Multiplication: Making disciples

By Clint Clifton

Disciple making is the foundation of church planting. If you want to lead your church to plant new churches, start by making disciples. While it’s possible to plant churches without making disciples, you won’t make disciples without seeing new churches planted as a result. New churches are an inevitable byproduct of maturing Christians.

The church’s job is to make disciples. The disciple’s job is to make churches. I’m not saying that every Christian should go out and plant a church, but I am saying that every Christian has a role to play in the establishment and renewal of churches.

The discipleship vortex
I fear we have confused knowledge and discipleship. Christians seem to believe that maturity in the faith has to do mostly with biblical knowledge. Churches cater to this delusion by providing an endless stream of courses promising to mature the Christian into Christ-likeness without leading them to any particular destination. Members are encouraged to spend their entire Christian life learning the Word of God but are rarely encouraged to use that knowledge to bless the church or the world.

  • This is like practicing a sport but never intending to play in a game.
  • This is like collecting guns but never even aiming at a target.
  • This is like going to college for years on end without ever getting a job.

The famous evangelist D.L. Moody reminds us, “The Bible was not given to increase our knowledge but to change our lives.” Jesus’ little brother even warned us against this type of folly by writing, “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). Paul, a man who spent his early life acquiring biblical knowledge claims that “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” (1 Corinthians 1:8)

A destination for every disciple
So, allow me to propose another way. A very practical step you can take in your disciple making that will drastically increase the odds that those you teach will act on what they’ve learned is what my church calls “Destinations for Discipleship.” Here’s how it works:

I never enter into a disciple-making relationship without a specific destination in mind. For example, let’s say I meet a 19-year-old enlisted Marine named Ben in my community who wants to grow in his faith. The first time I sit down with him, I’m going to try to determine:

  • Is there evidence that this young man is born again?
  • Is there a sin or a set of sins that dominate his life?
  • What is stopping him from having a meaningful ministry to those he works and lives with?
  • What is the most mature version of his future self?

Based on my findings from these questions and other questions like them, I would try to determine a specific measurable goal for our time together in discipleship. Maybe Ben needs to be convinced that he’s not truly a Christian – a possible destination for his discipleship is to see him come to true faith in Christ. Maybe he needs to shake a pornography addiction – that, too, is a possible destination. Perhaps he needs some guidance and mentorship on becoming a better evangelist to the guys in his barracks – that’s another destination. The point is that my time with him is not arbitrary but intentional and measured.

I may say something to him like, “Ben, I think if you knew better how to share the Gospel with fellow Marines you could make a big difference in your unit. Would you be willing to allow me to help you grow in that area over the next six weeks?”

The value of a timeline
In my context, people are moving all the time. Marines may be stationed here for a time as short as 9 weeks. At the most, they’re here for 2-3 years. That reality has taught me the value of placing every destination on a timeline. We know that our time together will be limited to a few short weeks or years. So, if we’re going to make any real progress in discipleship, it’s going to happen relatively quickly. Of course, our timelines don’t hold up, but it’s better to have a timeline that adjusts than to have no urgency as we work toward our discipleship destinations.

Determining destinations for the time you spend making disciples will dramatically increase your effectiveness as a disciple maker and ultimately increase your ability to produce leaders for a ministry in church planting.

Published August 8, 2016

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Clint Clifton

Clint Clifton passed away on January 12, 2023, as a result of a small plane crash. Clint and his wife, Jennifer, had been married since 2000 and have five children. He completed a B.A. from The Baptist College of Florida and an M.A. from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. Clint founded Pillar Church in Dumfries, Virginia, in 2005. He oversaw the fruitful church planting efforts of Pillar Church and served as Senior Director of Resource and Research Strategy for the North American Mission Board.