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The Universal Disciple Pattern by Thom Wolfe

Almost a century ago, Roland Allen stirred the 20th century by reminding us of the "spontaneous expansion" of the early community of The Way.

Now, in the 21st century, with all the open doors to the good news, we must reevaluate just how the apostles were able to go into an area, preach the good news, gather converts, nurture them, and move on in such a way that they could later write back and with such confidence "remind" them of a core of teaching that seemed to be so pervasive and so commonly understood by all (see I Thessalonians 3.3‑4; 11 Thessalonians 2.5).

Even more perplexing is the fact that Paul and the church planting team were often only in a city a few weeks, a few months, or at most, a few years. How did they do it? How could they create such radiant persons and such responsible and reproductive leaders? That is the issue I want to address.

Question. How did Paul establish leadership-so quickly, so solidly, so reproducibly-that became the basis for the Christian Church?

Answer. He had a pattern, a standard-a standard that could be received personally, that could be remembered easily, and that could be reproduced strategically.

This standard is referred to in II Timothy 1.13: "Retain the standard (hupotuposis) of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus." It is the "pattern (tupos) of teaching" to which Christians were handed over. (Romans 6.17)

Paul even knew himself to be a living standard/model/paradigm/example of God's unlimited patience (I Timothy 1.15‑17, vs. 16: hupotuposis). He urged others to imitate him and his "way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church." (I Corinthians 4.16-17)

And the writer of Hebrews reminds us that all the types of our salvation were sculptured according to a divine plan. And that is why Moses was warned (yes, that's the word: warned) when he was "about to build the tabernacle: ‘See to it that you make everything according to the pattern (tupos) which was shown you.'" (Hebrews 8.5. See also Titus 2.7.)

Paul and the early church had a standard, a pattern, a model which he taught in every church in every place he went. It was a tupos that was to be received, retained, remembered, and reproduced. It was the universal discipleship model.

KEY to The Universal Disciple Pattern

Colossians and Ephesians give the pattern in the clearest and most complete form. This is probably because Paul is writing forward, addressing principles, not backward, addressing problems. All Paul's epistles are basically arranged as belief and behavior, instruction and ethics, doctrine then duties, Christ's fullness then our following. But you can clearly see this belief/behavior structure, for example, in Romans (1-11/12-16), Colossians (1-2/3-4), and Ephesians (1-3/4-6). It can also be discerned in I Peter, James, and Hebrews-a model used by all the apostolic leadership teams throughout of the first generation church.

The universal disciple pattern will be illustrated from Colossians, supplemented by Ephesians and Romans. Colossians 1-2 is devoted to instruction about Christ. Colossians 3-4 develops the ethics of Christians.


Christ: Colossians 1 & 2 tells who Jesus is: the Image of the Invisible God, in whom all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form (1.15, 2.9). While this mystery was hidden for ages, now it is disclosed for the restoration of the nations. Thus, we labor to make this known among the nations, and present every person mature in the knowledge of Him (1.24-29).

In one way or another, you introduce people to who Jesus is: the Rock to build your life on, God's Foundation. (Matthew 7.24‑28; 1 Corinthians 10.4; Ephesians 2.19-22; 1 Peter 2.6‑8.) Paul demonstrates at least three different ways to present Christ (Acts 13, 14, 17). But all end in Jesus, the Risen One. You may choose chronological story-telling, the gospels, or the epistles, but introduce people to Jesus and His resurrection (I Corinthians 15.1-4).


Coversion: Colossians 1, 2, and 3.1-4 talk about the personal consequences of receiving the Word, of following Jesus: transferred from darkness to light, we are to see that no one takes a follower captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy. Instead, each one is to fully follow Jesus, setting their heart on things above where Christ is (1.13-14; 2.6-8; 3.1-4).

Through whatever process and time, the person must come to personal commitment, surrender to Jesus as Lord and God, and follow Him (John 20.26‑31; Acts 8.26‑40; Romans 10.8‑15).
God gives new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Because you are a new creation in Jesus, you have an inheritance that will never perish, spoil, or fade, you are to be different in all you do, because the Living God is different (I Peter 1.1-21). Therefore, Peter lays 5 foundation stones that purify the new believer who has returned to Heaven's shepherd and life-supervisor (1.22-2.25):

  • Word (1.22-2.3),
  • Spiritual sacrifices (2.4-8, with Hebrews 13.15-21),
  • Fellowship (2.9-12),
  • Witness (2.19-12), and
  • Suffering, with Jesus as our Example (2.13-25).


Personally, the new believer must begin to walk worthy of Christ. To do this, s/he must put off the old style of living-old vices, and put on the new life in Christ-new virtues.

