By Paul Worcester
Whether you’re in charge of a discipleship ministry at your church or you’re personally discipling someone one on one, we’re all prone to make missteps in building these relationships for the gain of community and spiritual maturity.
Here are a few of the most common mistakes—and how to correct them.
1. BEING ALL BUSINESS OR ALL FUN
Disciple making that is most effective is both intentional and relational. However, not all discipleship relationships require the same amount of relational time together.
When Max Barnett discipled my brother David and me, he met with us once a week and was very down to business during our time together. He was a 75-year-old man, and we were a couple of skater punks. However what Max did with us in those intentional meetings completely changed my life.
Max would invite us to do work projects at his house or ride in his car on the way to conferences he was speaking at. The things I carry with me to this day, though, were those simple meetings in his office talking about Scripture memory and discussing Born to Reproduce.
From my experience, most people need a solid dose of intentionality in their lives. Let’s give it to them. Here is a good guide for our discipleship:
“Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” —Colossians 1:28–29.
Jesus is the focus. Teaching is the task. Maturity is our goal. God’s Spirit is the life changer. We’re here to do something: to help people make progress toward Christ and to multiply.
In lots of meetings with the guys I’m discipling there is not a ton of sharing our hearts or small talk. If the relationship is solid, you can often jump right into the nitty-gritty of helping them take their next step in following Jesus.
When thinking of building a deeper relationship with the person you are discipling, think of doing things together outside of your weekly discipleship meetings if possible.
Some ideas for being more intentional:
- Keep a discipleship journal.
- Regularly ask questions that will help you assess where they are and how you can help them. Questions I regularly ask are “What is one aspect of your character that you need to grow in most right now?”, “What is one skill you would like to develop in order to serve God more effectively?”, and “What is your next step if you are going to have a personal ministry that multiplies disciples?”
- Use “cross training.” Get them around wise and godly men and women who can influence them and give specific help in various areas of life.
- Use books, discipleship lessons and other resources. Max Barnett said, “It’s not what you can teach them. It’s what you can get them to learn.”
- Pray for them every day. You will be amazed at how God will give you ideas as you labor for them in prayer.
Discipleship is more caught than taught. Jesus modeled the most effective form of disciple making by giving us what is commonly known as the “with him principle” based on, “and he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach” (Mark 3:14).
Jesus spent three years with these twelve men showing them how to live and lead in the kingdom. He took his disciples “with him” as he broadly sowed the gospel.
In The Master Plan of Evangelism Robert Coleman made this observation:
“Having called his men, Jesus made a practice of being with them. This was the essence of his training program—just letting his disciples follow him. It is good to tell people what we mean, but it is infinitely better to show them. People are looking for a demonstration, not an explanation. One living sermon is worth a hundred explanations.”
The most effective form of discipleship training is “Monkey See, Monkey Do” training.
As essential as living the life in front of them is, it is not enough. You must explain the biblical basis for the steps of faith you are taking. Christopher Adsit wrote Personal Disciple Making, “It may be true that some things are better caught than taught, but other things must be taught before they can be caught.”
Discipleship must contain both authentic relationship and systematic biblical training.
If you take a shortcut in either area you will struggle to produce fruitful disciples who will make disciples.
Some Ideas for Building a Deeper Relationship With Those You Disciple:
- Invite them over for a meal.
- Take them on road trips.
- Ask them to do everyday life stuff with you: Study, shop, cook, etc.
- Take an interest in their hobbies, and include them in yours.
- Go on a summer missions trip together. “Come with me” is way more powerful than “You should go.”
- Labor among the lost with them. Nothing will help your relationship grow more than working together to share Christ with unbelievers.
2. NOT PRACTICING BIBLICAL CORRECTION OR CALLING PEOPLE TO DEEPER COMMITMENT TO CHRIST
“He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue.” —Proverbs 28:23
You want to create a culture in your discipleship relationships which allows you to speak into their lives and give correction in a gentle manner. My goal is to give correction in the kindest manner I can according to the magnitude of the mistake or sin.
“For you know that we treated each of you as a father treats his own children.” —1 Thessalonians 2:11
Being a parent, I am constantly saying no to my kids and disciplining them. We also have a ton of fun together, and I am teaching them a lot of things.
“Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” —Proverbs 13:24
Now to be clear this verse is about actual parenting. However, as a discipler you have a relatively parental role. I would say if you never correct those you disciple, you don’t love them. If you love those you disciple, you will tell them the truth.
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed about by the waves and carried around by every wind of teaching and by the clever cunning of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ himself, who is the head.” —Ephesians 4:14–15
We must speak the truth in love to those in whom we invest. They will never grow to be who they need to be without it. Most of it can be done in a very gentle way, but there are certainly times you need to shoot straight with people.
“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” —1 Thessalonians 5:14
This passage gives a great grid when working with people. Admonish the idle. This is very common problem. So many people are passive. They need to be admonished not to waste their lives.
Are you too “nice” with those you disciple? How can you grow in your ability to kindly correct them?
3. HIDING YOUR STRUGGLES OR GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS
“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” —1 Corinthians 11:1
Can you say this to those you meet with? If not, why not?
“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” —Philippians 4:19
“You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” —2 Timothy 3:10–12.
What stands out to you from these passages? How does it relate to discipleship?
Because you want to model an authentic Christian life for those you lead, it’s also important that you model for them how to struggle. It’s important to be appropriately honest with those you disciple about the struggles you have following Jesus.
Sometimes people are more encouraged by your struggles than your victories.
The other day I was meeting with a guy and I told a story of an epic failure of mine that resulted in some bad consequences. I think it helped him more than just hearing my victories or advice. Sometimes you can encourage people with your failures just as much as your victories.
As you grow in leadership and discipling people, you should never settle into a “business as usual” mindset or lose the reason you are doing what you are doing. We must strive to keep our zeal in serving the Lord at 100 percent (Rom 12:11).
All my life I have been super competitive in sports and other areas of life. It was easy for me to transfer that competitiveness to ministry. God had to do some work in my life to help me overcome this temptation.
What helped was focusing on the reason we are doing what we are doing: Love. We want all we do to be focused on loving God and loving people.
PAUL WORCESTER (@PaulWorcester) and his wife Christy lead Christian Challenge at California State University, Chico, where they passionately seek to introduce college students to Jesus and become multiplying disciples.
Paul is the author of Tips for Starting a College Ministry and the co-author of the new edition of The Fuel and The Flame with Steve Shadrach. This article, adapted and used with permission, appeared on OutreachMagazine.com.