Are you hoping to know more about genuine Christian discipleship, how it’s supposed to work, and how it can be implemented in your life and church?
If that’s you then you’re definitely in the right place.
This is the ultimate guide to Christian discipleship. In this guide, you will learn what discipleship is, how to find someone to disciple you, how to disciple others and the biggest issues the Christian church currently has with discipleship.
Let’s jump right in!
What Is Discipleship?
The simplest meaning of the word “disciple” is a “learner” or “student.” Being a disciple in Biblical times entailed being an apprentice under someone who was more trained and experienced in a particular field.
For instance, a young man might have remained faithful to a rabbi with the hope of one day becoming a rabbi himself.
In the New Testament, the disciples of Jesus learned from Him, followed His ways, and put His teachings into practice. They were lifelong learners, abiding with Christ throughout His ministry. Just knowing about Jesus intellectually was insufficient. An intimate relationship with Him was necessary to be His disciple.
We can see this clearly in this passage:
“‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” – Matthew 7:21-23
Simply learning the head knowledge of a teacher is not enough to be called a disciple. The disciple learns how to live and perform tasks in everyday life just as the teacher does.
Throughout the New Testament, we see 4 clear elements of discipleship:
- Disciples must love
- Disciples must sacrifice
- Disciples must obey
- Disciples must make more disciples
We will break each of these down now to better understand the elements of a disciple of Jesus.
Bible Verses About Discipleship & Love
Let’s look at the most popular Bible verses on Discipleship to see what the Bible says about the subject.
“A new commandment I give unto you, That you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall all [men] know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.” – John 13:34-35
In this verse, Jesus is telling his disciple that love is the most significant attribute that a disciple exhibits. In Luke 6:27–31, Jesus also taught:
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Offer the person who has hit you on the cheek your other cheek;… Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back, and treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” –Luke 6:27–31
Love is the main evidence of true Christian Discipleship. You can judge whether or not you’re following Christ’s example when you first center your discipleship process around love.
Bible Verses About Discipleship & Sacrifice
Those who follow Jesus Christ are called to sacrifice. Jesus made it very clear to His first disciples that following Him came at a great cost. True discipleship isn’t a once-a-week group at church that ends when you leave. It is a strategic process of dying to yourself, with the support of the person discipling you.
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” – Matthew 16:24-25
In another verse, Jesus says this about sacrifice:
“Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” – Luke 9:23-25
Jesus equates discipleship with losing your life. Later, the new testament reveals this to be both literal and metaphorical. We are to sacrifice our fleshly desires as well as our own life if that is what it takes to honor God.
Below, we find that any disciple of Jesus must ultimately be willing to sacrifice anything for Him.
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. … In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” – Luke 14:26-27, 33
The Bible makes it clear that the cost of knowing Jesus and having a saving faith in Him is high. While this is true, it is also made clear that the benefits far outweigh any costs associated with doing so.
Here is what the Apostle Pauls says about this:
“What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” – Philippians 3:8-9
Are those you are discipling prepared to give up everything to follow Jesus? Are you? If this is not the case, then this is the standard you should be trying to embody in your own life.
Knowing this, Jesus tells us to consider the cost before choosing to follow him because he knows that it will not always be an easy road:
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” – Luke 14:25-33
The Bible does not promise that when we accept Christ’s salvation that our lives will get easier and all of our problems will go away.
Many times, when you accept Jesus, your problems are just beginning. The Lord doesn’t say it is going to be easy. He said it was going to be tough, and you should sit down first and consider what you are truly willing to sacrifice.
Bible Verses About Discipleship & Obedience
Those who love God and follow the leadership and authority of Jesus obey his commands.
Jesus clarifies this when he says:
“Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” John 14:21
Furthermore, we are instructed to teach those who are disciples to also obey all that Jesus has commanded us to do:
“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 all that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20
If we consider ourselves disciples of Jesus, and are discipling under a Christian we trust, we need to ask ourselves if we are genuinely following the commands that Jesus lays out in the scriptures.
Additionally, if you looking for someone who is mature and trustworthy in their Christian faith to disciple you, consider what the Apostle Paul said In Hebrews 11:
“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” Hebrews 11:1
Assuming that the Christian who you are being discipled by is following the commands that Jesus gives in scripture, it is acceptable to submit to their leadership over you and follow their advice.
This does not mean that you blindly do everything your teacher tells you to do. Here are a few things you can do to be sure you are being both obedient in your submission to your teacher while also being wise in whom you choose to submit yourself to:
- Continuously watch their life for the fruits of the spirit (Gal 5:22-23).
- Continuously think critically about what it is they ask you to do. Does their advice and teaching flow in agreement with the life of Christ or does it conflict with Jesus teaching?
- Continuously observe your teacher to be sure they are living a life that reflects the requirements of an overseer. If they are overseeing you, then they should have their life in order. (1 Timothy 3:1-7)
Personal Example: My own mentor offers many practical suggestions on how to run my business and how to do so with a family. He is a Christian entrepreneur with businesses much larger than my own and has more experience in doing so. His family and Christian walk continuously reflect God in the ways I have mentioned above. Seeing that he lives a life that is above reproach – when he gives me advice on how to live better, I just do it. When he tells me to “take time off with your family”, “start offering this service”, and “raise this price”, I just do what he says because the results he has in his life far exceed my own. I know that by living the way he lives, I will become a more faithful Christian businessman like he is. This is what it looks likt to follow a mentor as He follows Christ.
While I willingly submit to his authority, if I were to discover that all is not as it seems in his life, I would immediately alter my course of action. If he were secretly leading a life of sin, I would not question my own faith. One person failing to follow a standard disproves the person, not the standard. Instead, I would no longer submit to the teaching and advice of that person. I would begin looking and praying to find someone new who is able to disciple me from that point forward.
The disciple of Christ submits to the commands of Jesus first, and then to the advice of the one discipling them.
Bible Verses About Making Disciples
The initial goal of being discipled is that we become mature in our faith. When we are new to our Christian faith, we can easily be confused by other religious teachings and our faith can be easily crushed if we see other believers not living their own faith properly.
