Friday, January 9, 2015

Make, Mature, Multiply - A Review

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Make, Mature, Multiply: Becoming Fully-Formed Disciples of Jesus, edited by Brandon D. Smith. Austin, TX: GCD Books, 2014. 238 pages. Reviewed by John W. Wohlgemuth.

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, 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, 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, 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 Portland, OR, 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 Austin, TX, 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.

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, 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 Mission” 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.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Psalm 1 Meditation

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"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish." (Psalm 1, ESV)

We have a CD that we keep on repeat in our mini-van that has Scripture set to music for kids (find this great work and others here). One of the tracks is simply children quoting Psalm 1, which naturally gets into your head after a while. But as God has used that in my heart, I have grown to love this psalm even more as my go-to due to its simplicity and how it compares righteousness and wickedness.

The word "blessed" carries more than an eternal thought; it certainly has that but it also affects one's daily disposition. Like in Matthew 5 when Jesus preaches the Sermon on the Mount, His beatitudes imply an eternal benefit no doubt, but, for example, when He says, "Blessed are the meek," He teaches that pride goes before a fall and that humility and servanthood are the way to go. If you want to avoid destruction by your own doing, be meek. And that's obviously better for you. So in Psalm 1, when David writes that God-delighters are "blessed," he is using that word in an eternal sense but also that a pursuit of God and a rejection of wickedness will benefit you in this life as well--"in all that he does, he prospers."

You also think of a healthy tree with deep roots due to its constant water source. When "the wind" comes against it, "its leaf does not wither." On the other hand, for a person who has not planted himself by the stream of God but instead by the poison of the wicked sinners and scoffers, "the wind drives [him] away" and he "will perish."

What simple thoughts here. You are either planting your life by Jesus' stream of living water or you are immersing yourself in the way of the wicked. There appears no middle ground here. You may just be a sapling in the course of growth, but your leaf is at least budding. A perished tree has no life and is not producing the fruit of righteousness.

So which one would characterize your life? Which tree would you rather have? Then, how can you better plant your life by the living water of Jesus in His Word this year? Get a plan and ask the Lord to empower you to delight in Him and His Word more fully every day. For His glory and your good.