Discipling by Mark Dever is the latest in a series of books by Nine Marks Ministries entitled “Building Healthy Churches.” So far, each book that I’ve read in the series provides a short and practical guide with the clear goal of strengthening local churches. While books on the topic of discipleship continue to be written at a fast pace, this book offers a unique take from a seasoned and respected pastor.
This short book is broken up into three parts (ten total chapters), centering around the questions of the what, the where, and the how of discipleship. Part One includes four chapters where Dever makes his biblical argument for discipling and defines what he means by discipling: “deliberately doing spiritual good to someone so that he or she will be more like Christ” (13). He makes a distinction between discipling and discipleship, which he uses to describe a Christian’s own following of Christ. This first part deals well with the inner motivations of discipleship, showing that it’s not merely an activity, but a life orientation of love.
In true Nine Marks form, Part Two argues for the local church as the “natural environment for discipling.” Dever even goes as far as to say that the “local church is itself the basic discipler of Christians” (53). Finally, Part Three addresses the how question and concludes the book with a wealth of practical wisdom toward the goal of driving the church toward discipling.
This short book deserves a wide readership because it makes three unique contributions to its topic that I believe will greatly equip Christians to engage in discipling other Christians. First, Dever’s definition of discipling keeps the practice achievable for the normal church member. A lot of people get intimidated by the term discipling because it seems like a specialized practice for ex-college students who participated in Navigators or Campus Crusade. But Dever is right. Discipling is “deliberately doing spiritual good to someone so that he or she will be more like Christ” (13). Defined in this way, many church members will see that they are already involved in discipling others all the time. Others should feel the freedom to begin. You don’t have to be an expert. You don’t even have to have been “discipled” by someone else in the past. All you have to have is a growing knowledge of Christ and sacrificial intentionality.
Second, Dever keeps discipling where it will thrive the most: in the local church. By calling the local church “the basic discipler of Christians” (53) he points out an often overlooked feature of a church’s life together. Discipling is happening all the time. Having to sacrifice one’s own preferences for the greater good of the body is itself discipleship. The pastors preaching the Word of God are discipling. The small group leaders sacrificing their time and energy each and every week are discipling. The mother’s chatting about parenting toddlers as they rock babies in the nursery are discipling. God’s plan for maturing his people in Christ has always revolved around the local church (Eph. 4:11-16).
Third, Dever simply has a ton of practical wisdom to offer. The reader should be able to see that he has clearly spent a lifetime thinking about the topic and discipling others in the local church context. The final chapter alone is worth the price of the book, and Jonathan Leeman’s conclusion, where he offers reflections on Dever’s life as someone who has been discipled by him, is full of practical insight. Dever’s discussion on authority is particularly good. Here he argues that authority only appears to be an advantage to those who do not have it. God gives authority with the obligation attached that the person who has received the authority is to use it for the purpose of blessing others. “Good authority blesses those under it” (102).
Discipling by Mark Dever is great resource for the church. The book is accessible and practical, but it also offers unique insights that set it apart from many other books on discipling. I highly recommend this book.
Casey McCall, Pastor of Students and Discipleship at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church