This passage shows us that God gives people gifts so that they are able to disciple others into maturity:
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Ephesians 4:11-16
When you have been on your own journey in your Christian faith, your life begins to be more like that of a mature Christian. Once you have followed the discipleship process yourself, it’s time for you to begin discipling someone yourself.
“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
This passage about discipleship was originally written in Greek. In Greek, “make disciples” is the only direct command in the passage. The other verbs, “going”, “baptizing,” and “teaching them to obey” are indications of how we should fulfill the direct command to “make disciples”.
They instruct us on the proper way to carry out the task of making disciples. This passage makes it clear that if we are to follow Christ, discipleship is something that we should be engaged in.
In the best scenario, you should always be discipling and be under discipleship yourself. When you are being filled you are grounding your own life in Christ, and as you are filled to overflowing, you have those who you disciple to overflow into so that they too begin growing under you.
We also see Jesus’ disciples using this process as well. The disciples of Jesus had disciples of their own (who we now know as the early church fathers).
4-Step Biblical Discipleship Process (L.E.E.D.)
If you want to begin a discipleship program in your church or you feel that you are prepared to take on your own disciples then the next few sections are for you. As we continue, you will find a four-step discipleship process. It goes as follows:
Let’s look at each step in the discipleship process.
Discipleship Process Step 1: Love
Without including a Christ-like love as the cornerstone of a discipleship program, we will not be effective.
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Discipleship without love is ineffective because, as we saw earlier, In order to gain the life that Jesus has planned for us we must die to our fleshly desires and earthly way of thinking. Following someone else in this process means giving that person permission to help put us to death.
It’s difficult enough to agree to allow someone who is loving to help us see our areas of weakness and put them to death. It is nearly impossible to allow someone who is insensitive, harsh, judgemental, or shaming to take us through the process. This makes the level of pain unbearable. People who attempt to discipline in this way do more damage than harm.
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
-1 Peter 4:8
But why is love the most important piece?
In order to help someone, you must first get past their defensive armor, their shame, their guilt, and the deep traumas buried in their past. Love is the only effective method for disarming all of these defenses.
Toxic discipleship methods (we will discuss later) like shame or judgment only act to shut your disciple down further. Isn’t the reason Adam and Eve hid from God in the garden because they felt shame?
Love is the only solution.
This should be our primary focus. Continually, we need to seek Jesus first. Let Him fill us again and again with His heart, with His love for us and for others. Only then will we be able to make disciples like Jesus that are motivated by the supernatural love of God.
If you want to begin discipling others, be aware that you are there to serve them. Take time to listen to their needs and hurts. Explore how they see and understand the world, no matter how warped it may be. Only after people feel fully understood and loved will they be willing to undergo the pain of cutting their fleshly behaviors out of their life.
“You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Turn back to me…” Revelation 2:4-5
Discipleship Process Step 2: Educate
The second step of an effective discipleship process is to educate your disciple. It is a ridiculous notion that someone could be held to a standard that they have never seen or been shown.
While this is true, we often expect our children (who we should be discipling), our employees, and our disciples to perform up to a certain standard while having never been shown how to successfully implement them.
“…teaching them to do all that I commanded you;…” Matthew 28:20
As someone who is faithfully following Christ, you can use two methods to teach your disciples.
The first is Scripture:
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17
We also find another similar verse in the old testament:
“Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” Joshua 1:8
The second way you can educate your disciples is by teaching from your own life experience.
This is an acceptable practice so long as the experiences and methods you recommend fall within the guidelines of Scripture.
Personal Example: Discipling from personal experience is very important because the Bible does not speak to every subject and situation. The Bible does not have a verse that tells me as a business owner how to set my prices or whether I should offer XYZ service. But my own mentor with many more years of experience can clearly see the answer to many of these questions and simply say, “Set your price to X amount.” He is able to do this not because the Bible explicitly says to do so, but rather because he has a lifetime of experience following God, implementing his faith into his business and discovering practical methods for doing so.
When you disciple others, be sure you teach them what the scripture says about that subject and then show them how to practically apply it in their own lives.
Only after you have fully trained your disciple in the application of a particular subject can you then hold them accountable to live it out.
Discipleship Process Step 3: Equip
In Matthew 8, the Centurion speaks to Jesus and explains that he is a man “under authority”. He realizes that he acts under the authority of Rome and, so long as he is carrying out the will of Rome, he can tell people what to do with complete power. He said this in such a way to imply that he understood Jesus was also under authority, the authority of God.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, He constantly looked to God and submitted all of His choices to the will of the Father because He was Himself under God’s authority.
This is also true of Christians. When you become a Christian, you are saved from slavery to sin and instead become a slave of God (Romans 6:20).
The Bible teaches that as servants of God, we are under His authority and can act confidently when we act within the will of God.
In the next passage, we find that Jesus bestows the authority of God onto each of his Disciples.
“Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases. And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick.” Luke 9:1-2
“But you shall receive power, after that the Holy spirit will come upon you: and you shall be witnesses of me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Acts 1:8
The following verse reveals how God equips his followers with this power.
The greatest source of power is God. All authority derives from Him and is governed by Him:
“Yours, LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all” 1 Chronicles 29:11–12
Many passages in the Old Testament refer to God giving His power to the weak:
“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” Isaiah 40:29.
The Psalms tell us that God empowers His people:
“You, God, are awesome in your sanctuary; the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people. Praise be to God!” Psalm 68:35
We frequently read about God giving kings power (1 Samuel 2:10) and prophets:
“But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the LORD, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin” Micah 3:8
In many places in the Bible, God’s power is shown to be limitless in the lives of His people:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile,” Romans 1:16
The Holy Spirit gives a Christian disciple the strength he needs to do anything worthwhile for God. Jesus instructed His followers to wait for the power they required as He ascended into heaven:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” Acts 1:8.
No matter how skilled, enthusiastic, or passionate the disciples were about sharing the gospel, they would be wasting their time without the power of the Holy Spirit.
The internal spiritual strength of a disciple comes from God:
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being” Ephesians 3:16.
