By Paul Wilkinson

Bobby Harrington and Josh Patrick are big on intentionality as a necessary feature for discipleship. As many a discipleship guru has said: disciples are not made accidentally. We must be AFTeR individuals that the Lord would have for us to invest in as they come to and grow in faith. They suggest Matthew 28:19-21 and Deuteronomy 6:4-9 as key texts highlighting the Lord’s intentionality in commissioning us to disciple others, raise up new generations, and make the faith known. Harrington and Patrick offer 5 guidelines for intentionality.

  • You need a plan

The essence of this idea is that people need practical steps to follow as they seek to disciple others. We must know in advance where we want to take people spiritually, and how to get there generally. Pray about each of your group members and where the Holy Spirit might be moving them over the next few months. It what ways, out of the ordinary, might you become an instrument in that movement?

  • You need tools

Tools are those mediums by which you convey your discipleship. The 7 volume Foundation series produced by Brentwood Baptist Discipleship is a great guide to core values for the Christian life. Ongoing training and other resources that you might request are our pleasure to provide to you. And of course, grounding all of what we do, is the Scripture.

  • You need to be a role model

Lecturing or facilitation during group time is only one facet of discipleship. We must also demonstrate how the faith is to be lived. Now, this does not mean that we have to “get it perfect,” rather it means that we, as disciplers, must make our lives accessible and vulnerable to those we lead. They must see how we live the faith. Invite some group members into your home, let them see the messiness of your house, let them see you discipline your children, let them see you engage your neighbors. Find those select individuals from your group that the Lord has put on your heart and show them what the faith looks like. Don’t strive for perfection or else you may paint a false picture; instead, strive for authenticity. You will be stunned how those group members reproduce for others what you provide for them.

  • You need to be discerning

Harrington and Patrick suggest that discipleship moves to the lowest common denominator, so you must set the agenda and the vision, constantly pulling people towards it. You must see people for where they are and where the Holy Spirit is moving them rather than what you think they could possibly become. Jesus pulled 12 particular disciples out of the multitudes that were following Him. He then focused heavily on 3 out of those 12. Why should we be any different?

  • Intentionality is the key to multiplication and reaching people

Intentionality is an ongoing, willful choice. We must not treat our lives and encounters like accidents or coincidences. We must always be looking for places to explain, debrief, and model the Christ-centered life for those we engage.

Our authors offer us 4 guidelines.

  • Learn an effective discipleship model from other disciple makers.
  • Pray about how you might disciple those who you discern are AFTeR.
  • Develop a meeting schedule, study routine, and relationship growth.
  • Determine that you will open your life to them, warts and all.[i]


[i]Bobby Harrington and Josh Patrick, The Disciple Maker’s Handbook (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017), 112.

5-Step Discipleship Cycle

By Paul Wilkinson

In The Disciple Maker’s Handbook, Bobby Harrington offers a 5-step example of his discipleship cycles. The 5 steps are: Listen, Recruit, Prepare, Engage, and Release.[i] I will give a sentence or two on each of these in order.

Listen. Harrington means that we must seek guidance from and listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit as we intentionally seek to engage the discipleship process. Harrington vulnerably admits that “the groups that I led in the past that failed to multiply had one thing in common: they were built in a prayerless, hurried fashion.”[ii] The best teachers simply share what the Lord is teaching them; likewise, the best disciplers are those who explain and model the life of a Christ follower out of the overflow of their own walk. To experience that overflow, we must be sensitive to the Holy Spirit through prayer, Bible reading, reflection, . . ., in short, the spiritual disciplines.

Recruit. This step requires an incredible amount of intentionality and discernment. Not everyone is ready for an intimate discipleship relationship in every season. Harrington suggests using the AFTeR acronym: available, faithful, teachable, reliable.[iii] Is the person committed enough to carve out focused time for a discipleship relationship? Has the person consistently held true to his or her commitments? Are they submissive to teaching, adapting, and changing? Can you count of the person to show up and take seriously the rigors of discipleship? And all of this should be couched in continued prayer through the Holy Spirit.

Prepare. We have to offer something after recruiting people to join us in a discipleship relationship. Harrington suggests presenting a covenant on the first meeting for the sake of accountability. Cast a vision during the first meeting for what these individuals (and the group by extension) will become through this process. Be open and vulnerable with your life and your story from the beginning and it will set the tone for the group.

Engage. We use the Word to cast a vision of the kingdom and the kingdom life for those seeking to know and follow Jesus, or to know better and to follow better Jesus. Curriculum abounds for walking with a group. We suggest Bible or Foundations Curriculum. Either way, we are using the convicting principles of the Word to drive people to be transformed, formed, and conformed into the word and deeds (think worldview) of Jesus. You must meet regularly with the group and it is essential to keep contact during “down times” through text, email, etc. Harrington also suggests meeting 1-on-1 with each group member every 4-6 weeks for more focused attention.[iv]

Release. We prepare and disciple people not for the purpose of keeping them in our local community forever, rather we disciple them so that they will go disciple others. We have to empower those we disciple to do the work of discipleship themselves. And the reason a sound, reproducible process is so important is because people generally disciple others in the same way that they were discipled: as we do unto them, they likewise will do unto others. It is our job to keep the terrible privilege of kingdom multiplication in the front of our disciples’ minds; we must continually cast vision of the reward and joy in making disciples.

[i]Bobby Harrington, The Disciple Maker’s Handbook (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017), 47.

[ii]Ibid., 47.

[iii]Ibid., 50.

[iv]Ibid., 55.