Three Disciple Making Fundamentals

Want to learn something quickly and well? Master the fundamentals. Whether it’s English where the top 100 words make up half of all written words, basketball (dribble, pass, shoot), or baseball (throw, catch, hit) mastering the fundamentals is a sure path to mastery. Fundamentals are the core that everything’s built around and upon.

Given their importance, why is it that disciple making fundamentals are so hard to discern? Part of the problem is the lack of clarity that exists about discipleship and disciple making. In this post, I’ll explain the fundamentals of disciple making, not discipleship. In other words, the focus is how to make a disciple, not how to be one personally. It’s a given that before we cannot reproduce what we aren’t.

Many would-be disciple makers are dazed and confused after reading books, attending seminars, and completing discipleship/disciple making curriculum. Despite time and effort they still can’t identify the fundamentals of disciple making.

Far too many are overcome by that frustration and conclude disciple making is simply too complicated and difficult. Others decide that they are the problem. Years ago I was one of those “others” when I believed I was too introverted, too socially awkward, and too carnal to make disciples. By God’s grace my hunger to multiply my life was stronger than my desire to give up. I really believed that since Jesus was able to turn eleven rag-tag uneducated, ordinary men into a world-changing disciple making force that He could use me to impact at least a couple. And you know what? I was right, about Him.

In two decades of making disciples, I’ve discovered there are at least three disciple making fundamentals. Like dribbling, passing, and shooting in basketball, these fundamentals can be learned quickly, but mastery takes a lifetime.

So without further ado, here are three fundamentals of disciple making…

1. Building a Healthy Relationship


   In basketball terms this is dribbling. The relationship shapes the game and allows movement to happen. The relationship must be strong enough to weather challenge, disagreement, and offense. The disciple maker must become skilled in connecting to the heart to impact the heart. A healthy relationship doesn’t mean you’ll become best friends or even that you’ll naturally connect. It does mean the discipler genuinely care about the other person. For example, she’ll know what makes the other person laugh, what burdens they carry, how she’s wired, and what drives her.

   Like dribbling, the basic bounce isn’t difficult, but becoming skilled takes real work. For some, relational skills come naturally, but those who are naturally intentional find this extremely challenging. Regardless of natural ability, a disciple maker who influences many will put in the work to develop exceptional relational skills such as self-awareness, others awareness, conflict resolution, etc.

   Unhealthy disciple making relationships cause serious problems that are sometimes passed on across spiritual generations. The most common unhealthy patterns are co-dependence, a teacher-student relationship, the inability to be vulnerable, an unwillingness to challenge, and knowledge without application.

2. Passing on Life and Ministry Skills

   This is the pass in basketball. First, let’s define the terms. A life skill is something that’s helpful to individuals whether they follow Jesus or not. Examples include help with money, parenting, marriage, people skills, etc.  Ministry skills are those things that help a Christ-follower become like Christ. Examples include how to have a quiet time, pray, witness, study the Bible, how to help others in their walk with Jesus, etc.


   Passing on life and ministry skills is the most common “intentional” part of disciple making. Effectiveness requires more than just modeling. Vision and intentionality are essential. Though some needs are seen by the disciple, others require the vision of the disciple maker. The disciple maker must be able to see blind spots and to balance felt needs against real needs. Intentionality is also necessary so that the disciple maker can communicate in Biblical ways that the disciple will remember. Anchoring each life and ministry skill in Scripture, developing a pass-on-able illustration, and fleshing out application are the fruit of intentionality in this fundamental.

   If a disciple maker doesn’t regularly make these passes then some disciples will stop meeting. Others will meet and believe that disciple making is just relationally connecting. Effective passing will help a disciple see God’s movement in his life and create a deepening conviction that God desires to use him.

3. Developing Christ-like Character

   The shot of disciple making is character development. It’s the most difficult of the three fundamentals, but it’s also the most consequential to the game’s outcome. As the disciple maker relates and trains the disciple, he should begin to see areas where the disciple’s character isn’t like Christ’s. Perhaps he is self-centered, an unwilling servant, is pursuing money or success as an idol, or hiding problems in socially acceptable addictions (food, work, entertainment, etc.).


   The disciple maker must lean into conversations about the disciple’s character. Sometimes it’s a rebuke, sometimes it’s a heart to heart conversation, sometimes it’s a few finely tuned questions, but must always come from a place of love. As you surely recognize, this type of exchange requires a strong relationship to be established, humility, and emotionally healthy acumen.

   Most often fear keeps people from taking shots. And it’s true that badly executed shots can damage the relationship, but the deepest transformation occurs as a result of these conversations. If fear is keeping you from taking these shots, it’s a sign that your relational skills need more work.

   In sum, fundamentals are for everyone. All players from the lowest beginner to the best in the world strive to improve their fundamentals. It’s the same in disciple making. Building a relationship, passing on life and ministry skills, and developing Christ-like character, all disciple making falls within one of these fundamentals. Just like dribble, pass, and shoot they’re not hard to start, but they take a lifetime to master. Learn them, get in the game, then keep practicing to become a master discipler.