A disciple’s power from God enables them to become an effective servant of the gospel:
“I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power” Ephesians 3:7
The power of a disciple is not his own. After God used Peter to heal a crippled beggar, the apostle revealed to shocked onlookers that the man’s healing came from faith in the name of Jesus Christ, not from Peter’s own strength:
“Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. . . . By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see” Acts 3:12–16
A disciple can endure suffering in the face of persecution because of the strength that comes from God:
“The Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God” 2 Timothy 1:7–8
The power of a disciple is perfected in weakness:
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” 2 Corinthians 12:9
A disciple discovers power in prayer:
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” James 5:16
God gives disciples the power and authority to speak in His name:
“Jesus came and told his disciples, ‘I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age’” Matthew 28:18–20
The power of God, according to the Bible, gives the disciple everything they need to live a holy life in this world of sin:
“By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence” 2 Peter 1:3
Disciples of Jesus are given power, authority, guidance, and confidence to act when they do so within the authority of God. As a Christian, you and I should be constantly seeking our direction and guidance from the spirit, and from those who mentor and disciple us.
Once we are equipped with the ability to act under the authority of Christ, it’s time to be deployed.
Discipleship Process Step 4: Deploy
The fourth and final step of the discipleship process is to deploy your disciples into the world. Jesus himself modeled this when he sent out his disciples two by two to apply their discipleship first-hand (Matthew 10).
He gave them specific instructions on what to take with them, who they were to stay with, and what to do if they were rejected. Jesus also explained to them what they could expect of the world – that they were going out like sheep among wolves.
After even more teaching and training, Jesus deployed his 12 disciples with the command to “go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19a). In Luke 10:2, Jesus uses the word “ekballo” to urge his disciples to “pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send out laborers into his harvest field.”
This word is not a normal term used for “send,” but rather a spiritually violent word filled with passion and force, similar to the way a General on the battlefield calls his army to prepare for military action.
The Christian life is not promised to be a casual or comfortable experience, as we are in a spiritual war for the souls of others.
In order to have the mentality Jesus calls us to, we need to be trained and established in our faith through genuine discipleship under someone who is better equipped than we are. We must also disciple those who are less mature in the faith than we are.
Today, due to a lack of genuine discipleship in our culture, there are not many Christians who are mature and prepared to live this kind of life.
Therefore, deploying your disciples to gain experience is essential. Jesus deployed and redeployed his disciples so they could gain experience and learn from it until they were fully equipped and ready to go out on their own.
Discipleship Group Vs Bible Study Group
There is a common misconception between a discipleship group and a Bible study. This is often because ministry leaders have not been in discipleship groups or have not been discipled themselves. In this section, we will go over one effective structure for a discipleship group that produces growth and fruit in the lives of the believers that attend.
Discipleship Group Purpose: In a discipleship group, the purpose is for the student to sit under the teacher and learn through exposure to their life and advice on how that person lives in a Godly way – in every area of life.
For example, suppose someone in a men’s discipleship group is having problems in his marriage. He might bring it up in the discipleship group and explain the issue he is having. You might then ask some more questions to better understand the problem. Then you might offer specific and practical recommendations on how to resolve that problem that you learned in your own process of building a healthy marriage. You then might offer the scriptures that you ground those actions in. Lastly, you might invite your disciple and his wife to dinner with you and your own wife to make sure they fully understand the issue and find solutions together.
In a discipleship group, the goal is for the disciples to do life with you as much as possible. The group is a jumping-off point and disciples meet with you throughout the week to see how you handle specific parts of life they are trying to grow in. Here are some reasons a disciple may meet with the group leader outside of the group:
- Nighttime Routines: A disciple may join your family for dinner and your family’s bedtime routine to see your dinner and bedtime routines that you have spent years perfecting. This might be useful for disciples who recently adopted, have become foster parents or who had toxic homelives as children. When they can see a functional nighttime routine, they will be able to emulate it so they can skip the years of learning you had to do. In this way, you can speed up their process of becoming Godly parents.
- Sales Calls: If the discipleship group leader owns a God-honoring & successful business and one of his disciples is hoping to model him in this way, the leader might invite the disciple to observe how he runs his business for an afternoon or to join in on sales calls from his office. He might then do a debrief after the calls to hammer home any lessons the disciple learned from the experience.
Discipleship Group Size: Discipleship groups should be relatively small because the amount of time and attention you will be giving to each of the people you disciple will be fairly high. It’s usually best to have small groups of 10 or less, especially if this group is meeting only once per week (with no additional meetups or hangouts outside of the group.)
In the scriptures, Jesus had 72 Disciples, but he spent the majority of his time with the 12, doing life with them every day throughout his ministry. While there is no right or wrong number of disciples to allow into your group, the more time you spend with any individual, the more results will show in their lives.
Discipleship Group Leadership: In 1st Timothy, we learn people can only teach what they know. This means that we can only reproduce ourselves. The disciple always becomes the discipler. If you do not have your life in order, the disciples will model that lifestyle and get the same results themselves. This is why 1 Timothy says the following:
“Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full[a] respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. 8 In the same way, deacons[b] are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.”
– 1 Timothy 3: 1-10
As the leader of the discipleship group, you must have the results in your own life that have been tested over time in order to produce disciples who are capable of living the same kind of life.
Discipleship Group Process: Discipleship groups typically begin with a prayer. Then, unless there is an urgent need the disciples present will go around and share about their lives. This includes what is going well and what they have been struggling with or would like advice on. The other members of the group will then offer no- judgmental feedback and suggestions on how the disciple can alter their life to create a better outcome. Typically, the leader of the group is the one who ultimately speaks into the group members’ problems the most. You should strive to create an atmosphere of authenticity where group members feel they can share freely because they know they are safe and loved in the group. They should know and trust that you and other members of the group will not be sharing what is said outside the group. The disciples in the group also share freely because the group does not give shame, criticism, or judgment when someone shares (More on toxic discipleship in the next section).
Discipleship Group Duration: While there are other ways to organize the structure of a discipleship group, many discipleship groups are less focused on a hard start and stop time. They may go two or more hours, or until each disciple in the group has had enough time to share their personal victories and their shortcomings. Unless there is an urgent need with one member of the group, the goal should be to let everyone have a chance to share and be given feedback to.
