Asking someone to define discipleship into one small sentence is no small task. The gospel-centered, disciple-making movement among Evangelicalism has got a wide lens. We define our churches as churches that “make disciples,” but to the non-believer or the believer who has an unhealthy understanding from previous churches, what do we mean by making disciples?
The 9Marks initiative, led by President Mark Dever, is a ministry entirely devoted to building healthy churches, with discipleship as one of the key pillars each healthy church should pursue. Dever has undertaken the task of writing the volume on Discipling in the Building Healthy Churches book series produced by 9Marks and Crossway, which means we are getting the top treatment of this topic. Yet, Dever keeps the message of Discipling simple: Discipling is “helping someone follow Jesus by doing spiritual good in his or her life” (47).
Dever takes a much different approach to unpacking the nuts and bolts of what makes up the task of “discipling” than others. Many people simply unpack the Great Commission and say, “Make disciples!” without providing much direction on how we do that. Others say it’s just about building relationships, which is true, but we’re still left wanting in how to facilitate and foster these. Dever does a wonderful job of not only creating definitions but offering new ways of thinking about the urgency, the inevitability, the work of discipling.
In his first chapter on influence, Dever shares the illustration of a man named Matt who showed Dever around to key areas of town (bank, barber shop) when he had first moved there. Dever says that this is a picture of discipling. This illustration alone sets the tone for the book.
Matt used his influence (a long-time resident of the town) and modeled life for Dever, and to this day Dever uses that bank and barbershop. So the same with discipling. “When a disciple is fully trained, he will be like his teacher” (Lk. 6:40). Matt’s action also showed his being others-oriented, the gist of Chapter 2. He had to work at showing Mark around, he had to initiate and model and guide. This should be our goal in making disciples, which are elaborated on in the first book section.
In arguably his most helpful chapter, Dever spends Chapter 4 addressing common “discipling objections.” These are points many of us have heard, even said before. These seven common objections to the pursuit of discipling relationships really help clarify and prove the urgency of discipling.
In Chapters 5-6, Dever begins to answer the question of where we should be discipling. Anyone familiar with 9Marks content is not going to be surprised to find some emphasis here on the local church, and on pastors-members.
There is, of course, a lot of wisdom in these chapters, but these are not new ideas for those who have already been learning from Dever’s model of church membership and pastoral ministry. One big takeaway was the significance of the church membership and the sacraments when it comes to discipling, as the membership provides “the context of accountability for discipling” and the sacraments “affirm who the disciples are” (56).
In the last section of the book, Dever gets practical and helps us think through the how of discipling. He introduces his life-truth-life model (84), gives a list of what actions discipling requires (Chapter 9), and in a very helpful chapter talks about the importance of raising up leaders (Chapter 10).
Overall, Discipling is a great blend of theological conviction, perspective shift, and practical help. I am grateful to the ministry and writing of Mark Dever and 9Marks.
Anyone who is a pastor or church leader of any kind needs the entire Building Healthy Churches series. This book, with its compact size and ease of reading, would be a perfect training resource for church staff, ministry teams, volunteers, or small groups. Get Dever’s book and get equipped for the Great Commission.