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8 Principles for Making Disciples

Lorna Johnston /Wednesday, November 23, 2022


A few years ago, I spent several months reading and re-reading the book of Acts. I was trying to understand how the Church had gone from a handful of people hiding out for fear of the authorities, to a bold and fearless community growing at an exponential rate.

As I read, a pattern began to emerge:

Prayer preceded Holy Spirit empowerment,

which led to bold, public witness about Jesus Christ,

accompanied by affirming signs and wonders,

resulting in many coming to faith AND

active opposition from others,

which then caused Jesus’ followers to go back to prayer …

… starting the cycle all over again.

Some disciple-making principles have become crystal clear to me from the Acts accounts:

1. Everybody is involved

While it’s true that the first sermon, recorded in Acts 2, was given by Peter, and the early stories in the Acts record are of Jesus’ disciples, pretty soon we read “those who had been scattered preached…” (Acts 8:4).

Jesus’ disciples had made disciples who were making disciples. Everybody was obeying Jesus’ last command to “go and make disciples”.

2. Prayer precedes activity

A very small sampling:

  • Acts 1:14 – They all joined together constantly in prayer…
  • Acts 2:42 – They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
  • Acts 4:24 – When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God…

The powerful stories recorded in Acts flowed out of prayer.

3. The Holy Spirit empowers; the people respond in courageous obedience

At no point in the accounts recorded in Acts does Holy Spirit empowerment seem safe or logical. The Holy Spirit’s empowerment was so that the ‘impossible’ would be done.  

4. Gospel truth is proclaimed—often publicly.

Bold proclamation that confronted the questions and objections of the individual, group, or crowd, irrespective of the consequences, is recorded in scene after scene.

Sometimes it was well received, other times not.

Receptivity of the audience was not the deciding factor in whether the message was delivered.

5. Their courageous witness flows from an intimate relationship with Jesus

Acts 4:13, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” 

Courage flowed from relationship with Jesus—in person and later through prayer—and that relationship with Jesus (and the courage that flows from it), is accessible to everyone who wants it.

6. God credentials their message with miracles.

Miracles demonstrate God’s power and his presence. Miracles confirmed the words being spoken and the ones who were speaking.

7. Some respond

“Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” (Acts 2:41)

Whether in crowds or one at a time, as the message of Jesus’ redemptive work was preached, people responded and joined the community of disciples and became bold witnesses of the forgiveness and transformation they had received.

8. Some oppose

>Power structures, whether economic; religious; or political, did not (and still do not) necessarily respond favorably to the powerful and radical message of the Gospel.

Witness may require suffering. We see this evidenced around the world as Jesus’ followers suffer for proclaiming the Gospel.

Make Disciples

It’s easy to discount the stories of Acts as being ‘for their time’ with little relevance or applicability to our context. We look around at our experience of the church in our culture and don’t see the kind of fruitfulness they experienced. But stories emerging from around the world insist that when these principles are practiced great fruitfulness follows.

I invite you to wrestle with me over the implications of these principles, learn from our global brothers and sisters, and count the cost of being a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Will we obey Jesus’ command to make disciples?

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Lorna Johnston is the Diaspora Ministries Leader at Outreach Canada. She leads two national teams--Simply Mobilizing Canada (SMC) and Loving Muslims Together (LMT). She works with teams of diverse and experienced leaders and ministries across Canada to alert and activate the church in Canada to the changing opportunities to engage God's mission right here in Canada.



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Imagine getting this email:

“My name is Rachael. I am a born-again Christian of 2 years. I actually used to be a Shia Muslim. I attended the mosque on your street for many years of my life. The Lord pulled me out of the darkness of my former life as a Muslim and brought me into His loving light...

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I thank you and your congregation for committing to pray for your neighbours. It is funny to me how not once in my years of attendance at this mosque had they ever thought of praying for your church! I guess the proof is in the pudding. If you’re not filled with perfect love--how can you pour out perfect love? My heart yearns for them to know how much God actually loves them, that God would shatter the scales over their eyes, and lead them to take their seats as Children of God in the house of our Father.”

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Living and Active

On an isolated hillside surrounded by miles of forest and mountains, Murat found a large rock to sit down and take a break. He’d been trekking though the uneven terrain all day keeping a protective eye on his sheep and goats. Although there were no established roads, he and other members of his community had worn many paths throughout the area over the years. 

Murat reached into his coat pocket, pulled out his phone and raised it up in the air as high as he could looking for a service signal. Most of the other shepherds that Murat worked with were relatives: brothers, cousins, uncles, and other connections. Despite being separated for most of the days, they were a very close family. They regularly checked in with one another when they could get reception on their cell phones. In the late evenings, when all the livestock was safely returned to the stalls, they would all gather again on the homestead.

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