Toxic Communication & Discipleship
While genuine discipleship opens up the fast track to biblical growth – it also opens up an equally big opportunity for the disciple to be hurt and even crushed in the process. Many people reject their faith as a result of a bad experience with what they believed was “discipleship”.
When someone commits to a discipleship process, they open their lives and their hearts to you for Godly correction. This means that your disciple can be easily wounded if you are unaware of the ways in which you can harm your disciple with your words.
When your disciple shares authentically, they will immediately feel betrayed, hurt, and rejected if you express any of the following types of communication:
- Shaming language or behavior
- Blaming language or behavior
- Guilting language or behavior
- Judging/Condemning language or behavior
Let’s dig into those 5 toxic communication behaviors a bit more deeply.
Shaming: Shame is an emotion that identifies THE PERSON as being bad or wrong. Shame is an identity-based emotion and is one of the primary reasons that people stay stuck in sin as long as they do. If they were to share with someone else, their true shame would be revealed. This also reveals that shame most often comes from other people.
Shame and loneliness are the two most painful emotions a person can feel. Of course, when we feel shameful, we isolate ourselves (Adam and Eve hid from God) and this brings about loneliness. Here are 5 passages from scripture that indicate that shame is removed from the believer. Our goal is to alter the behavior of our disciples, not unintentionally load them down with shame.
Here are five examples of shaming statements:
- “You should be embarrassed by how poorly you handled that situation. Anyone else would have done a better job.”
- “You’re so incompetent, it’s no wonder no one wants to work with you.”
- “Can’t you do anything right? It’s pathetic how you constantly mess up even the simplest tasks.”
- “You call yourself a professional? Your work is absolutely subpar.”
- “I don’t know how you can show your face around here after the way you acted. You’ve humiliated yourself and let everyone down.”
Now consider what these verses say about shame and the Christ follower:
Romans 10:11: “For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.'”
Hebrews 12:2: “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
1 Peter 2:6: “For in Scripture it says: ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.'”
1 Peter 4:16: “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.”
Romans 9:33: “As it is written: ‘See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.'”
Blaming: Blaming is what happens when someone indicates that another person is objectively morally or objectively at fault for something. Note, even if you happen to be correct and the person actually did something that was blatantly sinful, using blaming language will only result in triggering the listener to put up their defenses. This is more common in verbal disagreement between two people but may take place in a discipleship setting as well. Blaming language typically begins with the word “you”. “You didn’t listen to what I said”, “you hurt my feelings”, etc. Blaming language universally brings up the defenses of anyone you are speaking with. To communicate in a healthy way, don’t focus on the external event, or point out objectively what was or wasn’t done by the other person. Focus on yourself. Instead of claiming objectively, “You didn’t listen to what I said”, try something that is focused on your own feelings. “I’m feeling a little unheard and misunderstood.” Or instead of saying “you hurt my feelings”, try saying “When you say “insert statement” I feel hurt and I want you to word it more kindly in the future.”
- “You always ruin everything. Our plans were perfect until you got involved.”
- “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me about the deadline. Now I have to face the consequences because of your negligence.”
- “If you had been more responsible, we wouldn’t be in this mess right now.”
- “You’re the reason our team failed. If you had just done your part, we would have succeeded.”
- “I trusted you to handle this, and you let me down. It’s clear that you’re to blame for the situation we’re in.”
Guilting: Guilting is another unhealthy communication technique. While guilting language is often used without the speaker realizing it, it comes across as an attempt to control the behavior of another person by making them feel guilty. If your disciple shares something about their past with you, a guilting statement might sound like, “Wow, I can’t believe you would have hurt someone like that”.
Of course, the NT clearly tells us that we are no longer guilty before God when we have accepted Christ.
Romans 3:23-24: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
2 Corinthians 7:10: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
Here are 5 examples of guilting statements:
- “You never seem to make time for me anymore. I guess I’m not important to you.”
- “If you really cared about our relationship, you would show up to the group more often.”
- “I can’t believe you didn’t help me with that problem. Now I’ll probably mess it up because of you.”
- “You promised you’d be there for me, but when I needed you the most, you were nowhere to be found.”
- “I did so much for you, and you can’t even be bothered to call or check in on me? You must not appreciate anything I do.”
Judging/ Condemning: Judgment can get a little tricky. We must understand how to judge correctly as a mentor. We can judge only two things when working with those we disciple, who they are as a person and their individual behaviors.
As the leader of your disciple, you are not to pass judgment on the person. Because Christ makes all believers clean in Salvation, we are NEVER to judge someone as unworthy, or unchristian. This type of judgment can be common in some works-based theological systems. Judging an individual as less than or not good enough because they did not live up to a works-based standard will quickly bring about shame in the heart of your disciple. They will then begin to isolate themselves from your leadership.
Here are some verses on judgment:
Romans 2:1: “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”
Matthew 7:3-5: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
John 8:7: “When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.'”
While the New Testament clearly explains that judgment of the individual should be left to God, we are called to be fruit inspectors of other believers. It is your job to judge the behaviors of your disciples and help them to understand what is acceptable and what is not acceptable behavior. This is different from judgment on them as an individual.
You can judge correctly by using phrases that show your love for the person but that you disagree with the sin.
“I want you to know that I love you and care deeply. I also think you are very brave for being so open with me. At the same time, you shared with me that you chose to ___________, and I want to share with you what the Bible says about this type of behavior… From now on, I want to hold you accountable for this type of behavior so you can overcome it. I also want you to know that I don’t think this type of behavior is who you are and that I believe you are fully capable of overcoming it. Why don’t we discuss some strategies you can use to make sure you don’t find yourself in that situation again…”
A skilled mentor will learn the details of the life of their disciple as the disciple builds the trust to share their innermost secrets. As you take in the new revelations about your disciple’s life, listen and give positive affirmation to your disciple. You should not express shock or horror upon hearing about the past sins or current secret sins of your disciple. The world is an ugly place and people do ugly things. That’s life. You need to be prepared to hear ANYTHING. When you do hear it, you have to recognize that your disciple is sharing it because they want a better life where they are healed from what they have shared.
