Book Review, Pastoral Theology

“Discipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus” by Mark Dever – A Book Review

Dever, Mark. Discipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016. 122 pp.

In Discipling, Dever describes biblical discipling and shows how it is practiced in and through the local church. To be a Christian means being a disciple of Jesus and discipling others, which means doing deliberate spiritual good to help others follow Jesus. Part 1 focuses on the meaning and need of discipling, Part 2 discusses the role of the church in discipling, and Part 3 provides practical how-to’s of discipling.

Summary

In Part 1, Dever describes what discipling looks like. First, discipling is using one’s influence to help others follow Jesus. Since influence is inevitable, the Christian’s influence should be used in discipling others. Second, discipling involves making regular decisions to deliberately give one’s self to others. Dever argues that “the discipling life is an others-oriented life. It labors in the power of God to proclaim Christ and present others mature in Christ” (p. 28). Dever highlights the pattern of discipling in the Old Testament, life of Jesus, and life of Paul. Colossians 1:28-29 summarizes Paul’s discipling efforts as “proclaiming Christ” in order “to present them mature in Christ.” Third, discipling is initiating a relationship that includes teaching, correcting, and modeling with love and humility (p. 36). Discipling is living out the Christian life before others, spurring one another on to love and good works (cf. Heb 10:24-25). Part 1 ends with Dever’s answers to seven common objections to discipling.

Part 2 answers the question of where discipling should take place. Dever demonstrates the limitations of parachurch organizations in discipling, yet he rightly argues that

If it’s unwise to do discipling without a church, it’s worse to do church without discipling.

Discipling, p. 52

For Dever, the church is the natural environment for discipling (p. 53) because the church is responsible for preaching, gathering together (cf. Heb 10:24-25), and affirming or disaffirming who is a disciple through the church ordinances. The work of the pastors and the responsibility of church members play a crucial role in discipling. While discipling can take place with other believers outside the church, discipling someone in the church is expected.

In Part 3, Dever provides helpful practical suggestions on the nuts and bolts of discipling. Here are four key pieces of advice. First, choose someone. Dever discusses several factors to consider when choosing someone to disciple, such as gender, age, someone different from you, teachability, spiritual state, etc. Second, have clear aims. Discipling greatly involves teaching biblical truth in the context of everyday life. Dever’s life–>truth–>life pattern goes like this:

Your life should attract people to listen to you; your teaching should then work for their transformation; their transformed lives should then illustrate what you taught, which in turn attracts people to listen to them.

Discipling, p. 84

Third, pay the cost. Discipling cannot take place without sacrifice, spending time in the Bible, praying, and genuine love for one another. Lastly, raise up leaders. Since the qualifications for an elder (except for being able to teach), should characterize every believer, a goal in discipling is to raise leaders toward the biblical qualifications. Nine practical helps are provided on raising church leaders, including spending personal time, delegating responsibility, and encouraging godly authority.

Analysis

In Discipling, Dever encourages the church to engage in a basic, yet often neglected, aspect of the Christian life. Several key principles for discipling are worth highlighting. First, Dever points out that the goal is always to present people mature in Christ then (p. 35). Although fruit can be visible now, the task ends when a person is presented mature in Christ when he returns. This encourages the Christian whose discipling efforts do not produce early, visible fruit, and it discourages measuring ministry only by visible “results” or “numbers.” Furthermore, having a long-sighted view of discipling cultivates patience when the person we disciple is “slow” to progress in sanctification.

Second, the emphasis on humility is mentioned throughout. The work of discipling is ultimately God’s powerful work in us. Dever asserts that

Knowing that God works in us counters pride. It reminds us that all that we have and are, all that we can do and achieve, comes from God. If you or I have observed any fruitfulness from our labors, there’s no reason for pride. God has worked. It was his power. All spiritual fruit redounds to his praise.

DisciplinG, p. 31

Another way humility is cultivated in discipling is when the disciple-maker leads by modeling confession of sin or weakness. It takes humility to show what living out the Gospel looks like during the challenging times (pp. 42-43). In the last chapter, one of the suggested ways to raise up leaders is to foster a culture of humility.

Third, the ideal discipling model is organic and ordinary in nature, which is often lacking in a program-oriented church. Here is a somewhat lengthy quote that summarizes this point well:

The local church is the best place for [discipling] relationships to grow…. A church can be thick with mentoring relationships even if they are not formally called “discipling relationships.” After all, discipling really is just a bunch of church members taking responsibility to prepare one another for glory…. How much pastoring gets done in the ordinary life of a congregation when it’s characterized by a culture of discipling!

Discipling, p. 43

In another place Dever posits that “so much of discipling is doing what you ordinarily do but bringing people along with you and having meaningful conversations, like Jesus did” (p. 85). Life-to-life discipling can take place at a coffee shop, while running errands, or even during yard work (p. 88). Dever’s life –> truth –> life schema is a simple, but doable way of understanding and practicing discipling.

Lastly, pastors overwhelmed with the duties of ministry or tempted to have a “lone ranger” mentality will greatly benefit from the suggestions on raising up church leaders through discipling. While discipling requires spending a lot of time, it is an essential part of pastoral ministry. By taking the time to disciple and raise leaders, the pastor is actually extending himself through others and not taking the burdens of ministry on himself alone.

Conclusion

Dever’s pastoral heart pours out to encourage the church in discipling. Discipling is not only a practical how-to book on making disciples, but it also stirs the Christian’s heart to engage in this ordinary and important ministry. A healthy and growing church is a church that cultivates a culture of discipleship.

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