“Discipling” someone is, to use a more recognizable term, mentoring someone in how to follow Christ and share the good news that people can have a relationship with God. It is an exciting process to be a part of because you get to help another person grow in their faith. Not only that, but when you disciple someone, you grow in your own faith and get to create a unique bond with the person you disciple. It is a step of faith to disciple another person.
“Disciple” means “student.” All followers of Christ are disciples of Christ if they seek to learn from Him and about Him. You can do this by reading your Bible, praying, or finding a church to belong to. But disciples of Jesus also need others to help them along their spiritual journeys. That’s where an intentional discipleship relationship comes in. Someone who is mentored by another Christian in how to follow Christ and share the good news that people can have a relationship with God is called a “disciple.”
Jesus led His own ministry by discipling people. In fact, one of the last things Jesus said to His followers was, “Go and make disciples” (Matt 28:19, New International Version). I would imagine they were eager and willing to follow through, but I wonder if some of them thought, “How do we do that?” This is a question many are asking today.
When Jesus commissioned His followers to “make disciples,” He was asking them to do a wide range of things that Jesus followers still do today, including evangelism, teaching, preaching and other kinds of ministry. When Jesus followers talk about “discipling” someone, they often mean the kind of close, personal mentoring that Jesus had with the 12 in particular. This page lays out for you what it means to disciple someone like this and what practical steps you can take.
Discipling is an adventure. Welcome to the journey.
Discipling someone is something every Jesus follower can do. How can you incorporate it into your life? Start by understanding what it means.
To disciple someone is to spend dedicated time with, pray for, build a friendship with and intentionally teach them how to grow in their faith. Typically, a discipling relationship will have one person who has been a Christian for a longer time mentoring someone who has been a Christian for a shorter time. It’s a strategy God created to help humans build relationships with Him. He knows that we need community to grow; we cannot do that on our own.
If you would like a more comprehensive understanding of discipleship, read “What is Discipleship?”
The Bible is full of many different stories of discipleship. Three verses in particular help explain what it means.
1. “I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15, NIV)
Jesus said these words to His own disciples. He had 12 friends He spent the majority of His time with, and He taught them everything they needed to know to have a relationship with God. It is pretty amazing to think that everything Jesus learned from God the Father, He taught to His friends. This is an important part of discipleship: Disciplers make God and the gospel clear to their disciples. How can you pass on to your disciple the things God has taught you?
2. “[Jesus] also told them a parable: ‘Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.’” (Luke 6:39-40, English Standard Version)
The 12 men Jesus invested in had to work through many problems. They were filled with anger, self-righteousness, impulsivity, fear and doubt, just to name a few. Who they were at the beginning of being discipled is not who they were at the end. This is an encouraging verse. Anyone, no matter their flaws, can experience real change as they seek to follow Jesus and as trusted mentors help in that process.
3. “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2 Timothy 2:2, New International Version)
Paul, a disciple-maker in the early church who wrote much of the Bible’s New Testament, said this to his disciple Timothy. Paul trained Timothy; he now wants Timothy to train reliable people, and he wants those people to train others. This is called “spiritual multiplication.” Are you hoping to disciple someone who has the leadership potential to disciple others? This is a good question to pray about as you consider discipling someone.
What is encouraging about discipleship is that you do not need to be a perfect Christian to disciple. In fact, before God radically impacted his life, Paul was terrorizing Christians in his city and was even traveling to other cities to do so because he hated them so much. Through God working in him, Paul and his disciples spread the gospel all over the world. God can use anyone, and He would love to use you. You do not have to know everything. You just need to keep taking the next best step.
Imagine what you might say if you had one last chance to speak to your best friend. Would you say you loved them? Would you reminisce? What’s astounding is that when Jesus had His last moments with His friends, who now numbered 11 because one of them had betrayed Jesus, He challenged them to make disciples.
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. 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 everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20, NIV)
This is called the Great Commission, and it is the most well-known Bible passage on discipleship. Jesus believed in discipleship so much that He commanded His followers to spend their lives teaching others to follow Him. These 11 men would go on to take the message about Jesus to places it had never been. They trained up churches in biblical truth, and they made more disciples so those people could also help fulfill the Great Commission.
