We’re Not Done Yet (Part 8): How Does Discipleship Happen?

This is part 8 of our ten part series on the fundamentals of building a community of Discipleship. Here’s the other parts:
One     Two     Three     Four     Five   Six    Seven

As I mentioned, back at the very beginning of this series, the question of how to disciple is a natural and important question to ask, but one that we usually ask to quickly before we really understand why this mission is so important to God, what discipleship actually is and who God has tasked with the responsibility and authority.

Of course I am not saying that you must have complete accuracy and certainty on these answers before you can begin to explore how.  Quite the contrary, not  only do you have to start with these three questions, but you have to continue with them as long as you are involved in equipping God’s people for works of service.  But these questions must always be the reasons behind your how answers.  While there are many methods, frameworks and potential programs to aid discipleship, we must always be able to point to the way in which our form (the how) follows our function (the why).   For example, I take no position in this series on whether you should have Sunday school classes or not, but if choose to do Sunday School classes, you should be able to answer why it is useful for discipleship, and it should match your understanding of what discipleship is and who should be doing it.

I cannot stress too strongly how important it is to begin to get a handle on these first questions before getting swallowed up in the immediacy of the how.  If you do not plan for the time to answer these questions within a community of leaders you trust, it is unlikely you will accidentally find time later.  On the other hand, once you make time to actually explore these questions, you will find it easier to return to them whenever you need to in order to insure consistency in your mission as a church.

Your how should likely rise as organically as possible from exploring these earlier questions and therefore not be something I (or any other expert or consultant) can truly tell you.  Having said that, this week I’d love to leave you with a few bullet points about how which I believe are probably unavoidable conclusions from our previous explorations.  If you agree, consider them as you work toward your own specifics.  For each bullet point, I’ve included a resource which I offer which may help you understand or implement that point.  If it will help you, don’t hesitate to contact me about that resource.

How does discipleship occur?

Discipleship occurs in community:  In every example we have both in scripture and in experience, discipleship occurs most reliably and consistently, not as one-to-one, or even one-to-many but in many-to-many situations, where mutual benefit occurs.  What you need to be building is not a discipleship program,  but a community where discipleship thrives among the members.  Sometimes, in fact, we develop programs which prove to be a hindrance to community discipleship happening.  How can you equip people to disciple each other and somehow motivate them to create the time and space to gather in fruitful moving communities where they serve each other?  Do we give our small groups time and resources to make this happen; do we give our parents time and resources to disciple their kids; do we give our church time to disciple organically in communities or do we keep them so busy doing programs in artificial attempts at discipleship that genuine community and intimacy is stifled?  Many churches preach well about small groups (missions communities, life groups, home fellowships, cell churches) but have no plan for training or prioritizing their small group leaders. I have a small group training retreat or seminar to help get you off on the right foot, as well as coaching to help you sustain it. Let me know if either of these things would be helpful to you. Prices are always  negotiable based on your circumstances and other needs.


Focus, Focus, Focus:. A lot of the pastors I know desire a thriving community of discipleship but feel obligated one way or another to spend their time doing many other things which look more impressive, build morale, increase attendance or some other equally irrelevant assessment of success which has nothing to do with discipleship.  Having been a pastor for 25 years, I know that it is in fact, extremely difficult to stay focused on building a community of discipleship.  Our culture has no idea most of the time what a pastor does, or why relationship building is that important and this leads us to feeling guilty about how we spend our time even when, perhaps mostly when, we are spending it as we should.  Accountability is often too focused on short term results to help and our own congregation,  in its desire to see an improved culture of discipleship will often push us in wrong directions.  It’s easier to say yes than no sometimes, but the thing to remember is that, like our government, programs are much easier to start than to stop.  It is so important and difficult to avoid getting entangled in things, even good things, which nonetheless hinder the discipleship mission of the church.  Here’s two suggestions that might help.

  1. Give every new program you start a sunset clause.  Make it for a specific period of time, after which it either ends or is renewed after evaluation.  This will make it much easier to close programs you determine are no longer helpful to building a community of discipleship.
  2. Find someone to help you stay focused on the task.  Someone who cares about your church but is not driven by the immediacies, someone, perhaps, who’s sole financial security is not driven by attendance; someone who has no agenda other than discipleship.   It might be a pastor of another church, or a friend in another community.  Is such a person hard to find?  Very possibly.  People do not often stay focused themselves, but someone who can help you always remember why you do what you do, keep the mission at the forefront for you, can be an invaluable gift.  Pray for this.  I do offer coaching, and if I can be helpful for you in this, please don’t hesitate to contact me. (pastormac_@mac.com). I’m delighted to meet with you at no cost in person, over the phone or online to see how I can help.

Grace trains us: It is not just abstract theology to say that the Holy Spirit does the work of discipleship. The truth is that discipleship is something that occurs through Grace and the power of the Holy Spirit when we build the community and equip the saints. This is such an important point in our how that I will dedicate the entire blog next week to this. For now consider Titus 2:11-14 and ask yourself how this practically impacts the way in which you equip and build a community of discipleship.

 “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”  

The Hidden life conference is my most popular conference and often helpful for moving congregants to see how grace trains in community and their responsibility in that.


Active learning:  Learning is an action, but we too often attempt to make it happen through passive means.  Lectures, reading quietly and so on.  Everyone from businesses to schools are recognizing that learning happens best when done actively, with engaged questioning, exploring, doing and discussing.  The church needs to follow suit.  People need to discover the truths of discipleship, rather than simply be told what they ought to believe.  Active learning fits very naturally with both community discipleship and the Spirits movement in a community.  It is very different from teacher based bible studies that many people are used to from church, so efforts must be made to teach our teachers how to become facilitators and guides rather than experts.    My training for small group leaders goes extensively into the concept and practice of active learning.


Life curriculum:  It is clear that Jesus allowed life to direct the curriculum for His apostles.  Rather than an external curriculum which determined when it was time to talk about humility, service, love, God’s power, and so on, He waited until the circumstances of life drove his disciples to ask the questions which prompted the answers.  In the same way discipleship works best when organically following the curriculum provided by God through life.  People are ready to discover and embrace truth when the tension of their life encourages it.  Begin to consider how you can utilize community, the power of Grace through the Holy Spirit in active learning through the questions and tensions provided by someone’s life.  It is possible to create a discipleship structure which incorporates all this.  What will it look like in your church?  Only you know.

Hopefully these four points will help stimulate your own thoughts towards how you will turn your church into a thriving discipleship community.

Next week we’ll talk specifically about the idea in Titus that grace trains us.

As always I encourage you to explore these questions in community with fellow leaders if you can.  If I can help, consider contacting me and we’ll see if there are any ways I might be able to be of service.  Contacting me is free, as are some of the resources I offer.

Also, questions, comments, and arguments are always welcome in the comments.

Part 9 is here.

Smiling at the future,

David (Pastormac)

I founded Discipleship Matters to help churches with leadership retreats, pastoral coaching, guest speaking and conferences as another supporting voice in your work of discipleship. We can create a custom long term plan (anywhere from 6 months to 2 years) or arrange an al-a-carte conference.  (If the information in this series intrigues you, I’d specifically suggest the Big Ideas conference where I help you and your leaders work through these important first questions on your way to a unique plan of “How” to build a thriving community of Discipleship.  I value you and the work you do and want to help if I can in anyway.  Call me at 505-393-5433(LIFE) or email me at Pastormac_@mac.com (put Discipleship Matters in the subject if you want to get my attention right away.)


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