This blog post is adapted from an excerpt from my latest book, The Church Planting Journey.
In any healthy ministry, there needs to be a strategy in place for passing discipleship along from one person to the next. Here I cover a few of my most important recommendations and options for discipleship processes.
Make the method easy to pass on
Whatever type of system or approach you take, ensure that it’s something easy to pass on. You need a simple, reproducible disciplemaking process. You can create your own process, or you can borrow one of the following options.
Focused discipleship conversations:
Any discipling relationship must be intentional and developmental, with both an inward and outward focus: 1) helping people celebrate where they’re at, 2) listening to God together to pinpoint where he may want them to grow, and 3) thinking about how they can disciple and serve others outside of themselves.
Another option designed for two to four people is the LTG. I’ve found it to be a helpful way to empower ordinary people to make disciples (free downloadable handout). These groups meet weekly to challenge each other in the reading of Scripture and for accountability in life choices:
• Describe your interaction with God this week.
• How did you share Jesus with others?
• What temptations did you face this week? How did you respond?
• What did the Holy Spirit teach you through your Scripture reading this week?
• What next steps does God want you to take personally? With others?
As Jesus discipled people, he expected that there discipleship would touch all aspects of their life, relationships, and even society as a whole. Along with Dr. Charles Ridley, we developed a picture of what a disciple looks like:
• Experiencing God
• Spiritual responsiveness
• Sacrificial service
• Generous living
• Personal transformation
• Authentic relationships
• Community transformation
There are 40 guides can be used as a resource for focused discipleship conversations, or in a peer discipling group. People can read Scripture together, pray together, and ask one another questions about their growth (Hebrews 10:24–25). You can download the free overview and a sample guide here.
This study has a simple structure with three basic parts. The first is connection, thanksgiving, and prayer. The second is reading and engagement with Scripture. The third is committing to living in obedience in response to what you’re hearing and learning. Check out the details here.
There are many, many others…
Precisely which discipleship processes you use doesn’t matter, as long as it includes both an inward and an outward journey—a way of personal growth and a way of reaching out to others. Choose one that is simple enough to be reproducible, but flexible enough that people don’t feel forced into a mold.
Pitfalls to avoid
Avoid the temptation to scatter your efforts. To be effective, just start with one—or maybe two—approaches that work. When you have too many options and too many activities, it’s easy to overwhelm a newcomer or a new believer. They may try to attend everything rather than focusing in on one thing that will facilitate growth and outreach.
Also, while curriculum can be helpful initially, there are also risks to becoming curriculum-dependent. It can feel intimidating to laypeople if it’s too complex to pass on. It can also be viewed as a course or class that, once completed, is never revisited. You’ll need something transferable, ongoing, and relational. You also need something flexible enough to allow people to listen to the Holy Spirit—sometimes people need to address issues in a different sequence than traditional curriculum allows.
Listening to the Holy Spirit and responding in loving obedience—that is the essence of discipleship. We tend to give people more direction when they’re younger in the faith and less when they’re more mature, but we want to encourage people to take responsibility for their own growth at all times. We are not “gurus” —everyone is on this journey together.
Good discipleship processes focus more on facilitating the reproduction of the message than about teaching specific information. The responsibility goes beyond one generation:
You then, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus; 2 and what
you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people
who will be able to teach others as well. (2 Timothy 2:1–2)
Consider what type of simple and reproducible method you might use to create a disciplemaking pathway that moves people from not knowing Jesus to following and helping others follow Jesus.
The Church Planting Journey- This newly released book is a comprehensive guide for the church planter. It is the culmination of experience that includes being a church planter myself, and coaching and consulting church planters for more than 40 years. Within the pages of The Church Planting Journey, you will find wisdom, systems, and processes that can help you launch well as well as sustain your unique vision and call.
The Discipleship Difference- This book lays out an intentional, holistic, and relational approach to discipleship that is individualized to meet each person wherever they are.
Finding the Flow Small Group Leader Training: Training your leaders to listen well, recognize the Holy Spirit at work in people, and respond accordingly is an essential component to all discipleship processes. Adapted from the book, Finding the Flow, this downloadable training kit maximizes your small group leader training, equipping facilitators for a myriad of circumstances.