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August 15, 2014

Creating disciple-making movements on campus

Around the world, missiologists have recognized and described one hundred different disciple-making movements that are exploding in some of the least likely places you would imagine. Some of these movements have seen millions become followers of Jesus in a few short years. One particular movement, among mostly Muslims and adherents to tribal religions, has seen eighteen thousand house churches planted in just seven short years.[1] The churches in this movement have thirty-five people on average and are entirely made up of former Muslims, animists, and atheists. There are movements in China and India that far surpass this numerically.  So what can we learn from these movements that may be useful to us in the context of college ministry?  It turns out—quite a bit. They all have common elements that are easily adapted into a university ministry.

Follow then believe

There are varied names for the approach and various differences between different movements, but one common ingredient in all these movements is raising up “followers” among unbelievers.

Follower—someone who respects Jesus, is willing to learn from Him/about Him, and even attempts to honor Him in his or her life.

This was the religious context into which Rabbi Jesus entered two thousand years ago. People would associate themselves with a teacher or rabbi, learn from him, follow him, and obey him. Jesus took it further. He was not content with merely showing His followers a way to live but showed He was the way to live life with God. He did not only want external obedience but also inward transformation that came through faith. But He usually began by asking people to follow Him. It is important that we notice from Scripture that Jesus had people following Him in simple obedience before they had “accepted” Him or embraced the fullness of who we know Him to be.  In fact, many times they would help introduce Him to their friends before they really understood fully who He was (John 1:43–46, 4:28–30).

Needless to say, they eventually did come to fully believe, but their initial lack of understanding and/or poor theology did not keep them from Jesus, or keep Jesus from them.  The result was that these early followers turned the Roman world upside down within a century.  No doubt each of them had different points at which they understood who Jesus was, stepped into the fullness of faith, and experienced regeneration, but amazingly many were called disciples before that happened!

Don’t take my word for it—go back and read about the disciples (Luke 5–6, John 1, Matthew 10, Mark 3).  As you read through the gospels, notice the different ways many of His disciples lacked basic Christology leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection and in a few cases, after His resurrection.  It is interesting that most us have assumed that we must “get someone saved” before we teach them to follow Jesus. It seems the Jesus’ model is oftentimes the reverse. What if teaching them to follow Jesus is really critical to saving faith and to making future disciples? Doesn’t this correspond to our experience as well? We were intrigued, attended something, were exposed to Jesus, wanted to explore this more, maybe talked to others, and even sometimes did things we thought might honor God. Then at some point God’s Spirit and His grace broke through, and we truly believed and truly committed our lives to Jesus. On the other hand, haven’t you known people who made a “decision” for Christ but whose lives never changed?  Perhaps we should invite people to follow Jesus in obedience and let the Holy Spirit bring conviction in His timing. (I know this is mind-bending a little, but bear with me on this.)

So how do we help people to start following Jesus regardless of their “salvation status”?  It is quite simple actually. There are six simple, transferable steps we can use to lead unbelievers forward in following Jesus.

Prerequisite: gather a group of unbelievers

This might be the hardest step for many. But didn’t Jesus mix it up mostly with those who didn’t know Him? Didn’t He say He was called to the “sick”? They could be from a dorm, an athletic team, a club, a study group, or some neighbors. You could do this yourself, or better, have a student you want to train do this. In fact, the latter method is preferred if you want to start a movement. Train, empower, release…this does not mean doing it for them (Eph. 4:12)!  Of course, in your own life you should be modeling this as well with your unbelieving peers.

Invite unbelievers to study the “life of Jesus,” the “teachings of Jesus,” or the “Bible for themselves.” You will find that many are open to this. Avoid inviting them to your large weekly meeting or to a Sunday service. That may come later, but begin by just meeting with them one-on-one and in small groups. Try to avoid having one unbeliever with five or six believers. Have your students meet with unbelievers one-on-one and then have them invite their unbelieving friends to join them. Don’t let the unbelievers be outnumbered. If you need to be at the first few meetings or so, fine. But your goal is to release your students to do this. You can meet with them outside that time to debrief and coach them further. Here is the goal: find people interested in Jesus, help them start to follow Him, and get them to invite their friends to do the same.

Okay, so once we have a small group of unbelievers gathered, here’s what it would look like:

1. Thanks

Invite everyone in the circle to share something for which they are thankful. Celebrate with them as they share their gratitude. While we are teaching them to be grateful to God for “every good and perfect gift” (James 1: 17), it is not necessary to tell them this in the early weeks. Just let them share and celebrate with them.  [Message: Gratitude is frequently the first thing we express to God when addressing Him and is how the Scripture describes the process of coming into His presence (Psalm 100).]

