How Can We Disciple Well?

Over the past five weeks, we’ve been thinking about why Western evangelical churches have not been discipling well. So now what? What practical steps can we take to improve?

1. When we’re trying to disciple another Christian, let’s spend less time talking about what to do, and more time talking about what has already been done.

If I asked you, “What is the gospel?”, what would you say?

A couple of years ago, I asked that question of a small group of Christian men in Chicago, some of whom had been church-goers all their lives. The answers I got back were very surprising.

People said things like, “The gospel is loving people.” “The gospel is about transforming the city.” “The gospel is about treating others as I like to be treated myself.”

Now these may all be good things to do as a result of the gospel, of course. But are they the gospel itself, the good news?

Not one of the men in that small group mentioned the finished work of Christ on the cross. All of them claimed to be Christian disciples, yet none could tell me what the gospel actually was. They knew the word “gospel”, they used the word “gospel”, but their understanding of the gospel was very poor, and as a result their discipleship (and their discipling of others) had stalled.

So my question is, in our teaching of others, in our everyday conversation, are we inwardly and vocally marveling at what has been done for us by Christ? Are our own hearts captivated by the gospel?

Don Carson is one of the best Christian teachers on the planet, I think, and he once said this during a class at Trinity: “I don’t flatter myself. My students don’t remember 95% of the things I teach them. In fact, they only remember one thing. They remember what I’m most passionate about.”

So for our discipling to “stick”, we ourselves have to be passionate about what Christ has already done for us. And what is that, exactly?

He became your wretched sin so that you could have his perfect righteousness.

All you are was laid on him, so that all he has could become yours.

He experienced hell, so that you don’t have to.

He came as the Son of Man so you could become a Son of God.

You are Christ’s brother or sister.

You have peace with God the Father.

He knows you perfectly, and yet loves you utterly.

You have fellowship with and through his Holy Spirit.

You are adopted irrevocably into God’s family.

You have a certain inheritance in the new creation, infinitely greater than any piffling rollover jackpot, and it is the triune God himself.

Until these truths (and others like them) make your heart sing, you cannot be a good discipler. So perhaps the first step to becoming a good discipler is not to say anything until they do.


  1. Thanks – a really valuable post – my roots are in the Charismatic tribes and I’m struck how my stream has lost any major emphasis on the cross. It’s seriously alarming. I’m so thankful that, in His mercy, I was reading Romans one day and was stopped in my tracks by the phrase that God “justifies the wicked”. I had to reread it to make sure it was there and I’d read it right. Utterly counter-intuitive and utterly amazing – justifying the wicked – who does that?! All that to say – keep up the important and good work – nothing is pointless and I trust all is fruitful when we’re holding out for the gospel. I’m grateful too for D A Carson, Tim Keller, yourself, Rico Tice (I leak gospel centrality and have to struggle for it) along with John Wimber, Terry Virgo 🙂 Blessings


  2. A good reminder that the first step should be me focusing on what Christ has done rather than on changes my church needs to make. And surely as we focus on the Cross, we will grow in our desire for holiness and right response to God, becoming better disciples out of gratitude for his sacrifice and love.


  3. Just discovered your blog Barry, and I’m loving your entries! Keep up the good work.

    I found discipleship has got to a lot to do with what we do and how we do it, more than just what we say. Modelling a life that’s passionate about God and His purposes for all of us I think is a good starting point to discipling well.


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