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Do You Mean Discipleship or Disciple Making?

What’s the difference between discipleship and disciple making? Are they basically interchangeable terms? I’ve been thinking about these terms for a couple of reasons. First, because they are at the heart of what RMM is all about. Jesus gave his disciples the commission to make disciples of all the earth’s peoples, and as spiritual descendants of those first disciples, we in turn accept the call to make disciples.

I’ve also been thinking about these terms because one of the three aspects of Conservative Mennonite Conference’s new strategic vision is discipleship (along with leadership and partnership). I am pleased that together as churches, we are committed to discipleship at our core.

Sometimes it seems like the two terms discipleship and disciple making are being used interchangeably and sometimes I’m pretty sure they’re not. I’ve come to believe that we shouldn’t use them interchangeably, but it isn’t always easy to keep them “pulled apart.”

What are some of the ways the terms are used? At RMM, our REACH program begins with a three month DTS, or Discipleship Training School. In August, RMM helped host a Contagious Disciple Making seminar at the Rosedale International Center. Would it work just as well to refer to the first three months of REACH as Disciple Making Training School? Or could that seminar just as well have been titled Contagious Discipleship?

"Disciple making is one of the essential aspects of discipleship. As a faithful disciple, I will make disciples."I think it’s helpful to think of the two terms this way: discipleship is following Jesus, and disciple making is helping someone else follow Jesus. Disciple making is one of the essential aspects of discipleship. As a faithful disciple, I will make disciples.

In my mind, discipleship begins when someone chooses to follow Jesus. In contrast, disciple making begins when a disciple takes action to reproduce his or her life in the life of another. My parents began “making me a disciple” even before I was born, and certainly before I chose to follow Jesus.

So REACH “Discipleship Training School” is a time of intense spiritual formation that includes training on prayer, spiritual disciplines (a related word of course), spiritual warfare, the fruit and gifts of the Holy Spirit, community, etc. It also includes training in disciple making. By contrast, the seminar in August was a weekend focused only on finding those people around us who are ripe to become followers of Jesus, and giving us simple tools to help bring them into a strong, obedient relationship with him.

The reason I think it may be important to differentiate the two terms is so we don’t lose the narrower term in the middle of the broader one. We all know the principle that the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else. We can say then that the best way to learn to follow Jesus is to teach someone to follow him. The best way to “get” discipleship is to make disciples.

I think there are some practical tools and actions involved in disciple making that may never be discussed or engaged if we don’t clearly differentiate disciple making as an important aspect of discipleship. I pray that as CMC focuses on discipleship we will become more and more a collection of churches that are known for our unwavering obedience to Jesus as our master and for our unflagging commitment to making disciples—of all the peoples, to the ends of the earth.