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How to Use Scripture to Disciple

The last thing Jesus said was, “Go and make disciples.” Do you ever find yourself wondering, “How exactly do I do that?” After all, most Christians have never actually been discipled. I think I’ve wrestled with that question most of my life. A lot of the activity in churches that passes for di…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

The last thing Jesus said was, “Go and make disciples.” Do you ever find yourself wondering, “How exactly do I do that?” After all, most Christians have never actually been discipled.

I think I’ve wrestled with that question most of my life.

A lot of the activity in churches that passes for discipleship has little impact. In contrast, the Bible does give us some pointers designed to change lives. While there is no easy template, it does give us practical advice.

Paul was a student of the Scriptures and had some advice about studying them. In his letter to Timothy, he gave some pointers that show how to use Scripture to disciple someone:

“All Scripture is God-breathed, and it is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)

He went on to exhort Timothy (and us), “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season to correct, rebuke, and encourage.” (2 Timothy 4:2)

In these two passages he is underscoring the point about how you use Scripture to help a young believer to grow. A few definitions may help us in that regard:

To Teach – to explain or impart information
To Rebuke – to confront and personally admonish

To Correct – to make an adjustment, to make true – moving from one way of doing things to another

To Train – to show others how to follow scriptural principles

To Encourage – to give positive feedback, especially concerning desired behavior change

To do these things with Scripture, we must first absorb Scripture ourselves. By studying and memorizing Scripture, we take steps to prepare ourselves to raise up disciples. Here’s how I suggest you proceed from there:

1. Begin with teaching, then training. Why? Because training needs context – it needs reality. It can’t be abstract. For example, suppose you want to help a young disciple grow in Scripture memorization. You might cite Psalm 119:9-11 that talks about “hiding God’s word in your heart.” You might explain how to do that. Then you might practice memorizing that passage. That is teaching and then training.

2. Observe the behavior and coach. Look for a natural context. As you see it, you’ll know how to respond. Using our example of Scripture memorization, you as a coach might ask your disciple to recite the Scripture he or she has memorized. You might give him or her pointers. The point is to give your disciple feedback that helps them to understand how to change their behavior.

3. Correct and encourage. This requires privacy and immediacy. You’re not going to want to embarrass your disciple, and you’ll want to root your observation in recent behavior that they clearly remember. If you correct them, you’ll want to conclude your coaching by encouraging them. 

4. Occasionally rebuke. This requires trust, insight and authority. Rebuking a disciple requires that they trust you a lot and respect your authority. Suppose that the person you’re discipling promises to memorize a certain Scripture and then repeatedly fails to do so. If it is a failure of effort, you may need to bring it up in a pointed way.

Those who would qualify to disciple others must know Scripture and be in a significant relationship with others. Too many “discipling” relationships find their setting in a sterile environment, not a natural context. They are public and periodic, not private and immediate.

Because of that, trust doesn’t get built and the discipler fails to get the insight he needs to correct, encourage and rebuke.

If you were never discipled but have children or young people you care about, why not give them more of a foundation than you had? Your past doesn’t have to determine their future. Why not study Scripture together and see what God can do through you to encourage you both?

Comments (7)

  • Wow, as someone who is looking to disciple people this is very helpful. Thanks Seth! It’s actually quite simple, it just requires time and love but I find myself over complicating it sometimes.

  • i couldn’t agree with you more. i’d also like to add something, jesus’ discipling seems very non-textual, it seems very action oriented. it also seems very “storied”, zinger quotation (of the psalms for instance) seems more oriented towards the legalist. I’d like to quote from an interesting book by donald miller, to further make your point:

    “My uncle told a good story with his life, but I think there was such a sadness at his funeral because his story wasnt finished. If you arent telling a good story, nobody thinks you died too soon; they just think you died. But my uncle died too soon. The next day, when I was walking with my cousin Carol, she asked me where I thought my uncle was. She knew he was in heaven, but she wanted me to tell her what I thought he might be doing, what heaven was like. I told her I thought heaven was outside of time, and perhaps we were already there with her father. She seemed to think that was a nice idea, but I could tell she wasnt comforted. And later that night I pictured Uncle Art, and I could see him in heaven, and he was sitting at a table and there was a celebration. There was dancing and bottles of wine, and there was music. I could see him at a wedding, and I realized thats what I should have told Carol, that her dad was at a wedding.”

  • Great point and great quote from Miller. I so agree.

    I see you at more than a few weddings in this next season, Marty. You’re living a great story.

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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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