My passion for making disciples of Jesus Christ is primarily because Jesus Himself commanded us to “make disciples of all the nations”. It’s also because much of the greatest life transformation for me personally has occurred in the context of interaction over the Word of God with one or two other Christian men. Let me make it crystal clear – I’m NOT speaking merely of the acquisition of Bible knowledge or becoming grounded in sound theology. Bible knowledge and sound doctrine serve as crucial foundations for our lives, but they are not ends in themselves. They are means to conforming us to the image of Christ. Sadly, I’ve known Christians who could pass advanced Bible tests and express clearly and biblically what they believe, but were still immature followers of Jesus.
Among my favorite authors on the subject of disciple-making are Robert Coleman, Bill Hull, and Leroy Eims, but my four favorite books on the subject are by other writers:
- The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne
- Organic Disciplemaking by Dennis McCallum and Jessica Lowery
- Foundations of Spiritual Formation by Paul Pettit
- Transforming Discipleship by Greg Ogden
The latter is the book I’m reviewing today. It’s so rich that I’ve read it twice and gleaned new insights on the second reading.
In addition, I’ve used with great profit Greg Ogden’s other fine book, a study guide entitled Discipleship Essentials: A Guide to Building Your Life in Christ. This work contains 25 studies that normally, at least for me, take two sessions each, thus about a year to go through. If you’re looking for a good book to study with a couple of other men or a couple of other women, I recommend Discipleship Essentials: A Guide to Building Your Life in Christ.
A little about the author: Greg Ogden has been a pastor and a seminary professor. He is now retired and doing special speaking. However, for many years he was the pastor of discipleship at Christ Church of Oak Brook in Oak Brook, Illinois. Thus, Ogden writes from years of experience of discipling in the context of the local church, which in my opinion is always the best.
I fully concur with Sue Mallory, the author of The Equipping Church: Serving Together to Transform Lives:
Greg Ogden’s credentials as a local church pastor give him both the credibility and the courage to speak a bold, hard truth with a soft clarity; that leaders (by their behavior) have lost sight of the call of the church to go and make disciples. More important, he creates a road map for the process. Transforming Discipleship is a transferrable model, based on Jesus’ and Paul’s unique and similar adaptive styles of leadership and empowerment that is so simple it is brilliant. Transforming Discipleship is a call to action for all church leaders seeking to honor and embody the Great Commission.
Part 1 is entitled “The Discipleship Deficit: What Went Wrong and Why.” Here the author deals with the problem of the lack of mature followers of Christ in our churches.
Part 2 is “Doing the Lord’s Work in the Lord’s Way: the Bible as a Method Book.” In Part 2 the author goes through the New Testament to show why Jesus invested in a few, i.e. the twelve apostles, and used the “preparatory empowerment model”. Then he shows that Paul too used the empowerment model with team members like Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, and Titus. The discipling imagery which Paul employs the most in his epistles is that of spiritual parenting.
Part 3 is “Multiplying Reproducing Discipleship Groups: Church-based strategy for disciple-making.” In this section Ogden develops three important themes – life investment, multiplication, and transformation. He ends this section with some practicalities of disciple-making.
In the appendix the author deals with a few frequently asked questions.
Most of the content of the biblical section of book has been covered by other authors, but the practical how-to parts of the book are somewhat unique. For example, Ogden has learned through experience that three people meeting together is the optimum number. He’s tried discipling with two, himself and one other man. He’s done it with a small group of eight or ten, but when he has done disciple-making with three or at the most four, himself included, it seems to have worked the best. I too have been involved in all three size groups and believe that that a group of three or four, myself included, is the best way to get everyone involved.
On the importance of disciple-making in a “triad” or “quadrad”, Ogden writes:
I identified three ingredients that converge to make for the transformational environment: (1) relational transparency, (2) the truth of God’s Word, and (3) life-change accountability. The small number maximizes the interactive nature of these three ingredients. More people water down the impact of these three elements. Relational transparency built upon trust takes longer and becomes more difficult the more people involved. The opportunities to interact over and share insights into God’s Word are decreased with greater numbers. With a greater number of people there is a natural tendency to move away from life-change accountability to measuring accountability by external standards and commitments.
Do you want to leave a legacy for Christ in the lives of others? If so, in my humble opinion, there is no better way than constantly being involved in discipling a small number of believers. Jesus did it. Paul did it, and many modern Christians, like Ogden, are doing it. You and I can too, and this book will help us know how.