Disciple Building a Biblical Framework

There is a process of growth to maturity in Christ, revealed in Scripture. Though mysterious in some ways, it’s also practical and manageable for those who want to help others grow, or grow themselves.

By following Christ’s pattern, we can construct a flexible framework that helps modern disciple builders develop mature disciples who can disciple others.

Christ had a pattern/process for building disciples that can serve as the basis for a contemporary disciple building approach. Jesus had a plan for accomplishing His disciple building training, and that plan was transferred to His apostles. Christ’s disciple building included more than evangelistic reproduction; it involved the development of character and followed a pattern that produced gradual growth and maturation.

The Five Phases of Disciple Building

Growth does not occur overnight. Just as a newborn baby develops gradually and only after much nourishment and the proper care, so it is with the “babe” in Christ—the new Christian. We should expect to drink milk before we can eat meat, and to crawl before we can walk. God understands this better than we do, and He patiently works with us as He conforms us to the image of His Son. Again, we see this principle illustrated in the approach Christ took with His disciples.

Christ was deliberate in the way that He related to and worked with His disciples. Because each of the Gospel writers recorded the life of Christ from his own perspective, it can be difficult to see a pattern simply by reading through the New Testament. But a Harmony of the Gospels (a chronological combination of all 4 gospels) reveals that Jesus taught His disciples things that were appropriate for each phase of growth, and that He moved them through successive phases. It is also clear that Jesus intended this pattern to be repeated. Before His return to heaven, He commanded His followers to make disciples in all nations, teaching the same things He had taught.

Phase I: Establishing Faith

John the Baptist and Jesus called people to change their minds about their life of sin and begin a new life through faith in God. They warned of the coming judgment and talked about the meaning of sin. They taught about God’s love and His forgiveness of the sinner. Jesus was revealed as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Many were converted and turned from their selfish, sinful lives to trust God and the promised Messiah.

Phase II: Laying Foundations

Jesus called a group of disciples to be with Him and helped them understand His supernatural and heavenly origin evidenced by His miracles. He taught them that He was the Messiah and showed them His deity and power— that of the glorious Son of God. As they developed a personal relationship with Him, they learned that there was continued acceptance and forgiveness through Him. They shared their new faith with others and learned to follow Him obediently. They began to relate to each other as fellow Christians.

Phase III: Equipping for Ministry

Jesus called some of His disciples to be "fishers-of-men." They committed themselves to minister with Him publicly, and He took them with Him in His evangelism campaigns. He taught them the principles of evangelism, showed them His love for the sinner and demonstrated His power to forgive sin and give new life. He established His power over evil and His authority to judge all men and to justify the Christian at the resurrection. He taught them about some of the differences between the two spiritual kingdoms, preparing them for the realities of spiritual warfare. He reinforced the importance of grace as the foundation of a relationship with God.

Phase IV: Developing New Leaders

After spending the entire night in prayer, Jesus chose The Twelve as leaders. He organized His Kingdom around this new group, instructing them and giving them authority. His teaching focused on His new Kingdom: its blessings and the new law of inner righteousness. He contrasted the Kingdom of heaven with Satan’s and used parables to teach The Twelve how God’s Kingdom would grow. Jesus showed His disciples that He was not offering merely a better life in this world, but eternal life—everlasting life of the highest quality. He precipitated a faith-crisis, causing them to reevaluate their expectations and trust God for the eternal things of life above the temporal. Jesus challenged the status quo, revealing Himself again as the Lord from heaven. He taught divine authority over human authority and proclaimed assurance of eternal life and future glory.

Phase V: Developing Mature Leaders

As His fame and ministry grew, Jesus appointed seventy other leaders to assist Him. The original Twelve assumed increased responsibility and ownership of the mission. They learned to trust Him to work in other members of the body and to cope with outside opposition. He taught them about evils that would harm the Christian life. As The Twelve assumed new responsibilities, they became self-reliant. They discovered through the crucifixion and the resurrection that human flesh was inadequate for the Christian life. They learned of God’s sovereignty and the all-suffciency of Christ in and through His Holy Spirit. They learned that His Kingdom was not confined to Israel, but extended worldwide. He commissioned them to make disciples of all nations. They were to transfer the same training they had received to others, urging these new disciples to obediently follow Him.

The Five Initiatives of a Disciple Builder: R-CAPS

It is important to know where a disciple is along a progressive growth continuum and be able to employ five growth initiatives to facilitate effective growth and development. We already have seen that Christ trained His disciples according to a specific pattern of spiritual development. Jesus, under the power and guidance of the Spirit, repeatedly engaged in five activities to help His disciples grow:

  1. He built Relationships with them, connecting appropriately and strategically.
  2. He taught them Content (truth about God and His Kingdom) and trained them in skills.
  3. He provided Accountability, encouraging them to put truth into practice.
  4. He spent time in Prayer for them, often fighting spiritual battles.
  5. He placed them in Situations that challenged them to greater commitment and faith

The R-CAPS Grid:

Strategy for the Disciple Builder

The R-CAPS framework is straightforward and simple to comprehend, and yet not simplistic. When we understand this process, petition God for wisdom, and use the tools given us by the Spirit of God to facilitate growth, we can effectively help people grow to maturity. We accomplish this by tracking the normal progressive phases of spiritual growth and integrating these with a set of activities that a disciple builder can employ to stimulate growth. We are convinced, both theologically and experientially, that this approach is effective in disciple building and accurately represents a biblical model for growth to maturity. Admittedly, God has only revealed the “broad strokes” of this pattern. We must look to Him to fill in the details. But even this is consistent with the whole of Scripture.

Jesus had a plan for building mature leaders for the Church and equipping them to train others to put His commands into practice. Employing five initiatives and following a progressive pattern, He laid the foundation for intentional disciple building that would change the world. By studying His ministry approach, we can help modern Christians grow to maturity, becoming salt and light in a dark world.

Disciple Building: A Biblical Framework

by Bob Dukes

WDA’s mission is to serve the church worldwide by developing Christlike character in people and equipping them to disciple others according to the pattern Jesus used to train His disciples.

WDA is committed to intentional, progressive discipleship. We offer a flexible, transferable approach that is based on the ministry and methods of Jesus, the Master Disciple Builder. Organized as Worldwide Discipleship Association (WDA) in 1974, we are based in the United States and have ministries and partners throughout the world. WDA is a 501c(3) non-profit organization funded primarily by the tax-deductible gifts of those who share our commitment to biblical disciple building.

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