I have been recently saying in what I write and teach that a local church is primarily after three things:

Developing leaders

Discipling the people you have

Reaching the people you don’t have

All the truly important things the leadership of a local church would do falls into one of these three categories. Rick Warren shares some helpful thoughts on the discipleship method of Jesus.

Originally posted by Rick Warren

A common debate among ministry leaders is whether to use an attractional approach or a missional approach to evangelism. Those who advocate for an attractional approach argue that churches should invest heavily in trying to encourage non-Christians to attend worship services. Those who argue for a missional approach say that worship services are for believers, and evangelism should happen as believers are sent out into the community. 

Both sides are right. Jesus’ discipleship plan included both “come to me” and “go and tell.” To the unbeliever, Jesus says “come.” To the believer, Jesus says “go.” Missional evangelism and attractional evangelism don’t contradict each other. They work in tandem.

Jesus’ discipleship process helped people move from “come and see” to “go and tell.” Every movement of the Spirit of God has created new terminology to explain what that movement is all about. I use the phrases “come and see” to “come and die” to describe the systematic and sequential discipleship method of Jesus. It explains what Jesus did in the three and a half years he trained his disciples. It’s the way we built Saddleback. It’s the way I would encourage you to build disciples in your church.

Start with Come and See

Many people think Jesus’ first words of his public ministry were, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19 ESV). They aren’t. The day after Jesus was baptized, Andrew and John ask him where he is staying. Jesus responds with his first three words: “Come and see” (John 1:39 NLT).

That’s as simple as it gets. John and Andrew don’t need to die for him (yet). He’s not even urging the two to trust him or believe in him. He’s just asking them to take a step on their journey with him. Jesus always started where people were, not where he wanted them to be.

Those are the first words a church should say to its community, too. “Come to church and check us out. You don’t need to sacrifice anything. You don’t have to stand up and tell us your name. Just come and see.” It’s about the lowest level of commitment you can ask of them. Jesus always met people where they were.

Jesus loves you enough to start where you are, but he loves you too much to let you stay there. That’s why over the next three and a half years of his ministry, Jesus turns up the heat. At Saddleback, we’ve studied this extensively for 40 years. If Jesus knew a better way to start his ministry with people, he would have done it differently. Jesus never did anything by accident. He was intentional, perfect, and purpose driven. Because Jesus starts his ministry with the lowest level of commitment, we can trust the process he models. 

Move to Come and Die

While the starting point of your ministry should have a very low entry barrier, Jesus doesn’t want you to stop there. In the next three and a half years, Jesus begins to add new levels of commitment to his relationships with those he is discipling. At one point, he tells his followers to “love one another.” He adds a requirement beyond simply “come and see.” 

Later, he turns up the heat a bit more by adding: “to be my disciple, you need to continue in my Word because then you’ll know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). More than a dozen times in three and a half years, Jesus redefines what it means to be a disciple. Each time it’s a little bit more intense. 

At one point, Jesus stands up and a big crowd follows him. He turns toward the disciples and says, “Guys, if you want to follow me, you need to eat my flesh and drink my blood.” Imagine how that sounded at the time. They had no idea what it meant. They hadn’t participated in the Lord’s Supper yet.

There’s a big difference between “come and see” and “eat my flesh, drink my blood,” right?

Jesus had turned up the heat once again. Many people stopped following him when he made that statement. He was calling people to a higher commitment than they wanted to make.

When you turn up the heat for some people in your church, they won’t stick around. If they do stick around, they may not take the steps you’re asking them to take. That’s okay. Even if some don’t, others will. 

As Jesus gets closer and closer to the cross, he makes the ultimate request of his followers. Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24 NIV). We often don’t understand the full impact of that statement. Today a cross is a symbol of hope. In Jesus’ time, the cross was a symbol of death. Even worse, it symbolized a criminal’s death where the person would agonizingly suffer in the process.  

When Jesus tells his followers to “take up their cross,” he’s saying “come and die.” The entire process of discipleship is about following Jesus’ process of moving people from “come and see” to “come and die.”

Jesus taught us how to do it. If you’ll study Jesus’ methods in the Gospels, he not only tells us what to say, he also shows us how to build disciples systematically over time.