Currently, the Great Commission has not yet been fulfilled. There are still groups of people who have not heard the life-changing message of Jesus. This means that the command to make disciples is still true for Christians today. How is God asking you to step in and help fulfill the Great Commission?
Discipling others is extremely important. Incorporating it into your life will bless you and the people whom you disciple.
When you meet with a disciple, there are some universal principles of discipleship that can always be incorporated into a meeting. You need to build your personal relationship with each other, read the Bible together and do some sort of ministry together. Not all of this has to happen in every meeting, but they should each be happening regularly.
In light of this, here are nine tips to help you begin discipling:
This is not to be underestimated. Prayer will help you discern what God wants you to teach your disciple; it will help you feel connected to your disciple and it will keep you reliant on the Lord. As a discipler, you may feel like you are the one in control of your disciple. Prayer is a reminder that the Lord is in control and your job is simply to be faithful to what God is asking you to do.
What to pray for:
Make prayer a component of your discipleship time each week. Teach your disciple about prayer, pray together and pray for each other. Prayer walking is a great way to engage in a different way of praying while also spending time together.
Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you every day. That’s right: Seek the Holy Spirit every single day. Make it a daily habit to be empowered and led by the Holy Spirit. This will increase your dependence on Christ and teach you to listen to His voice above any other. “Collaborative Discipleship” and “The Holy Spirit Resource Kit” are great resources you can read to understand the Holy Spirit. Incorporate them into discipleship too. The way to live as a Christian is by being filled with the Holy Spirit. This is invaluable for you and your disciple to learn together.
Ask yourself some questions:
When you know your why, it propels you forward. Having a clear vision for who you are discipling and why motivates you to keep doing it. It gives you passion and clarity, and that makes the Great Commission come alive in a new way.
If you are not sure who to disciple, start by investing in the people around you.
Do two things:
Are there neighbors you want to get to know better? Co-workers you want to have a spiritual conversation with? Acquaintances in your classes you can grab coffee with? Ask God to show you who you can invest in. Usually, a discipleship relationship happens with people who are already in your life.
Once you have clarity from God about who to disciple, simply ask them. “Collaborative Discipleship” has an article you can read with that person that describes what discipleship is. If you are ready to disciple but are not sure where to start, spend time reading through the other articles on the website. It offers helpful ideas and pre-planned outlines you can look through.
Be curious about others. Ask good questions. This is a skill everyone should grow in, but it helps so much with discipleship. When you are genuinely curious about your disciple, you will be a learner of them. This is a great mindset to have because it helps you make next steps with them. Get to know your disciple. Find out what they like/dislike. Ask them how they are doing in their relationship with God. Ask them what their sin struggles are. Find out what their families are like.
One way to start discipleship well is by sharing your testimonies with each other. Share your family history, the high times of your life, the hard times you’ve experienced, your personal heroes, and the hand of God in your life. Make note of what your disciple says, and refer back to their stories as you continue meeting.
Opening God’s Word when you meet with your disciple is one of the best things you can do. You can read a book of the Bible together, do a word study together, or have daily devotions together. You can make your Bible time as creative as you want. If you are not sure where to start, Cru has dozens of Bible studies you can download for free.
Sharing your faith fits into the ministry component of discipleship. You and your disciple will benefit immensely from having spiritual conversations with the people in your lives. If you are not sure how to do that, read some of Cru’s resources on evangelism. Brainstorm together: Who do you want to have a spiritual conversation with? What is one step you can take to make that happen? Sharing your faith with others can lead to more discipleship relationships for both you and your disciple.
The way you normally build a friendship is how you can build a friendship with your disciple. Go on walks, work out together, watch a TV show together, grab coffee with each other. Do the normal, everyday things with each other. Also, do not underestimate the power of simply laughing together. Memories are what keep people connected. The more your discipling relationship is characterized by real friendship, the more effective your discipling will be.
Discipleship is how people are going to walk with Jesus for a lifetime. It may seem daunting, it may seem challenging, it may seem nerve-wracking. But it is so worth it.
To explore resources you could use when you are discipling someone, check out “Adult Discipleship Resources” and “Collaborative Discipleship” on Cru.org.
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