This is the sixth post in our series called What Is Disciple-Making All About? Click the links for our first five posts regarding sharing life with othersmultiplication (scroll down to page 4), the role of the Bibledisciple-making as a process, and approaching disciple-making as a cooperative endeavor.

Those of you who have been around Grace Polaris Church for a while, or others who have read our posts and heard our sermons, may have wondered, “Why do they use the term disciple-making instead of discipleship?” Indeed, this is a departure from evangelical practice of the past several decades. Somewhere along the line—and historians would be better able than I to identify that “somewhere”—we began to use the term discipleship to describe ministry to those who are believers, often in contrast with the term evangelism, which in such contexts referred to ministry to nonbelievers.

To answer the above question, let’s take a look back at the Great Commission:

Matthew 28:19,20a Go therefore and make disciples, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

Though this is clearer in Greek than in English, the big idea of the Great Commission—the main verb—is “make disciples.” “Going” is the activity within which we make disciples, and the task of making disciples breaks down into two headings: “baptizing,” which represents bringing people into the faith, and “teaching them to observe,” which represents helping them to grow as disciples.

We feel the term disciple-making is the best English equivalent of the Greek word Matthew uses in 28:19, which connects our mission to nonbelievers (“baptizing”) and to believers (“teaching them to observe”) under one heading. It is crucial to distinguish the categories of believer and nonbeliever, and to acknowledge that there is a given moment in time at which any true believer becomes a believer. Some are “in” and some are “out,” and the Bible is replete with such testimony (John 3:3, 5:24). While we guard this truth, Jesus presented disciple-making as a mission involving the “in” and the “out.” We think that disciple-making helps us to present our mission in a more unified fashion than would be the case if we compartmentalized it into evangelism and discipleship.

Here we find a philosophical issue with earthy implications. When we view our mission as involving believers and nonbelievers, we’ll avoid imbalanced forms of ministry that address one to the exclusion of the other. We’ll see that good disciple-making principles, such as sharing life with others, directing people to the Scripture, viewing disciple-making as a process, and approaching disciple-making as a cooperative endeavor, apply equally well whether you are ministering to Christians or non-Christians. This is why we usually end our Training Resources Newsletter with the phrase, “Until next time, may God move those around you one step closer to Jesus.” We want to make disciples of everyone the Lord puts in our spheres of influence. Those around us may be believers or nonbelievers, and we may even think they are in one class when they really are in the other. Either way, if we can serve them through a disciple-making lens and the Spirit is working in their hearts, they will move closer to Jesus than they were before, and that is a win.

Time for your comments. Has your ministry to nonbelievers and to believers been similar in some ways, or do you view these ministries as mostly distinct? We look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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Each Thursday we send out our Training Resources Newsletter, which shares a new ministry tool and an encouraging story about God’s Spirit preparing someone for service.