Bro. Gleason, tell us a little about yourself and your ministry.
I have held a license with the UPCI since 1978. I married Marlene in that same year and launched full-time ministry in February of 1979. Over the last 40 years, we have evangelized twice, served as assistant pastor for three years, served our first pastorate for five years, and have served The Life Church in Kansas City, Mo. as senior pastor since July of 1988. I have enjoyed the opportunity to be involved in the UPCI structure as sectional youth director, district youth secretary, district Global Mission director, presbyter, executive regional presbyter, Missouri district superintendent, and currently serve as Assistant General Superintendent UPC Western Zone.
Jesus commanded us to “go make disciples.” What did Jesus mean by this?
When Jesus said, “Go make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19), He intended for us to live our lives intentionally for the spiritual development and maturity of others around us. A disciple, according to the first century standards, is a committed follower of Jesus who obeyed His command by making his/her own disciples.
Some see this as only applying to “new convert care.” While that is certainly part of it, isn’t it much broader than this?
Jesus did not have a compartmentalized view of reaching the world such as outreach, evangelism, assimilation, discipleship, etc. He saw reaching the world all under the command to make disciples. Making disciples is not merely a department in your local church, but it is the mission of the local church. Every born-again believer is called to make disciples. The gospel came to us on its way to someone else; let’s not become a dead end for the gospel.
Many feel we are falling short in this area of ministry. Do you feel we lack in the “discipleship making” mandate?
Our movement has historically embraced the “soul-winning” model of reaching the world. This is unfortunate as Jesus never called us to win souls. There is a major difference between disciple making and soul winning. Soul winning is an Old Testament phrase; it is an event, it is unnatural, involves very few in the local church, fosters competition, tends to let newborns fend for themselves, and has not yet reached the world.
What can we do as a church to improve in this area?
Disciple making is for everyone (if you can make a friend you can make a disciple), is never over, develops spiritual maturity in others, is organic, and engages the law of compound interest (disciples who make disciples). If every Oneness Apostolic (22 million) would truly live his or her life intentionally and make one disciple annually (who then makes a disciple), we theoretically would reach the entire world in nine years.
What are the key elements a church should consider implementing to effectively “make disciples”?
Like any vision, the pastor must model the behavior desired to be reproduced within the congregation. The pastor should also teach/train and require every member of the paid or volunteer staff to model disciple making. People do not do what we say but what they see. There should be a disciple-making testimony every Sunday which inspires others to become involved in changing lives. Training sessions should be offered regularly to equip those who desire to make disciples. Every person who receives the Holy Ghost or is baptized should be sent home with a disciple maker or invited into a disciple-making small group.
How do I know if I am a good disciple?
You will ultimately know if you are a disciple or not by answering one question: “Who is your disciple?” When a disciple maker walks in a room, their attitude is “there you are,” not “here I am.” Jesus continually demonstrated this relational profile (John 1:47).
What skills or attributes would a disciple possess?
Disciple makers understand the power of having spiritual conversations, how to share their story, teaching and applying the Word of God, but also requiring their disciple to spend time in the Word and share what they are learning. We need to change the definition of spiritual maturity from coming to church, paying tithes and singing in the choir to actually producing fruit (a disciple).
What are you doing in your own church to make disciples in a practical sense?
We have on-going Bible study training, we have over 80 disciple-making groups consisting of 1-2 disciple makers and 3-5 disciples. Disciples are best made in groups, not one-on-one. We endeavor to send every person who has been baptized home (so to speak) with a mature disciple who can develop spiritual maturity in them. We offer two levels of discipleship classes on Sunday mornings (these alone do not make disciples but it does inform and equip new believers concerning local church culture and dynamics). We also have hosts in every section of the sanctuary whose ministry is to connect with guests. One powerful way to do this is at some point during the service (usually the altar call) ask them if God was to do a miracle in their life, what would that look like? This is an emotionally charged question. Then prayer is offered over this situation. God always shows up, and this is an effective basis upon which to foster a future friendship (follow-up phone call, meeting for coffee, etc.)
You recently write a book on disciple making. Tell us about it? What motivated you to write this book?
I wrote Follow to Lead: The Journey of a Disciple Maker because I was asked to do so by our Publishing House. In September of 2012, I was praying and asking God for direction for the coming year for our church. The Lord clearly spoke to me: “Go make disciples.” Up until this time I thought I had been doing that. Little did I realize at the time I had much to learn about what Jesus meant when He gave us that command. The book is a recap of an odyssey that unfolded for me and our congregation over the next few years (and yet is).
Who is this book geared to?
Being a pastor, I suppose that I had pastors in mind when writing the book; however, it can be easily read and, I trust, beneficial to anyone. The last chapter gives some suggestions regarding making disciples.
How to order, cost, etc.
The book is offered through PPH or is available on Amazon. The Life Church will be offering a disciple makers conference June 29-30. More information can be found soon on tlckcmo.com