Methods, approaches, and styles change over time. Different strategies work in different seasons. Trends in ministry come and go. Yet I wonder: among all the change, what stays the same? As the culture shifts and changes around us, what proven principles remain firm and reliable? Applying those principles to discipleship methodologies can help your church grow more and better disciples. So, what are discipleship principles?
“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” —Isaiah 40:8
6 Principles of Discipleship
When you study the way Christ discipled his followers, a pattern emerges. He applied different methods but the heart and purpose—the principles—behind the method is consistent. These are the principles behind discipleship:
- Discipleship is personal. It’s always tailored and customized to the individual and their own unique journey of growth. Their path of discipleship must fit them… otherwise it’s like David in Saul’s armor.
- Discipleship is relational. It’s always done in connection with other people: never alone. One can never disciple oneself.
- Discipleship is intentional. It’s never accidental, but on-purpose. There is a direction and flow of energy in that direction: toward fullness in Christ.
- Discipleship is consistent. It’s constant over time, not one-and-done. “A long obedience in the same direction,” as Eugene Peterson put it.
- Discipleship is Spirit-led. The Holy Spirit must lead the process because we don’t know ahead of time where he wants to take us or what specifically he wants us to do. There is no prefab template to follow; what we need to follow is the in-the-moment leading of the Holy Spirit.
- Discipleship is outcome-focused. Obedience takes precedence over knowledge as we move more and more towards forming the character of Christ and the following the mission of Christ. What matters is what we do with it.
Consider: can you find any exceptions? Any instances in which the above items were not an essential component of discipleship?
Methodologies Measured by Principles
Principles never change. Methods can and should change. If you are doing discipleship the way it’s always been done or you are not experiencing growth, it’s time to take a hard look at effectiveness of your discipleship methods. People change. Cultures change. Context changes. If you are serious about living out the Great Commission, you have to ensure your discipleship methods are effectively reaching your community.
Take an honest look at your current discipleship methodologies by holding them up to the timeless principles. Here are some examples of low, average, and high effectiveness in each principle. Where does your discipleship program land?
Discipleship is personal.
- (L) If people are involved in our ministries we assume that they are growing as disciples.
- (A) We have a linear discipleship program. Everyone starts in the same place and follows the same path.
- (H) We meet people where they are at and help them determine and take their next best step toward Jesus.
Discipleship is relational.
- (L) We don’t have intentional, personal discipleship conversations.
- (A) We have some mature Christians who meet one-on-one to disciple others.
- (H) Our congregants have healthy relationships inside and outside of the church. People are growing as disciples while making more disciples.
Discipleship is intentional.
- (L) We seek to address discipleship needs through sermons and curriculum.
- (A) A high percentage of our people attend a small group.
- (H) We equip people to discern and live into their gifts and calling.
Discipleship is consistent.
- (L) Discipleship relationships tend to fall apart without ongoing staff involvement.
- (A) Our church has rhythms for classes and small groups that address discipleship.
- (H) We continually help people engage in their spiritual formation and build redemptive relationships.
Discipleship is Spirit-led.
- (L) We stick to a curriculum based approach to discipleship.
- (A) When the Spirit provides a word that directly speaks to someone we don’t follow up on it.
- (H) We discern the promptings of the Holy Spirit and maintain focus until the vision becomes reality.
Discipleship is outcome-focused.
- (L) Church is a come and see model. We provide solid biblical teaching for those who enter our doors.
- (A) We have a solid mission statement but only a few are actively engaged pursuing that mission.
- (H) We have stated goals and objectives that relate directly to the Great Commandments and Great Commission. We regularly assess our methodologies and adapt them for greater effectiveness.
Principle-based Discipleship Programs
Where did you come out? A good way to check your answers is to measure the overall fruit produced. If you landed on the Low side, your church has likely plateaued or even experiencing slow decline. If you determined you are Average, you likely have a solid core group of people who are close to one another. Growth is slow and mostly church transfers. However, if you are seeing new people come to Christ and people are experiencing lasting transformation, it’s safe to confirm you are indeed on the High end of discipleship programming.
Wherever you land, it’s always good to make sure your methods—and your people—are solidly formed in discipleship principles.
In what ways can you ensure that each of the principles listed above remains present and central in the discipleship process used by your ministry? What methods or trends are you including in your discipleship process are no longer working? How can you better connect them to the discipleship principles?
The Discipleship Difference– Are you frustrated with your discipleship efforts? Are you noticing an imbalance between personal growth as a disciple and passing it on? The Discipleship Difference lays out an intentional, holistic, and relational approach to discipleship. It is simple in structure and flexible enough to meet each person wherever they are and help them take their next best step in their relationship with God.
Guide for Discipling- Ready for serious growth as a disciple of Christ? This scripture-based guide will challenge you to take the next steps. This nonlinear guide is great for personal study but better done in community with others. Grab a couple of people to walk through this guide together to experience transformation. Available for the Lutheran, Vineyard, and Episcopal church cultures as well.