 2. Needs

Have everyone share something for which they need prayer. [Message: God is a living God who answers prayer and who is concerned with our needs.]

 3. Scripture

Read a short passage of five to fifteen verses. Read the passage in two different translations, and let different people read. Close the Bible and invite someone to share the story in his or her own words. Make sure they understand that the goal is to merely repeat the story in their own words and not to draw conclusions.

After the first person has shared the story, ask if anyone wants to add details that were missed. [Message: Scripture is critical to following Jesus and is our first means of receiving truth. Scripture is the plumb line by which we judge any word from God.] **Note: With international students, it is usually good to start with creation and move toward Christ slowly over time.

 4. Listen

Have everyone wait on the Lord for one or two minutes to see what part of the passage the Holy Spirit would highlight for them. [Message: God speaks to us by His Spirit, and it is proper to learn to hear His voice most frequently through Scripture.]

  5. Obey

After sharing what God highlighted from Scripture, have everyone share an “I Will” statement that expresses obedience to what was just learned. Something important happens in calling them to obedience to Jesus. Be willing to challenge people with statements that are measurable and specific. Avoid letting someone end with a vague, immeasurable commitment like, “I will be more grateful this week.” Set the standard in the early weeks, and the fellow group members will hold each others’ feet to the fire! Challenge them to hone their statements down to something more tangible. [Message: Obedience is part of what it means to love and follow Jesus. The Christian life is faith in action. Of course action doesn’t save someone, but it will lead to true disciples of Jesus who have learned the importance of obedience.]

 6. Close the loop

Start your next meeting (notice I did not say “week 2” as you may want to meet more frequently than just weekly) by having each person review his or her “I will” statement from the previous meeting. Be sure to celebrate even partial obedience. If a guy shares that he drinks himself to sleep every night and he reports that he went three days after the previous meeting without drinking, celebrate that fact and encourage him in how he grew in obedience. Keep pointing them to Jesus as the “author and finisher” of our faith.

That’s it! Now, we may have raised some questions (see below), but the basic idea is that we find people who respect Jesus and want to learn about His teachings. We ask those people to meet so we can learn together what it means to follow Jesus. We watch the Holy Spirit draw them and convict them through the process of learning to follow Jesus.  Then they go do the same with their friends. This appears to be the overwhelming model presented in the gospels. The epistles do an amazing job of expounding on concepts such as sin, faith, and grace. However, let’s make sure we balance the gospels and the epistles in our approach to making disciples and watch God give us more incredible fruit, as He is already doing around the world.


Naturally this model might raise some questions. I will attempt to briefly address a few here:

Can people really become followers of Jesus without faith and the Holy Spirit?

Answer: Of course not! But in the Scriptures we do see Jesus recognize faith in those who are apparently unregenerate. Some examples would be the Roman centurion in Luke 7 and the woman in Matthew 9, but there are many more examples. Frequently people came to Jesus with little or no faith until some unspecified point at which they came to full saving faith in Him.

What is the role of faith in this model? Aren’t we saved by grace through faith? When and how do you introduce this?

Answer: Just as with any other form of evangelism, there isn’t a clear formula for when salvation by grace alone though faith alone in Christ alone is introduced. In Acts 8, Philip introduced these concepts immediately, but Jesus many times chose to withhold these concepts (apparently not believing the inquirer was ready). The bottom line is that we want people to start following Jesus in simple obedience based on the faith God has given them in His timing.

Does this promote a false works-based model of salvation? If not, how do you guard against it?

Answer: In the process of taking new followers through Scripture, they will be introduced to the concept of salvation by faith. It is clear from Scripture that works do not save. This model merely takes interested inquirers to Scripture and teaches them to learn from the Holy Spirit. It is also important to note that in practice, this model has not resulted in legalism or works-based religion. Instead, it has resulted in millions of true believers who have learned from the Word, listened to the Holy Spirit, and followed Jesus in loving obedience.

Questions for Discussion

What do you like about this strategy? Dislike? Are you possibly apprehensive due to a tradition? A biblical issue? A fear? Or something else?

Could you see any advantages to such a model if you are trying to make many new followers of Jesus on your campus?

How could you implement this into your ministry? Think of a pilot program with a few students(think: who, when, where…).

Please let us know of any stories where you have seen this strategy implemented on campus in the comments section. We would love to hear how God is using these ideas.

“Daniel Wesley” is a Trainer for CPx (Church Planting Experience).

[1] Trousdale, Jerry.  Miraculous Movements.