Walk worthy is the trigger term for column one, alerting you to the first instructions-set of the pattern. Colossians 3.5-14 urges the true follower of Jesus to:

  • put off 5 vices
  • 3.5: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed/idolatry [sins which defile personally]-
  • then 5 more 3.8: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language [sins which disrupt socially]) and
  • put on 5 virtues
  • 3.12: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.

In Christ, the paleo anthropos with its practices was taken off. The neo anthropos was put on, and is now being renewed in the image of its Creator. The image of God is in every person of every nation throughout all time. Thus, this process of restoration transcends all barriers, all cultures, all times. Here, there is no Greek or Jew, slave or free, barbarian or Scythian. Christ is all, and in all (3.9-11).


Socially, there is a positive response or a negative reaction to the life changes of the new believer (see I Peter 4.1‑5): some are attracted, some are repelled. Either way, the personal life transformation (from the putting off/putting on) impacts the convert's circle of influence (the oikos/'household' composed of family, neighbors, coworkers, and friends).

The trigger terms that alert you to this column of experiences is Word and Spirit: the indwelling Word and the filling Spirit (Colossians 3.15-16 & Ephesians 5.15-18).The core decision here is "let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly" (Col 3.16)

and "be filled with the Spirit" (Eph 5.18)

What follows in the universal discipleship pattern is identical in order in both Colossians and Ephesians:


T-S-T-S 4 Definite Mindsets:


T-eaching with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs

  • the group teaches through the emotional port-of-entry in song, according to the local culture


S-inging with your heart to the Lord

  • a radical inner attitude shift to a praising mindset


T-hanking God for all things, and whatever you do in word/deed, doing all in the name of the Lord Jesus

  • a radical outer articulation, with every experience integrated into the new way


S-ubmitting to one another in reverence of Christ

  • a culturally revolutionary pattern of mutual reciprocity



5 Dual Sets


  • the same 5 pairs
  • the exact same order
  • a basic obedience in the Lord for each
  • which can be condensed or expanded according to the audience's needs
  • with the minority person always first and
  • the majority person always second





Wife: submit

Child: obey

Slave/Employee: work hard

Insider: devoted to prayer

Christian: be in subjection

Husband: love

Father: train

Master/Employer: be fair, just

Outsider: wise/seasoned speech

Authority: praise good, punish eveil


Note carefully: Colossians is compact. Ephesians is expanded. For example, the wife/husband-set: Colossians 3.18‑19 and Ephesians 5.22‑33. The apostles, using the outline, the pattern, develop the truth themes according to their audiences' needs. Thus, they remind them of the truths they already know and are attached to in Christ. Also, the christian/authority-set is from Romans 13.1-10.


Spiritually, the disciple will be tempted to think that people are the enemy. But that is not so. For such were some of us-fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, homosexuals, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, swindlers-but we were transformed by God. Surely others can be also (I Corinthians 6.9‑11, 1 Timothy 1.12‑17, and Titus 3.1‑8).

For our struggle is not against other people, but against the rulers, the powers, the world forces of this present darkness, the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6.12). And in this ministry we never lose heart, for even if our good news is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, "in whose case the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the radiance of Christ, who is the image of God." (II Corinthians 4.1‑6)

We are to

  • Watch and Pray: as a wrestler (Eph 6.12)

for our struggle is against

the rulers

the authorities

the powers of this dark world

the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

  • Stand and Resist: as a warrior (Eph 6.13)

and put on the whole armor of God

1.   Belt of truth

2.   Breastplate of righteousness

3.   Shod feet with gospel of peace

4.     Shield of faith

5.     Helmet of salvation

6.     Sword of Spirit

7.     Prayer of the 4 alls

In this way, it is the Lord's Spirit and Words that fight his battles through prayer (Isaiah 59; 59.16-21). We clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature, knowing that our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed (Romans 13.11-14).


Thus, we boldly, frankly witness with great joy, even in tribulation, which we know is our destiny (I Thessalonians 1.2‑10, 3.1‑13, 1 Peter 2.11‑12), telling of His excellencies Who called us out of dark fness into His marvelous light, making us a global people (I Peter2.9‑10).

So, then, while there will be those who sneer, there will also be those who desire to hear more, and even some who believe and join us (Acts 17:32‑34).

Those who believe and join us are those who have come to know Jesus as their Rock, and the universal disciple pattern is retained, remembered, and reproduced.


University Institute educational edition by Thom Wolf © 2000 Download PDF

The concepts in this article were referenced in the book Organic Church by Neil Cole


See also:

Disciples Making Disciples - Video by Neil Cole

Make Disciples Like the Apostles Did- George Patterson

Why are we so Ineffective in Making Disciples?

Making and Multiplying Disciples- Video

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