If you respond at that moment with shame or judgment (even if it’s just a facial expression), your disciple will feel deeply betrayed and shut down that part of their life. I have personally had numerous conversations with people who have refused to share with Christians for decades because of the pain caused in situations exactly like this. Many people will never again share their pain or insufficiencies with a Christian.
This singular scenario runs a high risk of condemning the (former) disciple to a life trapped inside themselves to deal with their sins alone.
In the next section, we will look at the proper way to respond with healthy, Godly communication when those who disciple under you begin to share difficult truths about their lives.
Healthy Discipleship Communication Process
Responding appropriately to your disciple when they begin to share about their past or current struggles is of the utmost importance. It is also incredibly difficult to do. When your disciple shares with you, you should respond in the following way:
Step 1- Respond With Acceptance & Approval: If you want your disciples to be authentic and undergo real growth, they have to keep airing out their dirty laundry until it has all come out.
That means they need to feel safe enough to keep sharing with you. This means you need to encourage your disciple when they choose to share something difficult. When your disciple says something that reveals an inner struggle, respond with something like:
Response: “I’m sure that was a very difficult thing to share and I appreciate your willingness to be honest about it with me.”
The response above is non-judgemental and empathetic.
It says that the other person is safe with what they have shared with you.
This is easy to read and understand, but when someone shares something real and raw (i.e., “I cheated on my spouse 5 years ago and haven’t ever told them.”) it won’t be so easy to have these words on hand.
Take some time and memorize the response above and practice using it in everyday situations so it’s part of your normal communication tools when you really need it.
Always respond to confessions with acceptance and approval of the person sharing.
Step 2- Affirm the Identity of your Disciple: In step two of your response, it’s important that you recognize that your disciple is no longer identified with their sins and shortcomings. When they accepted Christ, they were washed clean and made new in Christ’s image. They are now a new creation.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
Your disciple’s identity is now a son or daughter of the most high God. Remember this as you speak to them because as those in the position of authority, we are held accountable for our response. If one of our disciples leaves the faith because we have shamed, guilted, or judged them, we will be held accountable. It’s important that you affirm the true identity of your disciple when they share something difficult with you.
Check out this response as an example:
Response: “Before we talk about how to overcome what you shared, I first want you to know that THIS DOES NOT DEFINE WHO YOU ARE. You are a child of God. You are made clean and righteous through Jesus. You are forgiven by God and so you’re forgiven by me too. The very fact that you shared this makes you courageous and strong. It tells me that you are ready to be free of this. This is junk left over from your old way of living and we’re going to get rid of it together.”
Responding in a way that helps your disciple separate their mistakes from who they truly are will eliminate shame from the growth equations. If your disciple feels shame, they will not be able to grow in any meaningful way. Shame is the emotion that is intended to cue people to ostracize and isolate themselves, and that is counterproductive to discipleship.
Step 3: Find the Root of the Issue: Once you have thanked your disciple for sharing with you and affirmed their identity, it’s time to find the root of the problem. Explore the problem with your disciple. Ask them lots of questions to better understand the situation. You can only help them overcome their problem if you understand the root of the problem.
Ask questions like:
- When do you feel tempted to engage in that behavior?
- When do you feel most out of control?
- Why do you think you began doing this in the first place?
- Who are you around when you engage in this behavior the most?
- What are you doing when you feel triggered or tempted to do the behavior?
- How long has this been happening?
- When did it start?
- What was the reason it started?
- Where does this behavior take place and why?
You may discover that the issue began shortly after a loved one died and they never properly grieved the loss. Maybe you will discover that it’s rooted in anger toward someone who harmed them in their childhood church.
I have personally heard both of these scenarios. You cannot help them grieve a loss or forgive a wrong until that root is identified. You cannot identify it until you completely understand the context of the problem. This means you need to be comfortable sitting in the situation with your disciple and asking as many questions as is necessary to identify where the problem stems from.
This may feel dirty and gross if you are unfamiliar with these types of conversations, but life is dirty and gross and you must get comfortable with dealing with life if you hope to have any meaningful influence on those who sit under you. Once you have discovered the root of the issue, it’s time to begin healing.
Step 4- Action Steps: After you and your disciple feel you have discovered the root of the issue can we begin making a plan to overcome the problem. You can let them know that going forward you will hold them accountable for this behavior and that it’s no longer going to be acceptable. Don’t spend too much time here as you don’t want them to feel condemned. They already know that the behavior isn’t acceptable. Let your disciple know that their accountability will be based on how they perform specific steps that you give them. Each time you meet, they are to share with you how they have been doing on the specific task(s) you have assigned them in their healing process. (If you are unaware of how to solve a specific problem in the life of a disciple, consult someone who does and get action steps from them.)
The purpose of the action steps is to break down the entire healing process into manageable bite-sized slices. Each step should be intended to teach an individual lesson in the larger healing process.
Suppose your disciple says they have been a terrible father and they want to turn things around, but they have never seen Godly fatherhood modeled and they have no idea how to do this. You must then give practical steps for them to begin walking this journey. None can learn all the skills a Godly father might use immediately.
Start with the easiest actions for them to work on and master.
Here are a few examples of beginner-level tasks/ habits your disciple may need to learn:
Action: Every time you think about X, I want you to immediately reject that thought and think Y instead.
Action: I want you to go home, genuinely apologize to X, and ask for their forgiveness. Then tell them you will be making permanent changes to the situation.
Action: If the problem begins when you are alone, I want you to avoid being alone as much as possible. If you must be alone, do not be idle, find something productive to focus on.
When your disciple meets with you, ask them to share honestly about how they performed according to the specific actions you prescribed for them to take.
When they begin to share about how things are going, start back at Step 1- Respond With Acceptance & Approval. Repeat this process as many times as it takes to complete the healing process.
Organizational Vs Relational Discipleship
In our modern culture, we have many false beliefs about discipleship, how it happens and where it takes place. One of these beliefs is that discipleship takes place in a church building, through Sunday services, Sunday school and Wednesday night prayer service.
Our modern culture has led many to believe in a more organizational view of discipleship. This organizational view of discipleship where we show up and sit in an impersonal lecture is not how we see discipleship modeled in scripture. This is not to say that having corporate teaching is bad in any way, it’s just not discipleship.
