Coleman begins his book with a preface titled "The Master and His Plan." He begins his discussion with the problem in evangelistic methods. He lists objective and relevance as the crucial issues of our work. The question must be asked: Is it worth doing? And, does it get the job done?
We must have a well thought through strategy for fulfilling the Great Commission. For this Coleman offers his book as a study in principles. He follows Jesus' method as the model for the principles he sets forth in his book.
Chapter one is titled "Selection." Coleman begins with the observation that men were Jesus' method. Jesus focused on training a few men who were willing to learn, without neglecting ministering to the masses. Jesus concentrated on a few men because he knew that he needed quality leaders to carry on the work of the kingdom in his absence.
Coleman observes that this is seldom the practice in churches today. He says most evangelistic efforts are directed to the multitudes because of our emphasis on numbers of converts rather than a genuine concern for the spiritual welfare of those that are reached. But we must begin to intentionally disciple believers if we are to achieve lasting growth. This will be a slow, tedious, and painful process that will probably go unnoticed by people at first, but the result will be glorious.
Chapter two is titled "Association." Coleman says that Jesus had a very informal teaching method. The essence of his training program was just letting his disciples follow him, just to be with him. They were able to observe, discuss, ask questions, and listen to Jesus' teaching. His method was himself. Coleman points out what our problem is today. He says that our methods of preaching to the masses, occasional prayer meetings, and training classes cannot do the job. He says that the example of Jesus would teach us that preparing leaders can be done only by persons staying close to those whom they seek to lead. Coleman says the church has failed tragically at this point because this type of training involves the sacrifice of personal indulgence. Coleman says the church must have as its basis a personal guardian concern for those entrusted to its care.
Chapter three is titled "Consecration." Jesus requires obedience of his followers. We must count the cost and decide to take up our crosses. We cannot lead others if we ourselves have not first learned to be a follower, and the one we follow is Jesus.
Chapter four is titled "Impartation." In this chapter Coleman discusses the fact that Jesus gave himself to his disciples in love. Jesus modeled a self-giving life. Coleman also discusses the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers, and that Jesus imparted knowledge and teaching to his disciples that was not made available to those on the outside.
Coleman states that if we are to follow this example of Jesus it means that we cannot give away something that we do not ourselves possess. We must possess the life and love of God if we are to share it with others.
Chapter five is titled "Demonstration." Jesus didn't just tell his disciples how to live, he showed them. He modeled prayer, using Scripture, soul winning, and teaching naturally. Jesus' classes were always in session. The eye is always a better pupil than the ear, and we do well to follow his lead.
Chapter six is titled "Delegation." Eventually Jesus began giving his disciples assignments. He began sending them out to all the villages and cities to spread the gospel. This allowed them to practice what they had been learning. This needs to be applied in our churches today. We must give people opportunity to practice what we are training them to do.
Chapter seven is titled "Supervision." Jesus kept check on his disciples. A sort of on the job training. This must continue well on until after we know that the leader is capable of passing the vision on to others he or she is training. Disciples must be brought to maturity, says Coleman.
Chapter eight is titled "Reproduction." This is the most wonderful part of the process. Jesus' disciples are to reproduce themselves. A church program cannot do this, only disciples can do this. All Christians should be reproducing Christians. Coleman gives the analogy of the vine and the branch and says a barren Christian is a contradiction.
Coleman says, "The test of any work of evangelism thus is not what is seen at the moment, or in the conference report, but in the effectiveness with which the work continues to the next generation (p. 103)." This is lasting fruit. This kind of fruit can evangelize the whole world.
Coleman ends his book with an epilogue titled "The Master and Your Plan." We must evaluate our life's plan and if need be make some changes to allow the Master's plan to become our plan. Coleman says the methods will vary but we get our principles from the example of Jesus. Coleman encourages the reader to work with a small group of people and train them using the principles he has brought out from the life of Jesus.
I agreed with Coleman's book and I genuinely appreciate his conclusions. I sadly wonder, though, why a book that has had at least sixty-six printings (as of 1993) has not seemed to influence the American church much. I have never seen so many endorsements on a book as much as this one, yet who is actually practicing what it says? I still see, especially in my own denomination (SBC), programs and literature as being promoted to accomplish discipleship, and no talk, much less action, about discipleship as being something accomplished personally by individuals, as Jesus modeled.
This is the model that I wish to follow, indeed have already begun, in my ministry. How I wish that I had someone who would have discipled me when I became a believer, or even to do so now. But regardless, I must be faithful to what God has called me to do.
I believe this book contains principles that can revolutionize our churches if we would implement them. But this model requires Christians who really do seek first the kingdom of God.