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Make, Mature, Multiply: Becoming Fully-Formed Disciples of Jesus, edited by Brandon D. Smith.
GCD Books, 2014. 238 pages. Reviewed by John W. Wohlgemuth. Austin, TX
Defining discipleship and all of its facets becomes a tricky and varied proposition. Nearly every book written on the subject takes a different angle on its basics. Brandon Smith and the team at Gospel-Centered Discipleship (of which he serves as the Executive Director) aim to simplify and to clarify the essence of disciple-making. This book, Make, Mature, Multiply, utilizes many different authors speaking on each one’s passion regarding disciple-making. A short and clear book, Make, Mature, Multiply provides both simple theological arguments and many practical examples to illuminate Gospel-Centered Discipleship’s mission.
While growing up and seeing a limited summary of what it means to a disciple of Jesus, Smith later understood what the Bible says about the fullness of discipleship. The title of this book stems directly from his definition of a disciple: “A disciple follows Jesus, invites others to follow him, and then trains them how to repeat the process. Simply put, disciples are called to make, mature, and multiply disciples” (10, emphasis in original). Smith summarizes his goal in collating this book as a desire for every person to become this fully-formed disciple of Jesus (11). As the name of their organization states, Gospel-Centered Discipleship uses the beauty of Christ’s gospel to compel people toward this mission of making disciples of all nations, and David Mathis, Executive Editor of DesiringGod.org, solidly sets this tone in his foreword.
Smith segments the book into three main sections centered on each facet of his definition of a fully-formed disciple: make, mature, and multiply. He readily admits that he adapted the chapters from articles previously posted on GCDiscipleship.com, which is their organization’s website (11). The chapters thus remain loosely connected even under the umbrella of the three categories, since overall cohesion was not the original goal for each writer. The principles given by each author, though, reveal his or her depth of passion and wisdom. The individual authors do not stand detached and aloof from the trenches of disciple-making; they have studied and have applied the truths of God’s Word to their context.
One could classify the first part of the book, “Make Disciples,” as the evangelistic section, even though sharing the good news filters every part of disciple-making. This group of essays focuses on proclaiming the gospel in every sphere of life and on building relationships for the purpose of this sharing. The authors here cover many topics, such as hospitality, boldness, story-telling, befriending neighbors, workplace evangelism, and making disciples of one’s children. Though often simplistic, these essays give enough biblical weight to spur followers of Jesus toward more faithful gospel declaration. Part one also addresses a number of reasons why Christians fail to share the gospel. In his essay, “What to Do with a Told Gospel,” Jonathan Parnell, a writer for DesiringGod.org, states that Christians “don’t tell the told gospel because we’ve lost sight of what it means to be forgiven” (23). This statement forms the essence of the gospel-centered movement, where Christians are motivated to obey Jesus, to love others, to parent, to worship, to preach—to do everything—by the extravagant grace shown to them by Jesus. First John 4:19 founds this concept well: “We love because he first loved us” (ESV). Thus, gospel-centered discipleship (specifically evangelism here) should result directly from a Christian’s deeper understanding of what God has done for them in Jesus Christ. Alvin Reid, professor of evangelism at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, restates this idea in his essay, “Why Do We Neglect Our Neighbors?”. The rest of the essays in part one give simple handles for someone to grasp the basics of making disciples in every sphere of life.
Part of the church in
America’s problem historically
remains its failure to lead believers “to observe all that [Jesus has]
commanded” them (Matt 28:20, ESV). The second section of Make, Mature, Multiply focuses on growing in Christlikeness as a
critical component of disciple-making. This group of essays focuses on the
nature of sanctification in the life of the believer—how it happens and why it
is necessary. For example, stressing the necessity of obedience, Brad Watson, a
church-planting pastor in , writes on “5 Lies that Kill
Obedience,” building off of the Christian’s identity in Jesus to fuel
gospel-centered obedience no matter the circumstances or results. Smith
organizes this section to launch off of Jonathan Dodson’s essay, “Facing Our
Identity Issues.” Dodson is a pastor in Portland,
OR , and has written his own book
on Gospel-Centered Discipleship. Dodson
argues that all sin issues stem from alternate identities, and the goal for the
believer should be “destroying the unwanted identity-of-the-moment (alter ego)
and finding a better, stronger identity. This is what’s at stake in our
discipleship, every, single, day. A better identity” (97). Smith’s own
contribution to Make, Mature, Multiply is
entitled, “Reflect Christ, Deflect Satan.” Studying through Ephesians 4:25–32,
Smith helpfully simplifies the nature of sanctification in response to the
gospel and in the power of the Holy Spirit as more often choosing to live to
Jesus’s standard rather than the enemy’s (102). God intends a real and distinct
difference to occur in the believer’s life today. Smith writes, “God’s will is
not aimed entirely at the Christian going to Heaven, but rather for his people
to represent him well and live according to his immutable standard in the here
and now” (107). The remaining essays in part two illustrate specific ways
believers can look like Jesus in day-to-day life and attitudes, including a
