A Review of “The Lost Art of Disciple Making” by LeRoy Eims

the-lost-art-of-disciplemaking-imageThere’s undoubtedly one reason why LeRoy Eims’ book on discipleship has become a classic: what he proposes is a simple, transferable, and still relevant model for making disciples. There are myriads upon myriads of books on discipleship. More come out every year, often they come with “ground-breaking” new ways for making disciples. They propose new plans, schemes, curriculums, and technological advances to help churches pump our more serious followers of Christ. Yet, since its publication in 1978, Eims’ book The Lost Art of Disciple Making remains a classic. In a climate of professionalized ministry, this book is a breath of fresh air because it reminds us that the church has been making disciples faithfully since its inception, without the use of dozens of pre-packaged programs.

Eims’ speaks of disciple-making as an “art.” That is to say, it is not the programmatic approach to manufacturing disciples that is so common today. The idea of disciple-making as an “art” suggests the importance of the “personal touch.” You can’t package this art and sell it as a product. True discipleship involves personal investment, as Eims says it:

The concepts and principles we will be suggesting and examining do not emerge from a philosophy of speedy growth and instant maturity. True growth takes time and tears and love and patience. On the leader’s part, it takes the faith to see people as God expects them to be and wants them to become. And it takes some knowledge to help get them there. (12)

As Eims sees it, discipleship is a slow process of intentionally developing helping relationships with other Christians. It cannot be accomplished by running people through a program. “Discipels cannot be mass produced,” says Eims (45). Rather discipleship happens, according to Eims, as we follow three guiding principles: (1) the principle of selection; (2) the principle of association; (3) the principle of instruction.

The quality of this book is so clearly seen in its simplicity. Eims spells out in detail how to make disciplines and the bulk of what he says is what most Christians already know. He unpacks the importance of the Word, the power of prayer, and the significance of example. He details thirty training objectives for a disciple, all of which are simply basic components of a healthy Christian life. There’s nothing grandiose and or complex about his methodology or philosophy. In large part that’s because he has developed this approach directly from the pages of Scripture.

The Lost Art of Disciple Making looks to the discipleship models of Jesus and the apostles and draws direct application for modern readers. The church has been making disciples for a long time, long before the advent of discipleship gurus, textbooks, and pre-packaged curriculums. The church has made disciples in much the same way Jesus discipled the twelve for hundreds of years. So, Eims writes:

Pastors have asked me, “But do you think this discipleship training can work in the church today?” My answer has always been the same: It worked in the church in Jerusalem; it worked in the church in Antioch. This whole approach got its start in the New Testament church. It grew and flourished in these churches. And there is no reason on earth why it cannot be applied today. (45)

If we can’t learn our methodology from Jesus then we have to wonder where we can learn it from. The church ought to make disciples the same way Jesus made disciples. LeRoy Eims helps us to do just that by giving us this simple explanation of the process of discipleship that has been utilized by the church for ages. He clarifies it and outlines it in ways that the New Testament does not, so as to make an actual plan of action, but the principles and overall philosophy are drawn straight from the pages of Scripture.

To further highlight the effectiveness of this approach the text is laced with examples. Page after page tells stories of Eims’ own experience either receiving or implementing this discipleship with others. Even the book itself maintains a focus on the importance of personal relationships as Eims utilizes real life situations to explain his principles. He illustrates the principles through real stories of discipleship, putting skin and bone onto his philosophy.

There’s much to commend about this classic work on disciple making. Its simplicity and universality have made it a classic, and maintain its relevance for today. Modeling our contemporary discipleship off of Jesus seems like a good idea, and while many claim to do that in their highly complex models of discipleship, LeRoy Eims seems to be closer than them all.

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