I remember listening to one of the pastors preach on a Sunday evening at Cherry Street Baptist Church, in Springfield Missouri during my second Senior year at Baptist Bible College. Yes, I said my second Senior year. It was the only year they offered the program and haven’t offered it since:) Okay, I crammed four years into five! I needed a mentor, what can i say?!
Pastor Lonnie Short talked about the importance of having a mentor. I had been in Bible College for 4 years at that point and had learned a lot about the Bible, but I was missing the personal human connection to really help me make sense of it all. I also recall going down to the altar at the end of the message and I talked to Pastor Lonnie and told him through tears that it was exactly what I needed.
He prayed with me that God would send someone to me soon, and that it would be a fruitful relationship. I did not know all of what mentoring would entail, I just knew I needed it. It was one of those prayers that God will always answer more quickly than other requests, and that is exactly what He did. James 1:5 states “Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him.” Some of you are one prayer away from meeting that person that will change everything.
Not even 24 hours later from when I prayed for a mentor, friend of mine, Gabriel Perez, who I attended classes with for the previous four years, came to my door with another friend Glenn Price, of whom I had traveled with for three years on the recruiting singing teams for our Bible College. Glenn and I were already good friends, but I didn’t know Gabe all that well. We hit it off that night when he visited with me and my wife in our one room apartment on campus. Beka and I had only been married for one year at that time.
Gabe would then disciple me for the next 3 years, and would become the most fruitful mentoring relationship that I have experienced to date. God used Gabe in my life in a special season but only for a certain amount of time. He and I are still friends, but we are separated by geography, and life just moves on. Unlike me, he just got it. And by it, I mean IT. I couldn’t put my finger on what IT was at the time, but as I look back now, IT was his passion for God and His Word that was unparalleled with anyone I knew at the time. He impacted me in a way that I had never been influenced before. It is because of that relationship that I value discipleship (spiritual mentoring) as the most important thing we can do for other Christians.
The word Disciple comes from the Greek word mathētḗs, which simply means learner. Christian Discipleship is teaching someone to follow Jesus and being a learner of Him.
In my time with Gabe, there wasn’t a set schedule for specific lessons that we studied together, but the things that he taught me were intentional, and I caught them. He transferred to me a deep love for God and the Scriptures. This no template approach has influenced the way I’ve discipled others since that time.
Another huge influence would come a few years after that initial training when working as a youth pastor at Gospel Baptist Church in Galion Ohio. Galion is a small town around an hour north of Columbus Ohio, and it is where I cut my teeth in ministry. I didn’t do much of anything right at Gospel Baptist, but I don’t have any regrets, and the Lord knew I had to get my start somewhere, even if it was ugly. Those were special times in my life and I thank God for my dear friends there. My memories of Gospel will always be happy ones.
During my time there, I’d heard about a church in Columbus called Xenos Christian Fellowship. It was a house church movement founded in the early Seventies by two men named Dennis McCallum and Gary Delashmutt. The church had grown to around 5,000 people when I first visited, where I attended their conference called the Summer Institutes. There they would take people through their methodology of ministry, of which a great deal being given to discipleship. Discipleship was, in essence, the model. Gary and Dennis are both incredible Bible teachers, and I have probably listened to every message either of them has ever preached, some of them multiple times. One such message was their method of discipleship.
Gary uses what he calls a flexible framework for discipleship. This was right up my alley sinse I believed the same thing about discipleship, but had not heard it explained in that way. Their method of discipleship is flexible, in that they acknowledge that there are multiple entry points into someone’s spiritual development. I agree that some people operate better with a set of lessons but at the time I had no interest in learning it. Their method of discipleship is also a framework, seeing that some structure is necessary. Too much flexibility is not helpful. A relative level of structure is necessary in order to give some direction and depth to the relationship.
Gary says that a flexible framework can work for most people because it is based upon 4 building blocks that can be repeated over weeks, months, and even years in some cases with the same two people. In fact they believe that discipling those who will become leaders in the church should have at least 3 years between themselves and their disciplers.
I wanted to write this blog as a how to disciple someone post but felt that my story would serve as good context in explaining it. The four quadrants are broken up into these categories: Study, Councel, Coach, Pray.
