Book Review: The Disciple-Making Pastor

This book (although with a new cover and updated) by Bill Hull caught my eye at a recent conference. Discipleship not conversion is the biggest challenge of our day, how to produce a church of people that don’t merely give assent to Christ as their Saviour but follow Him as Lord.

Across 9 chapters and 300 pages Bill Hull works through the issue of disciple making. The book was first published in 1988 and in this revised and expanded edition we have the original text plus ‘further reflections’ from Bill, 20 years on. It’s interesting to read the insights of the forceful younger Bill and then along comes older Bill to temper (or not) his words with the wisdom and perspective that comes from being in your 60s and not your 40s.

I admired the passionate advocacy of the primary importance of making disciples, I admired his insistence that we make disciples not clones of mega-churches, that we realise that TV is discipling our societies and doing a better job of it than the church. To all his passion and commitment to make disciples I say a hearty ‘amen’. This should have been a book I just gobbled up. It wasn’t.

There was quite a lot I struggled with. A book called ‘The Disciple Making Pastor) that has to repeat on p290 of 313 that ‘it is my firm conviction that every believer is called to be a reproducing disciple’ is missing something. I caught the thought, ‘hey Bill, I think we’ve got that point now’. In short this book is longer than it needed to be.

Plus the guy is a process monster. He has a very different approach to the authors of say, Total Church (click here for my review of that book). Jesus, it seems, had a six step programme for making disciples, specifically designed to produce disciples over a couple of years. If we adopt the same six step programme, with the addition of some exams, a covenant, an intense two year programme and some tough coaching then we too will produce self-feeding, self-reproducing disciples. The disciple is constantly referred to as ‘the product’ ie what we produce from our church. Do we have a quality product? Discipleship it seems is a competitive business and an aggressive focused response is essential.

I’m unconvinced. It’s one thing to say I see these things in the way Jesus worked and it’s another thing to say this is the way Jesus meant for it to work. Did a Jewish rabbi 2000 years ago really develop a six-step intentional disciple making process that perfectly fits our business oriented western minds? Or perhaps it was something more organic, more relational than that. The ebb and flow of follow, learn, do, with mistakes being made, successes, failures, understanding and non-understanding, people leaving and people joining being a part of Jesus’ own disciple making process for the entire time He was on earth. I’m not sure it looked neat when everyone was running away at Gethsemane.

And there’s something about making a small group covenant that strikes me as thoroughly legalistic. It’s the ingredients of grace, love, friendship, prayer and compelling vision that keep me involved not a commitment to arrive on time to group meetings, aggressively make contact with the unchurched and giving leaders permission to confront me when I fall short.

So I’m glad I read this book because it helped me realise I don’t think there’s a formula to it all, but there is a need to be intentional and focused. Disciples are made not born, some intentional shaping is necessary and the question remains ‘how’, I’m just not sure this is quite the way for us.

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