Making Disciples Jesus’ Way

By Rich Van Heukelum

“If you can see your target, you have a better chance of hitting it.
If you can watch an expert, you have a better chance of doing it well.”
—Source Unknown

My father was part of the US Army during WWII. One day I saw his uniform in the closet and noticed a sharpshooter medal. When I asked him about it, he told of the day he won that recognition. He had been firing rapidly and doing okay. Then his trainer told him to slow down and take time to aim for each shot. Effective shooting requires knowing not only what the target is but also how to shoot.

One of the great encouragements of our day is a renewed focus on the mission of the church. Taglines and mission statements ooze with “making disciples” and capture the essence of the Great Commission. So we know what our target is. But do we know how to reach it?

Knowledge Is Not Enough

James consistently warned of the danger of knowing and saying but not doing (James 1:22; 2:14). His warning reminds us believers that we often think we have fulfilled a command because we know and talk about it. In that respect, some might think they are making disciples because they can clearly state, and are active in a church with, a great mission statement. Pastors are not exempt from this danger of knowing and saying but not actually doing.

This truth came crashing into my life when I attended a meeting to interview a candidate for a ministry position. He had all the credentials and seemed to have the job. After a presentation of how he did church ministry, a relatively new Christian asked him to share about some of the disciples he had made and how he had done it. It was an awkward moment. Like so many of us, when it comes to evangelism or prayer or making disciples, we can talk of it, but in reality we realize we are not doing it.

That interview caused me to list those who are followers of Christ at least partially because of my ministry to them. Did I, a pastor, talk about making disciples but have little proof that I was effective at it? Could I see the target but in reality was not hitting it? Did I know the what but not the how?

Those questions were convicting; therefore I decided to watch an expert.

Jesus Shows Us How to Disciple

No, the expert wasn’t someone in my circle of ministry or a current ministry guru. Rather, I decided to watch Jesus. I decided to read the Gospels through and through for an entire year, and as I read, I’d evaluate how Jesus made disciples.

What a novel thought!

What do you think I learned?

If any of us took the time to consider the life of Christ and how He made disciples, we could quickly come up with a list of the elements. I have been working on my list ever since. I call it MDJW (Making Disciples Jesus’ Way).

My initial list was from the Gospel of Mark and looked like this:

Passage in Mark

Discipleship Target



Careful enlistment

Jesus chose them after prayer.


Clear education

Jesus taught as one having authority.


Constant example

Jesus spent a lot of time with them.


Challenging experience

Jesus sent them out and followed up.


Confirming evidence

Jesus awed them with miracles and teaching.


Crucial exam

Jesus asked them if they knew Who Jesus was.


Coming expectation

Jesus showed them a glimpse of glory.


Correcting errors

Jesus dealt with items they didn’t understand.


Critical essential

Jesus warned them of Hell.

After I read the other Gospels, my list grew slightly.

From John 1:14, I added that Christ had to leave His comfort zone and go to them. Philippians 2 and the prayer of Christ in John 17:5 helped me see that Jesus sacrificed a lot to go to them.

From Matthew 28:18–20, I added that there came a time when Jesus clearly commissioned them with the task. Then they knew He considered them ready, and therefore responsible, to fulfill their mission.

And, outside the Gospels, from Acts 1:1–8, I realized He left them to minister on their own, an element difficult for many of us.

I suspect that each of us could add or adjust the many elements in the how of MDJW.

You might ask which item is most important. I’m not sure. Each has been significant to me. I can tell you that the one I had not thought of before I made the list is the one in Luke 6:12 and following. “In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve” (Luke 6:12–13, ESV).

Why didn’t I think of that?

The context lets us realize that Christ had already gone public and a host of individuals had crossed His path, heard Him teach, and seen His miracles. Some had already left their nets to follow him. But then one night He spent time with His Father, and the direct result was Jesus’ focus on 12 to accompany Him so that in three years He could let them take over. While ministering to many, Jesus invested heavily in a few. Later He would say that the Father had given those 12 to Him (John 17:7, 9, 11–12).

Jesus’ Method Produces Strong Disciples

Whenever I find that ministry to the many is keeping me from focusing on the few, and even when I find I am not working one-on-one, I take some time to ask God for those He will give me. Many believers wonder how to find those they can disciple. The solution may be as simple as asking God.

For each element on the list, I could share how God incorporated it into my life. I could tell you how I now see the ways I have to leave my comfort zone and go to those I will disciple, how I need to clearly teach them, how vital it is to spend time with them in everyday events, how I need to let them be part of the ministry, how I need to help them see the glory of God and the horror of Hell, how I need to pass on the commission so they sense it is not simply for others but is for them, and ultimately how I need to let go and allow them to carry on ministry without me.

My uncle owned a car dealership and faced a dilemma. He had a salesperson who didn’t dress the part, didn’t fill in the paperwork correctly, and often didn’t arrive for his scheduled hours. My uncle considered firing the man but realized he sold more vehicles than any other salesperson on the lot. So rather than fire him, my uncle decided to learn from him. My uncle realized that this salesman knew what he was to do and, more importantly, how to get it done.

Looking back, I can say that my greatest reward in my ministry has been seeing those whom God gave me become authentic followers of Jesus and taking over. It’s not enough, so to speak, to fulfill the expected role of a salesperson but to actually sell cars.

I am thankful we believers know what and can learn how. If you need help, try learning from the Master and make disciples Jesus’ way!

Reposted with permission from Baptist Bulletin © Regular Baptist Press, all rights reserved.

Rich Van Heukelum serves with Soteria Des Moines, a church in West Des Moines, Iowa.

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