• Sarah Hunter

obedience based disciple making - what is it?

When researching disciple making it doesn’t take long before encountering the term Obedience Based Disciple Making (OBD). What we call obedience John Wesley defined as “discipline”; a core value at the centre of the prolific Methodist movement. It shouldn’t surprise us that other flourishing disciple making movements also share this value.


As someone joining the many voices in the Church asking, “How can we make disciples who make disciples?” I am eager to discover principles with proven results.


I’m also hesitant. I’ve spent significant time pursuing methodology that didn’t result in transformation. Some focused on a specific curriculum, while others focused on friendship. Both are important, but something was missing. So I was still looking. Looking for Jesus’ wisdom. Looking to obey Jesus. Hmmm…. I’m looking to obey Jesus? Did I just write that? Deep down I know obedience to Christ is the only way to fulfill his Commission.


So what is OBD and why is it so effective?


Jesus’ last commandment in Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV) reads:


Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (emphasis mine)

Jesus instructs his followers to obey.


Before going further, let’s clarify what obedience is NOT. We humans love to strive, earn, and clamber our way into the presence of God through good deeds and performance. From the fall, when Adam and Eve hid from God, to the Pharisees ascending some man-made ladder of perfection through holy acts; our fallen nature favours self-righteous, self-sanctification to justify ourselves before God. This is NOT the obedience I’m talking about. Nor is this an obligatory response of submission to a God who is scrupulous in tracking failures. To act like it is, is to deny the Cross.


It’s not obedience that clears the way to receive God’s love, it’s obedience that flows from God’s love.


The apostle John was referred to as “the one Jesus loved.” John’s obedience flowed from his confidence in Christ’s love for him, and his love for Christ. In John’s gospel we read:


Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.” (John 14:23a, NIV)

True obedience is not legalism, it’s love.


After the Enlightenment, Western society approached teaching as knowledge transferred from one person to another. Learning is perceived as getting knowledge into our head, hoping to eventually change our behaviour. Involved in discipleship for many years, I’ve frequently asked, “How can we know so much of the Bible, and look so little like Jesus?” Don’t hear me saying that studying God’s Word isn’t important. Hear me saying that studying God’s Word isn’t enough. Jesus didn’t solely speak truth. He lived truth. He is truth. Soon after Jesus “taught” something he invited the disciples to participate. Whether it be feeding 5000+ people, or healing the sick, the disciples were exhorted to obey long before they understood.


Obedience is a spiritual discipline that makes way for transformation.


Peter’s life exemplifies this. Rough around the edges when Jesus called him beside the Sea of Galilee, Peter was notorious for getting the answer right one moment and being told he’s taking direction from Satan the next (Matt 16:13-23). Before Jesus’ crucifixion he chops a guy’s ear off! After declaring his unwavering devotion to Jesus, he denies Christ three times. Eventually, rough, impulsive Peter transforms into gentle and faithful Peter who feeds Jesus’ sheep. Instead of a sword, Peter chooses death (John 21:15-19).


Luke’s Gospel captures a significant moment in Peter’s transforming story.

While early in the book of Luke, this encounter between Jesus and Peter wasn’t their first. Peter would have been tracking with Jesus from a distance for some time. Peter is a fisherman. Jesus? He’s a tekton – a builder. As Bob Rognlien points out, Jesus was more likely a stone mason than a carpenter[1]. So Jesus, a land dwelling builder gets into a boat with Peter, the lifelong fisherman.


[Jesus] said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. (Luke 5:4b-7, NIV, emphasis mine)

Rock building Jesus tells fisherman Peter, to put his nets down at mid-day. The worst advice Jesus could give. What does Jesus know about fishing? Peter’s fished all night (the best time for fishing) and he’s caught nothing. Then Peter says, “But because you say so, I will let down the nets.

Peter obeys a crazy request. And what happens? He receives an abundant blessing – a blessing so big it pours over onto others.

When we take the courageous step of obedience, God changes us. Obedience leads to supernatural blessing that in turn flows beyond us…. Transforming others as they obey the One who loves them.


OBD prioritizes obedience to the Holy Spirit along the way. OBD isn’t about telling one another what we think obedience looks like. Instead, as we read the Word, we ask the Holy Spirit to reveal one, personal step of obedience. Together we share the Holy Spirit’s guidance, intercede against the temptations, hold one another accountable and celebrate the victories. Together we witness transformation as a community of individuals. God uses this transformation to flow out to others, in turn transforming our communities, our cities, our countries and his world. This method of disciple making isn’t easy, but it is simple, repeatable, and scalable. OBD has been found across disciple making movements in China, North Africa, India, and beyond. If you haven’t prioritized obedience within your disciple making process, I encourage to you make this shift today.


Check back for future articles and resources that facilitate OBD.

[1] Rognlien, Bob Recovering the Way: How Ancient Discoveries Help Us Follow the Footsteps of Jesus Today has formed my thinking around Jesus’ trade of builder, as well as Peter’s submission to Jesus in the boat. Tekton means builder. The terrain of Nazareth as well as the buildings in the area, reveal that stone was the building material of choice.


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