Discipleship is what happens when we sit and learn under someone in our everyday life who pours into us specifically. They hold us accountable and give us tasks to perform in our own lives.
They may tell us to apply what we have learned from them by doing XYZ. Just as Jesus lived and spent his time with his 12 disciples, our understanding of discipleship should be deeply rooted in personal relationships.
“While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. 4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all. 8 Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. 9 But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.”
– Acts 19:1-10
The passage above said Paul spoke in the synagogue, arguing persuasively for the Gospel – but he was rejected. So instead he went away and spent two years meeting every day with his disciples. There is a distinction shown in this passage between preaching at church and spending time with your disciples.
This passage says that Paul had discussions daily with his disciples for two years. When Paul realized that preaching would reach the community, he then attempted to train up and mobilize his disciples (i.e., educate, equip, and deploy) to impact their own spheres of influence.
This passage demonstrates the enormous benefit of training others to evangelize rather than trying to evangelize to everyone on our own. Reaching every person in a province with the gospel took the collective efforts of the fully educated believers who “graduated” from the school of Tyrannus over the course of two years, something the apostle Paul was never able to do alone over the course of his life.
As you can see, Paul was not doing a once-a-week sermon for his disciples. Paul was personally involved in an intensive, everyday training process. He was doing life with his disciples just as Jesus did life with the 12.
This does not mean that the organizational ministry is ‘bad’ in any way, it just means that most organizational ministries today do not have relational discipleship systems built into them (more on this later).
Discipleship Vs Church Attendance
Being a member of a church or attending a weekly Sunday service does not necessarily mean someone is being discipled. Many people attend Sunday services and go directly back to living an ungodly life with no accountability on Monday.
As we have seen already, true discipleship is not just a check in the box of church attendance or membership. Real discipleship is a way of life.
The people who showed up to the sermons on the mount, the 4,000 and the 5,000 are never referred to as disciples of Jesus even though they showed up to hear him speak. The disciples are those who chose to give up the comforts of their own lives to train, study and live under the guidance of Jesus every day.
This is not easy to do in today’s world because most churches don’t have any discipleship groups to offer those who attend their ministries.
In many cases, this means it is on you and me to be looking around at the people in our own lives to find those who are qualified to disciple us, and to find those whom we can disciple.
Many people under discipleship go to church, but not everyone that goes to church is being discipled.
Discipleship Vs Church Volunteers
Just because someone is a volunteer at a local ministry does not necessarily mean someone is being discipled.
In the New Testament, the disciples sacrificed their limited resources (time, energy, attention, finances, etc) to study under Jesus. They left their day jobs and spent their time with him every day. They paid attention to his teaching and then applied that teaching. They spent their energy going out on missionary journeys.
In return for this sacrifice, Jesus also sacrificed his resources (time, energy, attention, finances, etc) for his disciples. Jesus lived with them. He taught, trained, and equipped them. He focused on how to resolve their problems like mature believers.
Jesus accepted the sacrifice his disciples made and returned it and more in the sacrifice he made to be with them.
True discipleship is done through two-way commitment & and sacrifice.
In the church today, we often expect church attendees to do their ‘godly duty’ to volunteer time so that the church can go and help someone who needs it more than the volunteer does.
Ministry leaders can often be heard quoting the passage from Malachi 3:10 to justify this type of ministry.
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”
This same verse is also used for tithes and offerings.
The financial message many churches preach is, “Give financially to the church so that we can give it to other people who need it more than you.”
In the Acts church, we find that the material wealth that was tithed into the church wasn’t just given to people “out there”. It was given right back to those who are in the church.
“And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.”
– Acts 4:33b-35
I recently learned that a woman I know who had been attending and tying into a church for many years. Due to unforeseen circumstances outside of her control, she had fallen on hard times. When she went into the church to request help with the situation, they said there was nothing they could do for her because all of their funds were already allocated to a certain group of people who did not even attend the church.
This is a great example of the “you give to us so we can give to anyone but you” mentality that permeates many Christian ministries.
In the New Testament, the church redistributed their funds to those inside the church to the point that no one had need. Jesus and Paul sacrificed their own time and resources to give back to the disciples who were committed to them.
Ministry leaders are meant to serve those who volunteer just as much (if not more) than their volunteers serve them. And this is what we see in the life of Jesus. Jesus set the standard with how he served his disciples. The disciples did not set the standard in how they served Jesus, even though they served him a lot!
A more biblical model of discipleship in Christian churches might include the leadership team serving their volunteers by giving them exclusive access to teaching, training, and other resources that the church’s general audience doesn’t get access to (but we will discuss a functional church discipleship model in a later section).
Many disciples volunteer at their church, but not all volunteers are being discipled. I would venture to say that the majority of volunteers are not being discipled.
How to Find Someone To Disciple You
If you are looking for someone to disciple you in your Christian faith, look for someone who is living a Godly life which is evident through the results you can measure.
- Look for someone that is respected within their Christian community
- Look for someone who’s family is intact, and healthy.
- Look for someone who is close with their children and spouse.
- Look for someone who is themselves under discipleship and who has an active, healthy Christian friend group.
- Look for someone who is moving in a direction in life that you also want to move in. (I own a Christian Marketing firm and my mentor is a dedicated Christian who owns a marketing firm larger than my own.)
If you want a mentor who helps you to live the life God has called you to, only allow yourself to be mentored by someone who can show the evidence they have successfully walked the path you are on.
The basic idea here is “Don’t get health and wellness advice from someone who is overweight”.
Only the people who are victoriously living the life you want for yourself are qualified to lead you into that sort of life.
In the next section, we will be talking about why people are leaving Christian churches as a result of poor discipleship, and how ministry leaders can change this phenomenon.
Church Hurt & Discipleship Failure
After growing up in youth group, going to four years of ministry college to become a pastor, spending a few years in ministry, and having consulted with countless pastors, I have come to see a pattern in Christian ministries that can help to explain one of the main reasons you may be on the never-ending treadmill of trying to replace the loss of volunteers and church members.
If your ministry has a “bigger back door than your front door” as they say, then this next part is for you.
The majority of ministry leaders and pastors today are not allocating ministry resources in a Biblical way.
