Making disciples: accidentally or intentionally?

By September 1, 2015
(Photo courtesy International Mission Board)

(Photo courtesy International Mission Board)

USA (IMB/MNN) — Training believers how to effectively disciple new Christians is the heartbeat of Jeremiah and Joy Farmer’s* ministry. The International Mission Board (IMB) couple champion intentional discipleship and provide the training and resources for U.S. and East Asian church networks to ensure their churches are healthy and growing deeper in Christ.

“In five years time, [in East Asia] we’ve had 500 new churches with 1.5 million who heard the gospel and 30,000 believed. The statistics are overwhelming and incomprehensible,” Jeremiah says.

One reason they’ve seen these numbers is “because every single person virtually in all of these groups are all involved” in church affairs, ministry, and in outreach.

“How do you share the gospel with 700,000 people in a year in a closed country?” Jeremiah asks. “We’re not doing stadium stuff. It’s because everyone’s doing it. How do you get everyone doing it? It’s this process of reproducibility that’s beat into the whole system and idea.”

Jeremiah explains that the situation in East Asia isn’t entirely different from the U.S.

“It’s not substantially different than Baptist churches in America. When we first met many of our national partners, we found that, just as many churches in the USA, the pastor does almost everything, the ‘staff’ does almost everything, and everyone else watches them do it. The staff gets frustrated because people aren’t growing,” he says.

“They’re not growing primarily because we’re not intentionally equipping the congregation…to be involved in significant ministry…. There’s no intentional process or plan to develop disciples.”

Jeremiah says that in many American churches, “There are programs, not plans; there’s a difference.”

In conversations with pastors in Asia as well as in the U.S., Jeremiah has asked what happens when someone walks down the aisle and commits their life to Christ. Pastors respond that the believers are baptized. Some churches have a new believers’ class, and other churches incorporate new believers into existing Sunday School classes.

“With this model, disciples are grown by accident. They are not grown with purpose at all,” Jeremiah explains.

“Disciples are not grown by accident…. We don’t want it by accident. It must be done with intentionality. In fact, we aim for healthy, sustainable, reproducibility that is all directed by God-driven intentionality.”

The free training materials and curriculum that Jeremiah wrote and assembled meets the above criterion. It’s available in both English and the local language.

Jeremiah emphasizes that “it’s really following God’s model, honestly, of equipping the saints to do the ministry to build the body of Christ,” he says.

The Farmers trained a number of churches in the U.S., and a number of churches are excited to for training to begin. Several churches in the Mississippi Baptist Convention have already adopted the training.

“We are seeing a hunger from some churches in the states,” Jeremiah says. “With each team that comes out, they get really excited about what’s happening and they would like to try to do it themselves. Our desire is to be a blessing to our sending churches, and we hope that our sending churches in the USA will thrive and grow!”

Many pastors and churches take the concepts and philosophies and translate it back to their churches in the U.S.

A Baptist church in North Augusta, South Carolina, embraced a tight-knit model of house groups where leadership is shared. The pastor isn’t the only one doing ministry. The pastor came to East Asia in 2015 to teach seminary classes in house church networks.

The Farmers visited the church during their last visit to the U.S. When the pastor heard the Farmers’ strategy, he was on board. As well, a deacon and small group leader from the church was once a back-row Baptist. Now, he’s a deacon who is teaching seminary classes.

The North Augusta church isn’t the only church that employs the Farmer’s discipleship model. Some churches in the Mississippi Baptist Convention and churches in Indiana, Texas, and Georgia are using it as well.

Here’s what to expect at the training Farmer is hosting this October:

Training modules that are used in East Asia to effectively partner with churches and strategically plan for growing God’s Kingdom in a healthy, sustainable manner according to His leading, ways, and purposes.

October 1-3, the Farmers are coming to Orlando, Florida, to train U.S. churches. They are inviting Southern Baptist churches to attend and learn how their church can employ wildly successful tools for church health and growth.

Register for the training and discover how you can get involved here!

* Name changed for security reasons


  • I am a follower of Christ Jesus. I consider myself a disciple of Christ Jesus of the First Century model. Christ trained His 12 disciples and sent others (70) out by twos. They would come back and get more training by the Master. He would lead them into pockets of resistance, ignorance and confront sin.
    Occasionally he would perform miracles to carry out His father’s business. The disciples ask Jesus how come they weren’t as successful as he was. He would teach again, a kind of debriefing. I have been on this Sojourn for 30 years, and I have not been intentionally trained in discipleship training (only on a limited basis by my first pastor. He did teach and send me and then debrief me) as was done in Jesus’ time and Acts.
    I’ve attended meetings on strategies for church building, Sunday School, Bible Study, small group study, visiting the sick and prisoners, feeding the hungry, visiting homeless shelters, and half-way houses, etc. Most of this “accidental training” was done as a “lone Christian,” with no after discussion on possible errors in presentation and Christian exhortations.
    We have a new Pastor, she is attempting with earnest to make a turnaround and point us towards intentional discipleship making, but most of the oxygen is being taken up by the same sex issue. We in the denomination are semi stuck waiting for bureaucratic solutions that are riddled with open rebellion against our Book of Disciple.
    The Body of Christ is continuing to free fall into a dangerous state of compromise. Returning to first century Christianity, and our obeying Jesus’ command of “making disciples [and then these disciples replicating themselves], reminding them what he commanded us…”, is a sure tried and proven way to retrieve us back into the Biblical business of intentionally making disciples.
    Lastly, I would like to know if you plan on having your training, in the near future, on intentional discipleship training near Winston-Salem, NC area. Thank you, and God bless you.

  • I plan to be an effective disciple. My Pastor has been teaching on this lately

  • Fantastic. There is hope. God bless you and your pastor.

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