Discipling By Mark Dever

ISBN: 978-1-4335-5122-2

READ: December 2018

RATING: 3/10

Summary: I was very disappointed with this book. I respect the ministry of 9Marks and really wanted to like this book, but it was my least favorite discipleship book in recent memory. The book is unable to recover from Dever’s definition of discipling which is, “Doing deliberate good to help someone follow Christ.” Such a broad definition means that if you consistently pray for someone you can say you are discipling them. Prayer is important, but a prayer ministry is different from a discipling ministry. The same could be said for hospitality, accountability, friendship, encouragement, classroom teaching, etc. Such things are important and can be part of discipling, but in an of themselves they aren’t discipling.

Since the definition is the anchor of the book, to which he refers back to over and over, the book fails to provide a helpful framework that individuals or churches can be molded into. There were some good things too, Dever’s emphasis of discipling within the church and raising mature believers who are intentional to invest in younger believers is great. Unfortunately that emphasis has led to the missional side of discipling being left out. Overall though, I’d recommend both pastors and everyday Christ-followers skip this book.

Chapter titles are: Part 1: What is Discipling? 1. The Inevitability of Influence 2. Oriented toward Others 3. The Work of Discipling 4. Objections to Discipling Part 2: Where Should We Disciple? 5. The Local Church 6. Pastors and Members Part 3: How Should We Disciple? 7. Choose Someone 8. Have Clear Aims 9. Pay the Cost 10. Raising Up Leaders


“Discipleship is the term I use to describe our own following Christ. Discipling is the subset of that, which is helping someone else follow Christ.” Pg. 13

“What is a disciple? A disciple is a follower. You can do that following someone’s teaching from afar, like someone might say he follows the teaching and example of Gandhi.” Pg. 13

-I disagree. Dever is trying to define disciple with a modern interpretation, instead of defining it within the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day which is more appropriate for this context.

“Our discipleship to Christ begins when we hear those two words and obey them: ‘Follow me.’…being a Christian involves denying yourself, taking up your cross, and following him….And to be a disciple of Jesus means to follow Jesus.” Pg. 15

-I like this, but Dever never moves forward to define and exegete Jesus’ life and ministry through that lens. Dann Spader has done that work in 4 Chair Discipling. Dever seems to look at Jesus as an example in teaching, but not in pattern of ministry.

“Discipling others—doing deliberate spiritual good to help them follow Christ—demonstrates this love for God and others as well as anything.” Pg. 17

-Again, WAY too broad of a definition to be helpful.

“Discipling is basic to Christianity. How much clearer could it be? We might not be his disciples if we are not laboring to make disciples.” Pg. 18

“Biblical discipling, as I said, is helping others to follow Jesus by doing deliberate spiritual good to them.” Pg. 19

Chapter 1 – The Inevitability of Influence

In this chapter, Dever communicates that discipling could just be in one aspect of life. For instance, Matt discipled him in how to live in the neighborhood.

We can add value in these ways, but Jesus discipled holistically and so should we.

Chapter 2 – Oriented Toward Others

“Being a disciple of Jesus means orienting our lives toward others, just as Jesus did.” Pg. 27

“Discipling involves transmitting the knowledge of God and his Word through every moment of life.” -pg. 28

Dever uses Colossians 1:28-29 to explain a framework of discipling which is “Proclaim and Present”. In this section he changes the context of the verse which is “proclaiming Christ” to “proclaiming the word” which he defines as preaching.

Chapter 3 – The Work of Discipling

“But to fill all that out, discipling is intiating a relationship in which you teach, correct, model, and love. It takes great humility.” Pg. 36

-I wish Dever had spent time defining this relationship and walking it out. How many people is in this relationship? 1-1, micro-group, small group, all the above? Why not use something like this for his definition to build the book around?

