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How do you help a disciple grow?

How do Jesus followers grow? For those of us who have taken Jesus at his words and want to follow through on his final assignment – to go and make disciples around the world, it’s one of the most important questions we can ask.  I’ve heard all kinds of answers, attending church, listening …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
How do Jesus followers grow? For those of us who have taken Jesus at his words and want to follow through on his final assignment – to go and make disciples around the world, it’s one of the most important questions we can ask.  I’ve heard all kinds of answers, attending church, listening to sermons, Bible studies.  And certainly all these are important, but I want to drill down to the level of behavior change.  How can we as disciplers actually stimulate behavior change?
I’ve thought about this question a lot.  My own preliminary answer is that we can help our disciples grow through four different forms of stimuli:
  • Encouragement
  • Challenge*
  • Prayer
  • Opportunity
When we address behavior that needs changing in a disciple, we can reinforce a new behavior through encouragement and prayer.  We can call disciples to a different way of behaving by challenging them, that is, confronting them with the need to change.  And we can give them the kinds of opportunities that make new behavior possible.  Mission trips are a prime example of that.
I remember challenging a man I was mentoring to spend more time with his teenage daughter and not to move away from her.  He didn’t listen, God help him.  His choice.  I challenge lots of people to pray more.  Today a friend challenged me to never blow my own trumpet, but just let my actions speak for me.  A well-issued challenge is often the most powerful tool in a discipler’s toolbox.  But whatever tool you use, it’s best used one-on-one, where the opinions of others don’t matter.

Gordon McDonald summarizes the issue well, “But mature Christians do not grow through programs or through the mesmerizing delivery of a talented speaker or worship band. Would-be saints are mentored: one-on-one or, better yet, one-on-small group (three to twelve was Jesus’ best guess). The mentoring takes place in the streets and living-places of life, not church classrooms or food courts. And it’s not necessarily done in Bible studies or the like. Mature Christians are made one by one through the influence of other Christians already mature.”

They may get the idea to change through a sermon, but to be able to make the change, they need someone to train and coach them in it.  All of us act our way to new behavior. If we’re smart we’ll go looking for a mentor, learn from their mistakes, and feed off their encouragement, challenge, and prayers.  And once we’ve learned a few things, out of a sense of stewardship and obedience, we’ll pass them on to others.**
*There are many ways that you can challenge a disciple.  For example, 2 Timothy 3:16 lists four different ways in which disciples may be challenged and equipped to grow.
**2 Timothy 2:2 is the quintessential verse on this process.

Comments (6)

  • This is good stuff, Seth. Easy to get caught in the “spiritual” trap of doing religious things like worship, church, Bible study etc but without any of it actually impacting your life. I thank God wholeheartedly for the people I have known over the years who have spoken challenge into my life and made me think about why I do what I do. Very painful at times and you have to choose to humble yourself and listen, but I wouldn’t change a single one of those encounters.

    I want to be like Jesus……and I’m not there yet! Any help I can get most gratefully received even if I do say “ouch” at the time :))) And what an awesome thing it is when you pass it on to someone else struggling with the same issues you did and seeing God work in their lives too. Wonderful the way God can use you even when you’re far from done yourself yet!

  • I once heard that if a guy is not tootin his own horn, maybe the horn is broken.

    I don’t think I am alone when I say that I learn best by learning from someone else’s successes and failures, and I teach by sharing my own successes and failures. I am inspired by someone else’s successes, isn’t that why we like to read biographies of great people?

    So my hope is that you continue to share your successes and don’t worry about tooting your own horn, at least it ain’t broken.

  • This post was so encouraging to me. Thank you so much. I used to teach in our women’s ministry at church and because I’m homeschooling now I’m not involved in that ministry anymore. I do, however, have one specific woman who I am mentoring. The list you gave of the four things is exactly what I do with her and it was very affirming to me.

    Thanks again, Seth.

    May God bless you richly in His ministry!

  • Seth,
    I am seeing disciples be made right before my very eyes. Andy has been so blessed to be able to meet every week with an incredible discipler in our own church. He is training, coaching, mentoring, and challenging Andy and it is so beautiful to see God’s will. My faithful husband never misses a week and God continues to bless his step of faith to do what he knows God has given him and set before him. Andy worked today at the clinic all day, stopped home to get scrubs and give us hugs and kisses, and then off to hospital to work all night until 8 a.m. and then he will meet with his discipler like he does every week. It would be so very easy to just not follow through on certain weeks, yet Andy follows God and obeys, because like your blog indicated this is God’s will for us. Every week, Andy meets with 7 middle schoolers to disciple them on Thursday and Sunday nights. As I watch these “young men” change and grow it is so incridible and such a blessing. I guess that would fit your one-on-small group example. He challenges them to spend time with God, hide God’s word in their hearts, serve out of that overflowing, and he walks beside them, prays for them and loves them. It is basically a mirror image of what Andy’s discipler is doing with him. Andy is being Jesus to these young people and making such a difference in the next generation. We have also been in churches where the discipleship is not taking place and there is just bible studies and nothing more and we felt the lack of growth. A church like that feels dead compared to what we are experiencing presently. I think if we desire to be discipled and just keep asking for God to provide a discipler, He provides and shows himself to be our bread of life like what it says in John 6:35 “Then Jesus declared “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” I think he often times wants to use others like our disciplers or our disciples to teach us this very truth. We hope and pray that God through his grace and love continues to lead us down the discipleship road. Thanks so much for encouraging,challenging, and mentoring us daily with your blogs.

    Wendy Ingram

    Wendy Ingram

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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