deity in preparation for evangelism of the World.

Step Seven: An Exchanged life and a Worldwide challenge The events of the last week: Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, and later Pentacost, had an earthshaking impact on the disciples. First their hopes for a kingdom in this world were forever shattered even as for a moment they were scattered. However, reassured of God's grace, endowed with the power of the Holy Spirit, they were now ready to press forward with a worldwide vision and mission - the Great commission. The challenge was for them to continue the ministry of Christ by discipling as He discipled, generation after generation, undergoing to lead men and women through the same steps to maturity and ministry. They came to understand that Christ was present with them through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the church moved forward with the power given them to.

Those who would be Jesus' disciples are those who are willing to let go of themselves and let God work in and through them, pressing on in faith and obedience to all that Jesus has commanded: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age." Matt 28:18-20

© 1989 Barry McWilliams and Mission Church Fellowship,
Hypertext Version © 1996 Barry McWilliams
This Curriculum may be downloaded, copied and used by churches and other Christian organizations without charge with permission from Barry McWilliams.
Contact Barry McWilliams at eldrbarry@eldrbarry.net