Study – you have to commit to studying the same thing during your time together, whether that is a book of the Bible, a set of lessons on Christian growth, devotional material, etc. I usually encourage people that are interested in discipling someone to invite them out for a series of four meetings at 90 minutes a pop. Setting it at 90 minutes ensures that you’ll get at least an hour to cover good ground in each meeting. 60 minutes is just too short because you never get the full 60 minutes. Someone, or both of you will be late, or you will need to discuss other things that could take up the majority of the time, and you’re left with very little to make your time impactful. The first four sessions are easy to study a small book of the Bible that can be covered in 4 weeks (ex. Colossians, James, 1 John, etc.). Simply bringing the Bible to the study, reading it beforehand, and volleying comments and questions back and forth, is good enough to start. The initial material could be based off of a question I encourage to be asked in the first meeting, “If you could ask God one question right now, and He had to answer you on the spot, what would you ask Him?” Their answer can give direction to what kind of material to cover initially.
Counsel – This is the part where there are heightened levels of accountability. The discipler has to have permission to ask tough questions of a personal nature, but is one of the best ways to allow the friendship to go to levels of deeper intimacy. It is an iron sharpens iron approach, and by that I mean the discipler and the disciple can and should ask probing questions related to one another’s own personal holiness. A good example would be “Have you engaged in gossip this week?”, or “Have you practiced servant love?”, or a good one for men is “Have you looked at porn, or lusted in your heart after someone who is not your spouse?” These are just a few examples. This approach can seem too personal, but it just flat out works, and is necessary for the relationship to function as it should.
Coach – Coaching is for helping someone develop a personal ministry. There are ways to find out someone’s interests in discovering a ministry to serve others, but should not be too complicated in placing them in a ministry. The idea is just to get them started serving someone else outside of themselves. In time, personal ministry should mature and align with someone’s specific giftedness, both natural and supernatural. I have found that most people will gravitate towards ministry without having to discover what their spiritual gifts are. Most spiritual gifts can be observed by overseers who know what to look for. One assessment that I keep going back to is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. It is the most recognized personality assessment and uses language that dovetails nicely with spiritual giftedness. You can take it for free at 16personalities.com. Another thing that is important in helping someone to find the ministry is that it needs to be something significant, but not have so much riding on it that it would cause great discouragement if not fruitful. A young person in the faith should be given ministry with low hanging fruit. They need to know they can do it, and engaging them in high pressure situations too early on in the process can prove damaging in the least. I could say a lot more about this, but hopefully you get the gist from that shorter description.
Pray – No, this is not a consolation prize, or something I’m throwing in there just to make it sound more spiritual. The new disciple should be encouraged to pray, even if it is awkward and not well articulated. Inviting God into the conversation early on is the best way to help this newer, younger believer have a deep abiding communion with God. I will pray at the beginning of each session, in the middle of the session if necessary, and also at the end. They need to see unrelenting dependence upon God for their growth as non-negotiable. I can’t say enough about prayer. Teaching a disciple to communicate with God through prayer is the most important part in the entire process.
Disclaimer: this is not the approach of my church Abundant Life. We have an incredible system of disciple-making in place implemented by men and women of God who have experienced fruit from this ministry on exponential levels. There’s classroom style, alongside personal one on one discipleship and other layers in between. I’m excited to learn from them and be a part of the team. The method I’m communicating in this post is A PRIMER on starting discipleship meetings with someone on a somewhat regular basis.
In the end, this method is just what it is, a method. All methods of training are not the right fit for all people, but it is a great place to start. In fact, starting is the most important step. Many Christians who want to disciple others won’t end up doing it because they’re afraid of messing up. Mistakes will be made but it should not deter a person from discipling another believer. One tip on cutting down initial mistakes is making sure you disciple someone who’s ready. I look for two things represented in a potential disciple: hunger and humility. If they even have just one, I prefer it to be hunger. Discipling someone who just needs shepherding cannot handle the pressure and should be given more time. Shepherding is a necessary ministry that God uses to prep others for deeper teaching and should not be rushed.
I can tell you in my experience that there has been nothing more rewarding then seeing a person grow through personal discipleship. If you want to find a disciple to experiment on, pray. God has someone in mind for you, and you for them… mistakes, fumbles, and all. Just ask.
For deeper understanding Of Disciple-making, Check out these books listed below.
The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman
Organic Disciple-Making by Dennis McCallum and Jessica Lowrey
Real-Life Discipleship by Jim Putman and Ed Stetzer
The Character of God’s Workman by Watchman Nee
I would love to hear of your experiences in the comment section!