One of the most common questions I hear from North American Christians who are ready to begin intentionally discipling others is, “So, who should I invite to my group?” It’s a question that exposes our default understanding of discipleship in the U.S.

First, and most obvious, is that we tend to view discipleship as a program. In most churches in the U.S., discipleship happens in a class, a small group, a Bible study or some other event with a one-on-many leadership setup (i.e. a designated leader instructing others in an event setting). This programmatic approach is due (at least in part) to our historical definition of discipleship: teaching Biblical, doctrinal or theological knowledge until the recipient reaches “spiritual maturity.”

The point of discovery for us is that this definition doesn’t match Jesus’ command of “teach them to obey everything I’ve commanded”; Jesus wasn’t dictating method (teach), he was dictating outcome (obedience). Neither does it match his approach, which involved simulation-based training where he demonstrated for his disciples, then put them in positions to mimic his actions where they could practice discipleship until they got it right.

Jesus wasn’t dictating method (teach), he was dictating outcome (obedience).

This sets up the second, and most important, misunderstanding of discipleship: Being a disciple is not (just) something we know, it’s something we do. Disciple-makers must be able to model a lifestyle of hearing God and practicing what he directs us to do (see What Is a Disciple). We can’t give away what we don’t have; we can only pass on to others the qualities of Christ we have actively practiced.

Being a disciple-maker is, at its core, an exercise of servant leadership. It’s influencing someone to reorient their life to a set of principles, practices and priorities. It’s casting vision about faithfully trusting God, developing competencies and qualities in others, raising their level of skill and discipline and making them increasingly effective. We must encourage, motivate, exhort, discipline, truth-tell, correct, celebrate with and empower.

Being a disciple-maker is, at its core, an exercise of servant leadership.

Making disciples that make disciples simply cannot be accomplished through a one or two hour-per-week program. It requires your life; it requires you first to be a disciple worth following. This was the spirit of Paul’s approach: “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Ephesians 4:9).

Want to make disciples? First, be a disciple.