helpful essay in dealing with doubt. Austin,
The final part of the book, “Multiply Disciples,” urges a reproduction mindset in all believers as a part of the disciple-making process. Christians easily can become inward-focused, even toward good things such as sanctification. Jesus’s Great Commandment and Great Commission, however, compel the believer toward multiplication. A main tenet of Gospel-Centered Discipleship’s organization is biblical community, which is their primary vehicle for both sanctification and mission. This section emphasizes the relational side of commissioning someone to reproduce their gospel-centered life into others’ lives. Concepts bleed over from the other sections often here, but it stands nearly impossible to categorize neatly the elements of disciple-making. This part gives the most practical advice, especially on building and maintaining biblical community for the purpose of mission and multiplication of leaders. The authors reference solid resources, such as Robert Coleman’s Master Plan of Evangelism, and they address common concerns regarding multiplication, such as in Lindsay Fooshee’s essay on “The Unqualified Disciple.” Of this section’s essays, Seth McBee’s work shines brightly as theologically solid, eminently clear, and practically helpful. For example, in addressing how to turn the average church member into a disciple-maker, McBee writes this: “Jesus wants everyone to make disciples, but we have set up our people for failure because we only want leaders who look like full time paid pastors or professional party throwers” (210). The remaining work in this section simply amplifies various methods to multiply disciples.
Brandon Smith collated Make, Mature, Multiply due to a desire to create fully-formed disciples of Jesus. As a result of his role with Gospel-Centered Discipleship’s ministry, Smith had access to leading scholars and practitioners in the field of disciple-making. Each author’s essay began as a blog post on GCDiscipleship.org, and Smith edited them into Make, Mature, Multiply. These conditions bring both benefits and challenges. The variety of voices exposes the reader to alternative thought processes and to new applications. The simple style of the essays makes this book accessible for every Christian. The basic information should spur every believer toward self-analysis and introspection. However, this book leaves me wanting in a few areas as well. The variety of authors utilized understandably means some work will be stronger than others, but I perceive a distinct difference in professionalism between solid authors such as Seth McBee or Brad Watson and others. Also, multiple essays seemed out of place in this book, especially in part two regarding sanctification. For example, though Mathew Sims’s article on “How to Offer and Receive Criticism” includes solid material, it seems a stretch to include it in a book on basic disciple-making. The author argues that criticism is a part of sanctification, but this essay stands so different from its surroundings that it remains awkward. The scattered nature of the book’s arrangement does not remedy this problem either, as though it is a good book in terms of the practices of discipleship, it does not offer a clear theological understanding of discipleship. A basic definition of discipleship is perceived differently in different articles.
Finally, my largest criticism of this book remains that it is filled with grammatical, spelling, and formatting errors. Granted, mistakes like these do not affect the content of the message, but its delivery gets hampered severely and it calls into question the trustworthiness and professionalism of the organization. As a few examples, on pages 131 and 132 both Rich Mullins’s and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s names are misspelled, and on page 189 the word “book” is italicized for no apparent reason. Also, the page numbers given in the table of contents often do not match the actual chapter page numbers. This book appears to have been adapted from an electronic version into the print version without fully adjusting for the format. The grammatical structure and editing of an online blog post is usually looser as well, but selling this print format demands closer editing.
Given that the basic message of the book is biblical, foundational, and practical, Make, Mature, Multiply offers the church a few applications. First, a church could use the book itself for an introductory course on disciple-making for new disciples or for beginning disciple-makers. They also could use selected portions for topical studies and to address relevant issues. Specifically, Seth McBee’s essay on “Leading Joe Blow into
stands as a simple leadership development structure. A pastor looking to
involve more lay people in ministry would do well to apply McBee’s principles
of motivating them with the gospel, having realistic goals for them, sharing
meals with them, and showing them how to lead. Also, the consistent thrust
throughout the book regarding family-based disciple-making should encourage a
church to train parents how to disciple their own children. The simple theories
and principles in this book provide a solid foundation.
I would recommend Make, Mature, Multiply to all church members as either a refresher or a starting point for disciple-making. For pastors and church leaders, looking past the structural errors, the content provides a simple framework from which to understand the lay person’s perspective. For church members, these concepts will prove foundational for a lifetime of disciple-making. Though not a comprehensive textbook on disciple-making and its theology, this book’s unique collation of issues and authors prove valuable to this discussion. Other books remain needed to fill out the concepts, but Make, Mature, Multiply supplies the needed practical steps and encouragements to spark a movement in the local church.