For example, if you were to look at your ministry’s budget right now, you would most likely find a grossly disproportionate amount of ministry finances being set aside for activities that increase the number of people attending your church compared to the budget set aside to discipling those who are already committed to your church.
This means your budget allocated to things like events, greeters and Sunday morning welcome booths, Sunday morning snacks, outreach events, and outreach ministries is probably larger than say your volunteer training budget.
“A volunteer training what?”, you ask.
That is exactly the problem.
While Jesus did speak at large events (like the sermon on the mount), this accounted for a small fraction of his ‘budget’. He spent the vast majority of his ministry resources preparing the 12 disciples.
Let’s look at how Jesus organized the resources he spent on those in and around his ministry to better understand this.
Jesus expended his resources (time, energy, attention, finances, etc) on people in this order:
- The 3: Jesus spent the largest amount of resources on the 3; Peter, James & John.
- The 12: The next largest amount of time, energy, and effort was spent on the 12 Disciples.
- The 72: Then Jesus spent time teaching and training the 72.
- The Masses: Jesus spent the least amount of time on the masses.
The Masses: While Jesus loved the masses, the people in the crowds ultimately got less personalized teaching and training from Jesus. The masses committed to Jesus the least. They showed up for a free snack and listened to a sermon. They came for healing and then went home.
Like at the sermon on the mount, Jesus teaches these people how to live a Godly life in the occasional sermon, then He dismisses them – much like you dismiss Sunday Service.
Jesus would explain in parables to the crowd and further explain to his disciples the meaning when they were alone.
Jesus committed the least resources to the masses that followed him. He even tried to get away from them to rest! (The masses don’t give back to you, the masses will only take from your ministry.)
When Jesus did call someone in the masses to follow Him, he asked them to leave everything behind to follow him.
To those who refused to take the necessary action (like the rich young ruler), Jesus unapologetically went on his way without them.
Jesus did not chase the rich young ruler and plead with him to “come to church”, or put on an expensive event to get his attention back.
Jesus invested only a small amount of resources into the masses and required that someone sacrifice to follow him. Only then would he increase the amount of resources he invested into them.
The 72: Jesus expended more of His resources on the 72, appointing, teaching, and training them than he spent with the masses. The 72 were willing to sacrifice more of their time, effort, and energy with Jesus than the masses were.
Jesus asks the 72 to commit more to his ministry than he asked of the masses. Said another way, Jesus asked them to sacrifice more for his ministry than he asked of the masses.
Commitment & Sacrifice are Synonyms
If you aren’t asking those you are disciplining to sacrifice/commit on a higher level than the masses, you are doing ministry the way Jesus did. You are also disincentivizing your audience from any meaningful commitment to your ministry.
Jesus prepared the seventy-two and gave them a task that required a higher level of faith, sacrifice, and commitment than he asked of the masse..
“Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals…”
This would have been a scary call to action for the 72. It would have been a leap of faith for them to embark upon this mission.
Jesus prepared them by investing into them his time, energy, and effort and asked them to sacrifice/commit equally.
The 12: Jesus’ committed and sacrificed even more resources to the 12 than to the 72 or the masses.
Jesus spent his life, day and night teaching and training the twelve.
He is ultimately preparing them to take over the advancement of His church.
We know that Jesus taught more to the 12 than to the masses and the 72 as it is indicated in the passage below:
“While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”
When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, “‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.’
“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” Luke 4-14
In the passage above, we see that Jesus is explaining more to his disciples than to the other people who only got to access his teaching in terms of parables.
Like Jesus invested more into the 12, the 12 also committed and sacrificed to Jesus more than the 72 and the masses. (The 12 would ultimately sacrifice their lives for the Church – and Jesus’ ministry).
This is in line with Jesus teaching when he said:
“The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12:47-48
Jesus expected more from those who were most committed to him.
After Jesus had prepared the 12, he sent them out on a task that would require even more faith than what was required of the 72.
“Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits. These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts.” Mark 6:7-8
“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff.” Matthew 10:9-10
While He had asked the 72 not to take money, a purse, or sandals, He asked the 12 disciples to go with nothing but the clothes on their back!
When Jesus made a greater commitment to the disciples, He also required more sacrifices from them.
The 3: Finally, Jesus committed the most to the 3: Peter, James, and John.
They were the only ones He took to the transfiguration on the Mount, where they received exclusive insight into Jesus’ life and identity.
Of course, the 3 didn’t get extra commitment from Jesus for free. They were ultimately given more responsibility than the other Disciples – they were asked to make a greater commitment with greater sacrifices.
The image below is how your church should be ordering your resources like time, money, energy, effort, training, teaching, discipleship, etc.
When you allocate the majority of your ministry resources to the masses, you are basically throwing pearls to swine. Don’t make your greatest commitment to those who are the least committed to you.
Instead, increase the amount of resources you give as church members increase their commitment to you. This will be an incentive for new churchgoers to get involved in your ministry if they wish to get more of your time.
So let’s wrap this back around to where we started.
Why do volunteers keep burning out of your ministry? Why don’t new visitors commit and return over the longer term?
It’s because we are punishing our volunteers in the church for doing the right thing. We show them love, at the front door and get them plugged in. Then as soon as we can, we call them to “serve” in the ministry.
When we say “serve”, what we really mean is, “We want you to give your time and energy to the church, so we can take it and give it to someone else, while also not giving anything back to you. This is not a biblical approach. Jesus didn’t have volunteers from whom he expected free labor. He had disciples to whom he sacrificed just as much as they did.
Your volunteers want to move into the core of your church because they want to be more like their leader in the ministry. Nobody wants to volunteer to take out the trash at your ministry. They want to be discipled and discover how to be the kind of person who can do this with a servant’s heart. Your audience wants to follow you as you follow Christ – not be a door greeter for the next 20 years.
When we recruit volunteers and churchgoers instead of recruiting disciples, we have missed the most important part of the relationship with those who attend our church. We remove the continual growth they need and replace it with a stagnant volunteer position.
If you want to incentivize the people in your ministry to commit and grow, figure out how to incentivize commitment like Jesus did.
Jesus called lowly fishermen and tax collectors to disciple under him just as a respected Pharisee or Sadducee would call students. This was a HUGE opportunity for them to change their life.
