Methods to Making Disciples

When it comes to discipleship, a one size fits all approach simply does not work.  What is working for Willow Creek or Saddleback church – two churches with attendance of 20,000 or more – will not necessarily work for the church of 100 or less.  This is a problem if we try to model our church after the success of another church.  Fortunately, the Bible gives us some guidance with regard to disciplemaking so that we are not forced to come up with our own model.  As could be expected, the Biblical model will work for churches of all shapes and sizes.

We know that Jesus was the master disciple maker and therefore there is a lot that we can learn by the way that He made disciples.  Jesus did not use only one method however, so we have multiple approaches that we can take, each of them a valid method of discipleship because Jesus used them.

There are at least four methods of discipleship that Jesus used.  They are the lecture method, the Socratic method, the discovery method, and the drama method.  All of these methods are found at work in the church today to varying degrees.  It is largely dependent on the audience which method is most effective.

The lecture method is by far the most common method that is found in churches today.  The sermon is almost always a lecture out of necessity.  Whether preaching to a congregation of 50 or 500 it is nearly impossible to engage everyone in a meaningful way that would involve interaction.  Unfortunately this is also why many people are attracted to larger churches.  They can slip in and out without being noticed or have any expectations placed upon them.

The lecture method is popular because it requires no commitment on the part of the participant.  They do not have to do anything aside from sit and listen.  They can absorb as much as they desire and if there is something else that grabs their attention, they will focus on it instead of the lecture.  For this reason the lecture method is the least effective in creating deep spiritual change.  However it is the most effective in reaching a large number of people at one time.

The Socratic method is best used on a one on one basis or with a small group of only a couple people.  It is interactive with the instructor guiding the discussion.  Questions are asked to cause the disciple to think about what they believe and why.  In lecturing, a person is simply told what to believe and hopefully why they should believe it.  With the Socratic method, the process is reversed.  A disciple will have to answer the question of why they believe things and ultimately reach the conclusion of what they believe.  What they believe will not be based upon what they were told but what they researched, evaluated, and questioned and have proven to be true.  People who learn this way will stand much stronger in their faith because they own it.

Jesus used the Socratic method when he asked the disciples questions such as John 6:67-69.

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Likewise in Matthew 16:15-16:

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

In these passages, Jesus wanted a response from His disciples and He got one and caused them to really think about the question that He posed.

The discovery method is similar because it is a guided journey.  A disciple is expected to reach their own conclusions.  It is not a matter of leaving a person to discover on their own however.  When Jesus sent the seventy two out in Luke 10, He expected them to return to Him with their questions and observations.  There would be a debriefing period in which they would discuss everything that had happened.

Luke 10:1-4, 17-20:

“After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.’

“The seventy-two returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’

“He replied, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.'”

The dramatic method is most often employed during children’s Sunday school or any other youth activity that meets during the week.  The goal is for disciples to learn interactively through demonstration or vicariously by invoking an emotion.  Particular Bible lessons are much better suited for this type of learning than others.  It is difficult to dramatize the laws of Leviticus but when a student learns the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace, they can and should come away with a feeling of God’s love and protection for them.

We don’t picture Jesus as being one for drama but this was a method that He used quite often.  Jesus often spoke in parables.  These were stories that had a point behind them.  All of the parables had the intent to teach but they contained everyday ideas such as planting and harvesting.

Needless to say, every miracle that Jesus performed was a drama as well.  We think of Jesus’ miracles as being about His care and compassion for people who are hurting and this is certainly true.  But Jesus’ miracles were to emphasize a point as well.  Some were simple proof that He was the Messiah.  Others showed that He was the Lord of the Sabbath.  Still others were more abstract such as when He cursed the fig tree He meant to teach His disciples about the spiritual state of the nation of Israel.

All of these discipleship methods are worthwhile for a teacher or the leader of a small group.  A person may use the lecture method, the Socratic method, the discovery method, or the dramatic method.  All are effective methods of disciple making, the group that a teacher is working with will determine what method is most effective.

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