“The first stage of discipling can involve establishing a friendship with a non-Christian….Discipling in the fullest sense, in other words, includes both evangelism and conversion.” Pg.37

-He will contradict this statement later on pg, 75 when he says, “You should evangelize your non-Christian friends, but it is pointless to disciple them…”

“Discipling is inviting them to imitate you, making your trust in Christ an example to be followed.” Pg. 40

“Even as I work to do them spiritual good, they do me spiritual good.” Pg. 40

“A church can be thick with mentoring relationships even if they are not formally called ‘discipling relationships.’ After all, discipling really is just a bunch of church members taking responsibility to prepare one another for glory…” pg. 43

-Throughout the book I felt an outward orientation was missing. Discipling was presented as by and for believers, which it is, but not exclusively. Our maturity should impact the lost all around us. Just as Jesus came to seek and save the lost, it should be essential to our focus as well (Luke 19:10).

Chapter 4 – Objections to Discipling

“I realize that I’ve been using the word discipling where others use different words. In Britain, the phrase reading with seems more common. Here in the States, people refer to having an accountability partner or prayer partner. Whatever you call it, I am using the word as shorthand for helping others follow Jesus by doing deliberate spiritual good in their lives. It involves taking initiative, teaching, modeling, love, and humility.” Pg. 45

-I think this sums up my struggle with this book. Dever admits that he’s lumping lots of not-quite-the-same-words and using “discipling” to capture the commonality of them all. That’s his right, but in my work I’m constantly helping pastors see the uniqueness of Jesus-style discipling. This book encourages people to see all helping as equal. Clarity requires nuance and a willingness to untangle.

Chapter 5 – The Local Church

“It’s unwise to do discipling without a church, it’s worse to do church without discipling.” Pg. 52

“The church’s discipling work begins quite simply by gathering together.” Pg. 54

Chapter 6 – Pastors and Members

“In the New Testament, the fundamental role of the pastor or elder (the Bible uses the two words interchangeably) is to disciple by teaching God’s Word.” Pg. 59

-No support is offered for this foundational statement. He builds the rest of the chapter from it. What does he mean by “teaching”? What does he mean by “God’s Word”? Important questions that aren’t adequately addressed.

“…pastors teaching the Word is the core of a church’s discipling ministry.” Pg. 60

“In fact, spiritual growth is not optional for the Christian; it indicates life. Things that are truly alive grow.” Pg. 67

Chapter 7 – Choose Someone

“A disciple is not someone who merely claims to follow Christ. He really does.” Pg. 74

“It’s not just a question for pastors. The Bible tasks all of us with this kind of work. John tells us to love one another. Paul tells us to encourage one another and build one another up. He also tells us o instruct one another, since we want to see everyone mature in Christ.” Pg. 74

Nine factors in choosing someone to disciple (in order of importance) pgs. 75-80

1. Family member

2. Spiritual state

3. Church Membership

“If a friend of yours attends an unhealthy church, you might be doing spiritual damage to their spiritual life by discipling them.” Pg. 76 –I’m amazed at the perspective this reflects.

4. Gender

5. Age

6. Different From You

7. Teachability

8. Faithfulness to Teach Others

9. Proximity and Schedules.

Chapter 8 – Have Clear Aims

“The word of God should be central to any discipling relationship.” Pg. 84

“Jesus calls his disciples to love as he loved.” Pg. 84

Chapter 9 – Pay the Cost

“Even whether you call any given relationship a ‘discipling relationship’ doesn’t matter.” Pg. 87

-It seemed to be important to Jesus as he called twelve to be his apostles.

“Yes, you can disciple lots of people by preaching a sermon or writing an article, but here we are talking about one-to-one or small group discipling. And these must be deliberate and intentional.” Pg. 87

-This again muddies the water instead of clarifying. Why would we do 1-1 or small group if we can just preach and teach to large groups? It’s much easier to execute in large groups.

Dever says discipling requires time, study, prayer, and love. Pgs. 87-89

Chapter 10 Raising Up Leaders

-At this point, Dever shifts his focus from discipling to leading and building leaders. These are not the same, all are called to make disciples, not all are called to leadership. Not even 100 pages in, Dever has exhausted his thoughts on discipling! This chapter is fine, but it can confuse many to think disciples are also called to be leaders. Some are and some aren’t.

“I build people into my sermon preparation schedule too, including a lunch devoted to brainstorming over application and a Saturday night reading preview.” Pg. 97

Conclusion by Jonathan Leeman

“Mark is largely devoted to preparing sermons and keeps a loose grip on most everything else.” Pg. 109