Make HUGE opportunities for the people going to your ministry to commit to your ministry.
In the next section, we will go over one big way you can create disciples in your church ministry.
If this sounds like your ministry, then you are going to love the next section.
Next, we will be looking at an excellent discipleship solution that you can implement right in your own church.
*If you like this article and want to know more about church growth, check out our post, 10 Most Powerful Church Growth Strategies.
Create A Pastoral Internship (Discipleship) Program
People in your ministry are looking for meaning and purpose in their lives. Many of them are not receiving it from Sunday service which is why tens of millions of people didn’t begin going back to church after the COVID shutdowns. They realized nothing changed when they quit going to church so they didn’t go back when the churches reopened.
This means it’s time to create some real value, and I am going to tell you how. There are people who will be in your Sunday service this week who are unsatisfied with their life and with their careers. They feel that they aren’t making any meaningful impact on the world and they are tired of their job. They want to do something they can be passionate about. They want to do what you do.
Even more accurately, they want to be someone who makes a difference. THEY WANT TO BE YOU. And that is completely Biblical. The word “Christian” literally means little Christ. Pauls says, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”
The person you have become as a leader in ministry is who people in your ministry want to be, and they will trip over themselves and contribute to your ministry and change their lives to meet the requirements to be taught directly by you.
How do I know this works?
Internship Program Case Study: We already tested this Biblical strategy for you. We began offering a digital ministry internship here at Clickmill and we get new intern applicants every week with people willing to commit 20-40 hours a week for 6 months. That’s a MINIMUM of 480 hours of service they are committing to us, but it’s also 480 hours of training we are committing to them. Then we make sure they have references and any other support that we can get to help them get into work with us or other ministries after they complete the program. We even have interns who ask to stay beyond the end of their program to continue working at Clickmill for free because they feel what they are learning is so valuable.
Our Internship Mentality: Also be aware, we are not just “giving back” to our interns because we are creating an excuse to get volunteers to work for us (and neither should you) This is the wrong way of thinking about your disciples. We believe in genuine discipleship where they learn real skills and are fully equipped for life changes when they complete the program. As a church marketing firm, we know how much of a struggle churches have with their marketing. The world needs more skilled Chrisitan who can market the Church, do digital missions and digital evangelism, and it’s our job to teach them and train them because nobody else is going to do it. We make sure to tell them this. We believe God has a powerful purpose for their lives and that he is going to use them to reach countries they don’t even know exist through the internet. That they will be able to create content that brings people to Christ whom they won’t even meet until they get to heaven. That’s a calling and a vision they feel deeply passionate about and they are willing to sacrifice hundreds of hours to see it through. As a matter of fact, by the time you read this paragraph, we will have already received Christian Marketing Internship Applications from people who clicked on the link provided.
If you follow this outline and create a Pastoral Internship Program, you will have disciples who are willing to commit 20-40 hours a week, for 6 months to your church (we had so many internship applications we had to increase our requirements, weekly hours and internship duration to weed enough people out).
*Note: Pastoral Training Program is just a fancy modern way to say, “Discipleship Program”
** Note: Disciples are what you might call volunteers, except in this scenario you are going to reward them for their commitment which does not typically happen with traditional church volunteers.
Here is what the program looks like:
Your Pastoral Internship Program is strictly limited to some number of participants at any given time (let’s say 12). This shouldn’t be much higher than 10 or 12 because it will be difficult to give each intern the attention they need to excel. In addition to this, making the program exclusive will build urgency and positively incentivize people to engage in your ministry so they will meet the requirements to join the program.
The internship participants will be directly invested in by the lead pastor (or whichever pastor they are interning under). The internship participants will receive exclusive access, shadowing the pastor through his daily routine and learning from him directly. Pastoral Interns will learn skills like XY&Z from the pastor and will be given assignments to apply the teaching they learn to the ministry and their lives. Internship students who graduate from the program will be given priority for leadership positions in the church and will be given references from the ministry team for any future ministry positions they pursue.
The pastor should not change anything about his daily routine or schedule. He is to go on as if nothing has changed. Of course, he will at times need to give further explanation as to how he did something or why he did it in a particular way. He may need to debrief with his interns after a significant call, a funeral, or sermon, etc. The goal is for the pastor to replicate himself in his interns in the most sustainable way possible.
Once the interns begin developing a working knowledge of how the pastor operates, they can then begin to take tasks from the pastor so they can further increase their pastoral skills. The pastor will then be checking their work instead of doing it all himself. Over time, the pastor will transition many of his tasks to his internship (discipleship) team which he trusts to do the tasks correctly – because he trained them directly.
Let’s go over some of the specifics you can consider for your pastoral internship program.
Firstly, Create an internship benefits package. These are the exclusive perks that interns will receive when they are accepted into the program. Ground yourself in the needs of your audience and give them as much value as you possibly can.
Internship Benefits Package:
- Interns will get X hours of training under X person per week (The more hours the better but it must be sustainable over time).
- Interns who accel will be given references from the pastor and other relevant ministry leaders.
- Interns will track their hours of experience so that they may be used for references in the future.
- Interns will learn XYZ skills (Sermon Prep, Exegesis, Hermeneutics, How to study the Bible, Public Speaking, Prayer, Leadership, Team Management Skills, etc. (List as many skills as the ministry leader will honestly use during the internship.
Second, you need to list the requirements that potential disciples will need to meet to be accepted into your internship program. The requirements may be more or less stringent based on the size of your audience.
Due to the level of training being given in the program, intern applications will only be considered if the applicant meets the following requirements:
- The applicant can give a minimum of 20 hours per week to the program.
- The applicant can commit to an X month long program (we recommend 6 months)
- The applicant is currently involved in the ministry in XYZ capacity (this incentivizes people to commit to your ministry)
- The applicant is available on XYZ days of the week between XYZ hours.
- The application is currently living to XYZ standards (has no addictions, etc.)
If your benefits package is enticing enough, your audience will be highly motivated to meet the requirements of your program.
Well, that brings us to the end of this post on discipleship.
What did you learn about discipleship that you didn’t know before?
Let us know in the comments.