Jesus’ surprising strategy for making disciples (The Discipling Funnel) – Part 1

We read in Matthew 13:1 – 3 “That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake.  Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore.  Then he told them many things in parables saying…”

Jesus knew how to gather huge crowds, and he knew what to do with them!  Why do so many people show up on this particular day?  We read in the previous chapter that Jesus did 3 significant things:

  1. He confronted the Pharisees over their lifeless legalism and the way they were using religion to control people
  2. He healed a man’s shriveled hand (and later many others who were ill in the large crowd that followed him)
  3. He healed a demon possessed man who was blind and mute 


What happens when someone has a need met in their life?  They tell everyone about it!  When a beggar finds an unlimited supply of bread he tells all of the other beggars.  And guess what?  They all show up the next day.


Jesus’ plan to attract large groups of people had nothing to do with marketing, great worship bands, beautiful facilities, or creative children’s programing (nothing wrong with any of that, of course).  He loved people.  He served people.  He connected hurting people with the grace and power of the living God.  And then, he preached the Gospel of the Kingdom.


Mark 1:15 gives us the bottom line message that Jesus preached: “The time has come,” he said.  “The kingdom of God has come near.  Repent and believe the good news!”

But, don’t miss this!  Before Jesus preached the good news he incarnated the good news.  He WAS good news.  How?  He met people’s needs by connecting them with the love and power of his Father.  It was first SHOW, and then TELL.


OK, time for a gut check.  Not everyone Jesus preached to believed his message.  Did you catch that?  Many walked away.  Let that sink in to your heart for a moment.  I want you to feel the weight of this and see some of the implications for your own life and ministry.

We know that at one time Jesus ministered to well over 10,000 people (the feeding of the 5,000 in Matthew 14 – there were 5,000 men plus women and children).  10,000 people is an impressive gathering by anyone’s standards.  If your church boasted over 10,000 in worship you would probably feel very successful.  But Jesus saw thing differently.  His plan was to whittle the huge crowds down into small groups of disciples that he would eventually train and send out.  He didn’t chase those who walked away from his preaching – and he didn’t tell people what they wanted to hear.  (His global plan to reach billions of people involved investing heavily in the few who responded.)


Picking back up in Matthew 13 we see that after Jesus launches his borrowed boat into the lake, he teaches the parable of the sower and the four soils.  Jesus teaches those who believed his preaching about how life actually works in the Kingdom of God.  In this teaching he explains why most who hear the Gospel don’t respond to it with enduring faith.  While some respond initially with great excitement, they eventually fall away when the costs of discipleship become too great.  But, when the good seed of God’s words is planted in the good soil of a trusting and submitted heart, the fruit is incredible!

I will examine the final stages of the funnel next time, but for now let’s reflect upon what we have already observed.

  1. The process of making disciples begins in the harvest.  Meeting the needs of hurting people is not just something we assign to the Red Cross or the government – it is the responsibility of every Christ follower.  We do not wait for them to show up in our churches.
  2. When crowds gather we must seek out the responsive.  As we preach the Gospel we ask God to direct us to the good soil.  Recognizing the responsive is a critical skill for every Christian leader.  
  3. As the crowds melt away we focus on those whom God has given us to disciple, not on those who leave.  This my friend, is gut wrenching.  But if we are able to find our security and significance in our true identity in Christ, and resist the compulsion to judge our worth based upon the response of the crowd, we are set free.  And once set free to make disciples in the way of Jesus, we will never want to go back.

Special thanks to long time friend and mentor, Steve Jones, for developing the Discipling Funnel.  Steve serves as the President of the Missionary Church.  I encourage you to watch his teaching on this.

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