3 Simple Steps to Discipleship: Step 1
Discipleship is one of those words that means different things to different people. That’s because it’s not actually a word found in the pages of scripture. We are called to “make disciples,” which includes baptizing them and teaching them the things that Jesus taught (Matthew 28:18-20). But the day in day out process of what this looks like is not explicitly defined.
So it’s important that I define for you how I use the word. I’m not saying my definition is more correct than someone else’s, but it’s important that we are on the same page.
While I could spend several paragraphs describing discipleship, here’s the heart of the way I use the word: Discipleship is helping another believer follow Jesus.
A few notes about that definition.
-Some people include evangelism as a part of discipleship. I usually speak of them as separate activities. Evangelism is sharing Jesus with someone, and discipleship is the follow up process of showing them how to grow in their following of Jesus.
-Discipleship happens in the context of relationship. It’s personal and deep and intentional. Teaching is involved but it’s more than a class. Friendship is involved but it’s more than hanging out. It’s a relationship with the explicit purpose of spiritual growth.
-Helping another believer follow Jesus means helping them help others follow Jesus. In other words, discipleship is meant to be multiplying. It’s a season of discipling someone, then sending them out to disciple someone else. I think this is really at the heart of what Jesus meant by make disciples. “Do to others what I did to you.”
Is there more to say? Yes, lots! But my goal here is simplicity. I do think discipleship gets over complicated sometimes and this leads to confusion and inaction. So I want to be as simple and clear as possible to help you start making disciples.
With those notes in mind, here is the first of 3 simple steps to getting started in discipleship.
Step 1: Pick someone.
When Jesus picked his disciples, he spent the entire night before in prayer (Luke 6:12). We should approach our selection of a potential disciple with the same first step. We should pray.
Then we should pick someone. Or better yet, pick a few people. I usually try and disciple 2-4 others at a time, though I’ve discipled one as one well. Discipling multiple people leads to more conversation when you meet and a bigger impact when you finish.
What kind of person should I be looking for? Here’s my strategy. While these tips are not biblical mandates, I have found them to work well in my experience.
You should look for someone who is:
A Christian. Obvious but needs to be stated. You cannot disciple someone who has not trusted in Jesus and made him Lord of their life. What this person needs is to be evangelized by hearing the gospel message. Love these people, build a relationship with them, care for them. But you cannot disciple someone who is not a disciple.
In your church. I have discipled people who attended other churches and even lived in other cities, but it’s much easier to disciple someone you worship with and serve with. Seeing them in that context is important. You get the added bonus of building up your church as you build up another believer.
The same gender. Again, this is not a biblical mandate, but I think discipleship works best when men disciple men and women disciple women. Men and women have different struggles and are usually more comfortable sharing about those struggles with their fellow gender.
Younger than you. Titus 2 speaks of the value of investing in those who are younger than you. This seems to be a good pattern in my experience. They don’t have to be much younger, but the Disciple/Disciple-Maker relationship is more natural when the leader is older and/or has more experience following Jesus.
Teachable. This could be the most important thing. You cannot disciple someone who doesn’t want to be discipled. Trust me, I’ve tried. The person you disciple must have a desire to grow in the Lord. They must be willing to listen, receive correction, and live out what they are taught.
Committed. People today are busier than ever. It’s hard to ask someone to give you one hour of their time every week to meet. So if they are not willing to make that commitment up front, they are not a good candidate for discipleship.
Again, these are principles that have worked well for me! If you are discipling someone who is a decade older than you, or someone who attends another church, that doesn’t mean it’s not discipleship.
And notice what I didn’t list. I didn’t say you need to find someone who is a strong Christian, or someone who is outgoing, or someone who is influential, or someone who has potential, or someone who you really like, or someone you bond well with.
What sort of disciples did Jesus choose? That’s the model. I’ve been guilty of trying to disciple people who I considered “important.” If Jesus had used that method, you and I would not have made the cut.
The key is to simply pick someone. Don’t overthink it. Use your best judgment. Pray about it. Then step out and ask. Usually I say something like, “Would you be willing to be a part of my discipleship group? It’s one hour a week of studying the Bible and growing together."