For the next ten years of my Christian life, I focused on the methods of Jesus. I studied to identify His major priorities and analyze them in His life and ministry. I wrote a Harmony self-study, which explained what I consider the strategy of Jesus.2 We trained tens of thousands of youth pastors, pastors, and church leaders in the methods of Christ. Some of those methods included:
Jesus was deeply committed to relational ministry. John 3:22 tells us that He “spent time with [his disciples]” (CSB). The Greek word translated “spent time with” here is diatribō. It means “getting under the skin of.” Jesus gave His disciples time to get to know Him and took time to invest in them.
Jesus invested early in a few. Within eighteen months of beginning His ministry, Jesus identified five individuals (James and John, Simon and Andrew, and Matthew) and challenged them to go deeper with Him. Even before He chose His twelve disciples, Jesus deepened His investment in these few, teaching them how to be “fishers of men.”
Jesus often slipped away to pray. More than forty-five times in the Gospels, Jesus escaped the crowds to pray. The busier He became the more He prayed. His ministry began with prayer and ended with prayer. Before every major turning point in Jesus’ life, He spent focused time in prayer.
Jesus loved sinners profoundly. Jesus was described as a “friend of sinners.” His opponents used that title to condemn Him, but Jesus wore it as a badge of honor. He associated with those others condemned. He befriended those others despised. He was always drawn to the neediest, not to the sharpest.
Jesus balanced His efforts to win the lost, build believers, and equip a few workers. Jesus understood that His mandate was to “make disciples.” Disciple-making for Jesus meant meeting the needs of people where they were spiritually and then challenging them to the next level. His goal was multiplication, and with laser focus He trained His few disciples to multiply their lives in others. And in the Great Commission, which is a great summary of His life, He told His disciples to go and repeat the process with others.
JESUS’ MODEL FOR DISCIPLE-MAKING
Jesus, as the perfecter of our faith, develops us to become “fully trained” disciples, reflecting His character and priorities completely (Luke 6:40). In order to perfect the faith of His disciples, over a period of more than three years, Jesus modeled a pattern for us to study and follow. Unfortunately, it has been my experience in training leaders in disciple-making that very few look to Jesus as the model of how to do this! There are several reasons for this.
Many people fail to recognize Jesus’ intentional disciple-making process because they don’t expect to find a pattern in Jesus’ ministry. Few have analyzed what He did with His disciples the first year, the second year, and then the third year. More than 80 percent of the books I’ve read about Jesus in the last forty years talk about the message of Jesus. The rest of them may also allude to some of the methods of Jesus. But I can only identify four major books that look deeply at Christ’s life as the pattern for disciple-making.3
Others are resistant to the very idea that the Gospels contain a pattern for disciple-making. They argue the Gospels were never intended to be studied that way. “If God wanted us to study Jesus’ life chronologically,” I’ve heard many people object, “He would have given us a chronological record of the life of Jesus.” There is a simple response to this objection: He has! Luke begins his gospel with this explanation: “With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus” (Luke 1:3). Luke researched the life of Christ by consulting eyewitnesses and weighing their testimony (1:2) and studying historical documents comprehensively. Once he compiled his information, he made an orderly account of Jesus’ life. The Greek word kathexes, translated “orderly account,” indicates a successive, or chronological, record.
Chronology is important because it gives us insight we could not gain in any other way. For example, without a chronological understanding of Jesus’ life, few realize that Mark 1:17, where Jesus tells His disciples “follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (ESV), is not His first connection with these disciples. At that point, they had been with Jesus for at least eighteen months, and now He is calling them to a new level of involvement and development. When Jesus chose the twelve apostles (Luke 6:12–16), He had been investing in them for two and a half years. Understanding the chronology of Jesus’ life helps us to understand how He developed His disciples. This book explores this chronology to identify Jesus’ style of disciple-making.
But perhaps the greatest roadblock that keeps people from studying the life of Christ as their model for disciple-making is an underlying assumption that few people will openly state. It goes like this: I really can’t do what Jesus did. He was God. I can’t do what God does! One young man said to me after a recent training event, “Dr. Spader, you state over and over again that we should ‘do what Jesus did.’ While I like what you are saying, my problem is simply this: He was God and I’m not!”
I appreciated this young man’s honesty. His concern is one I’ve heard before. However, his objection is rooted in a faulty view of the real Jesus. It has been my experience in North America (not so much in other parts of the world) that many Christians imagine Jesus to be some sort of Superman. He may appear to be a human—a Clark Kent by day—but this humanity is a disguise. In actual fact, Jesus is a caped wonder, a superhero with superpowers. This is poor theology! Jesus was no super man. He was fully human. And that distinction is critical. If we believe that Jesus was superhuman, we may likewise conclude that it is therefore impossible to do what He did.
Paul did not view Jesus in this way. He understood Jesus as a very real person, set in time and space. He understood both His humanity and deity and told us that this Jesus, the real Jesus of the Bible, is the Jesus that we are commanded to imitate. We are commanded to “walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6 NIV 1984). We are to follow the very pattern of His life that He so powerfully modeled to the first-century disciples, the pattern they so clearly recorded in the Gospels, under the influence of the Holy Spirit. “That … which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched,” John wrote, “this we proclaim” (1 John 1:1). I love how Philippians 2:5 says it: “think the same way that Christ Jesus thought” (CEV) or “think and act like Christ Jesus” (EXB).
Spader, Dann. 2019. 4 Chair Discipling: What He Calls Us to Do. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.