Inverted Discipleship

This is the second part of a post called “Reverse Engineered Evangelism & Inverted Discipleship.”  You can see the first part here.  

What if Jesus training his Apostles isn’t the model for us in Making Disciples?  Think about it.  How many of you who are making disciples eat, sleep, travel, work, minister, etc., are together 24/7 for three years?  The idea that these 12 Disciples made other disciples and so on resulting in a pyramidal structure or hierarchy is not biblical.  Why not?

Jesus made many disciples, not just twelve. In Luke 6:17 we read of “a crowd of His disciples.” According to Luke 19:37 “the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God.”

From among His many disciples, Jesus chose twelve to commission and train as APOSTLES: “And when it was day, He called His disciples to Him; and from them He chose twelve, whom He also named apostles” (Luke 6:13).

The apostles occupy a unique position in the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20; Rev. 21:14). The example of their being chosen, trained and commissioned had no other equivalent in the first century and  I think we’d be hard pressed to find its equivalent in the church today.

The Church depends far too much on the leadership in initiating and sustaining a disciple making movement.  In fact, and in my experience, people led discipleship is far more effective than leaders of people led discipleship.  Lance Ford in his new book “UnLeader: Reimagining Leadership…and Why We Must” says:

“Discipleship has suffered in obscurity. It’s been choked out by leadership smoke. The wood needed to keep the fires of discipleship and followership burning has been hijacked to the furnaces of leadership development.”  

A couple of years ago, we did a Discipleship Conference here in the middle of the Ecuadorian Cloud Forest.  It was the first time anything like it had been done here.  When I was searching for materials in developing a curriculum, I was frustrated by the abundance of material on how to make leaders and the scarcity of materials on how to Make Disciples.  It was almost a given assumption that leaders make disciples and developing leaders will yield more disciples.  I think that assumption is wrong.  With that thinking comes two great waits.  Yes, waits not weights, but both are applicable.

We encourage others to wait until they become leaders before making disciples.


We wait for others to become leaders so they can make disciples for us.

 For the church today, there is no hierarchical chain of discipleship where a discipler is the master or teacher over other disciples.  We are not Making Disciples of ourselves.  We’re making disciples of Jesus who is Lord of the discipler and the discipled.  Both Jesus and John the Baptist were called Rabbi by their disciples (John 9:2; 3:26). A Rabbi was a teacher who had a master/disciple relationship with his students. According to the usual practice, disciples might eventually become Rabbis themselves and have disciples of their own.  Jesus tells His disciples, however, that they are not to be called Rabbi. They would always remain disciples. He is the only Rabbi and His disciples are all brethren.  If brethren, then it is the base of the pyramid that sustains a disciple making movement and not it’s apex.  We’ve inverted the discipleship process.

Even equating the discipleship relationship to that of father/son or mother/daughter can be dangerous because then we get into the thinking that we must “honor” our spiritual mothers and fathers.  Perhaps the Apostles making disciples model is not the best one for us to try to emulate.  Maybe it’s the 120 making disciples which we should consider or perhaps even the 3000 and 5000 that were converted early in the birth of the church.  Maybe those who devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer are the ones who really should be credited with the rapid expansion of the early church.  Through the Lord’s power of course.  I’ve heard many times that “a disciple making movement is only as strong as it’s leaders.”  I disagree.  I think a disciple making movement is only as strong as it’s followers.  Every day people making disciples every day as they live, work, eat, travel, and minister together.  Am I wrong?  Go ahead, let me have it.  But first, a few questions:

1.  Is it possible for a person whose only been a disciple for a day to make disciples?  Why or Why not?

2.  What biblical warrant is there for a hierarchical disciple making structure or system?

3.  Was Timothy a disciple of Paul and Paul a disciple of Barnabas? 




*Ford, Lance (2012-09-01). UnLeader: Reimagining Leadership…and Why We Must (Kindle Locations 450-452). Nazarene Publishing House. Kindle Edition.



0 thoughts on “Inverted Discipleship

  1. Laurie Norris says:

    1. Yes. If a person has walked with the Lord for a day then his life has become an example that others might follow.

    2. People newly entering the fold need to be fed, need to be cared for, need to be fed.

    3. When walking on narrow trails it is required that we walk in single file. The logistics in a group require that someone be first and someone be last. If someone ahead of us stumbles, we will be aware of the stone over which she tripped and be able to help her up. She may continue to walk ahead because she wants this sort of backup or she may decide to walk behind for the security found in that.

    It is kindness to pass around the bottled water. It is foolishness to get too far from its sourcel. It is love that shows and shares the well.

  2. Dennis Hesselbarth says:

    Miguel, are you familiar with Eric Foley? His stuff has stretched my thinking about many issues, this topic included.

    He wrote a little book “Church is for Amateurs” – he blogged it, principle by principle, starting with this blog:“fourth-order”-christians-like-you-to-plant-and-lead-a-lay-church-and-a-guide-on-how-to-do-it/

    Some helpful stuff on how they “disciple” everyone in the context of house churches. We’re starting to experiment with some of his approaches here in the ‘hood.

  3. Eli says:

    great stuff. how i long to see more christians buying into this and unplugging from reliance on leaders. Waiting and patience is absolutely key… ambition and drive to generate multiplication is a sure way to fall back into leader-follower models.
    “I think a disciple making movement is only as strong as it’s followers. Every day people making disciples every day as they live, work, eat, travel, and minister together. Am I wrong?”
    No you’re spot on correct! If only more people got this.

  4. Jim Wright says:

    Thanks, Miguel. I hope to read this to our fellowship this morning for discussion.

    • Miguel says:

      I’d be interested in any feedback afterwards. Grace and Peace to your gathering.

      • Jim Wright says:

        Well, just to let you know, I used it to talk with two of our fellowships. One was this morning. As a result, we are now starting another new fellowship as some of the brothers felt called to go, as we discussed what you said, into a new sub-culture in our county. (I’d tell you which sub-culture, but some would not be able to handle it, so I’ll tell you off line. But it involves one of the enemy’s biggest strongholds. I had a feeling beforehand that this would be the outcome, but needed them to hear from God and not from me. Your blog opened the door.)

        Good fruit, Miguel. Thanks.

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