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Why your discipleship may not be working

June 5, 2016

Discipleship, much like evangelism, is a mix of art and science. You, as a discipler, bring your own unique sensibilities, skills, and personality. Likewise, each person you disciple is a unique individual. It only makes sense then that each discipleship relationship you have will be a unique journey.

But one of the myths we want to believe is that the perfect discipleship program or instruction manual must be out there somewhere. So why is it so elusive? Why can’t I seem to get my hands on that thing?

The reality is, materials don’t make disciples, people do.

Sure, there are some great materials you can use, but in the end, you can’t rely solely on those. If you had three disciples and took them all through a twenty-step discipleship program, would they all be mature followers of Christ at the end?

Well, hopefully they will have taken some steps in the right direction. Still, they’re individuals and growth happens over the course of a lifetime. The reality is, materials don’t make disciples, people do.

Carrie Louer, whom I credit with teaching me this concept, tells a story of meeting on campus one day with Beth, one of her disciples. Beth was a student who discipled some younger women on campus and that day she came to Carrie and said,

“I want to talk to one of my disciples about eternal perspective. Do you have a paper I can walk through with her?”

Carrie was a little disappointed, not in Beth, but in herself. She felt she had really done Beth a disservice if she thought discipleship was simply going through a different sheet each week with her disciple.

She knew Beth had a lot to offer on the subject of eternal perspective and Carrie wanted her to pass on her own beliefs and passions.

I bet you have a lot to offer, too. Discipleship is something that first you own and then you pass on. You own being a disciple of Christ and your convictions and then you pass them on.

Discipleship can be thought of as simply passing on what you know. And the good news is you probably know way more than you think you do! Now you just need to begin to think like a discipler.

One thing that’s helped me think holistically about developing my disciples is this simple diagram involving head, heart, and hands.


Head refers to intellectual knowledge, which will, of course, involve taking them to the Word.

Heart also involves the Word, which is the source of our motivation and vision. Here they interact with the head knowledge on a deeper, emotional level.

Hands refers to training. It is the how-to’s. The skill set.

All three areas are necessary to comprehensively develop your disciple. If the head, heart, or hands are missing from any given area of growth, it will short-circuit your disciple’s development. All discipleship must involve knowledge, motivation, and skills.

Discipleship—first you own it, then you pass it on.

For instance, just because a person may be skilled in communicating the gospel (Hands) doesn’t necessarily mean they have a heart for the lost (Heart).

Or, as is true more often, they may have an abundance of knowledge about the Great Commission (Head) and a real desire to share their faith (Heart), but they don’t know the first thing about effectively introducing someone to Christ (Hands).

In each area of life where you want to see your disciple grow you need to start by asking yourself what you know—because discipleship is passing on what you know. And you want to make sure you’re thinking it through in light of the three categories of head, heart, and hands.

Let’s say you’ve discovered they really don’t know much about the importance of the Word in their life, and you want to help them grow in that area. What do you do? Well, you want to start by asking yourself questions like:

  • What are my beliefs regarding the Word?
  • How were my beliefs developed? What tools were used?
  • What verses/passages do I know that I could show them concerning the Word?
  • What helped me embrace the Word with my heart and not just learn about it intellectually?
  • How can I model studying or spending devotional time in the Word?
  • What resources do I have to help someone develop convictions about the Word?
  • What resources do I need?
  • How do I need to continue to develop?

Or, let’s say you’ve noticed a gap in their understanding and attitude toward evangelism and you’d like to help them grow in that area.

You could start by asking yourself:

  • What are my convictions regarding evangelism? The lost? What are my Biblical beliefs about taking the initiative with the gospel?
  • How did I develop those beliefs? What resources do I have/need to help impart vision?
  • How did I get beyond the fears and lies that are now keeping them from sharing their faith? How can I help them over those hurdles?
  • Do I take them out to share their faith? Am I equipped to train them in effectively sharing their faith?

Don’t think because discipleship is passing on what you know, you can’t involve others from the body of Christ.

For example, if they’re weak in the area of prayer and it’s not your strong suit either, it makes sense to expose them to someone else who excels in prayer. In fact, maybe all three of you could meet together so you can learn as well.

In every case it is a good practice for you to ask yourself how you can expose your disciple to other resources for further development (e.g. other people, retreats, talks, books, podcasts, etc.).

Next Steps

  1. Take five minutes and answer the questions listed for one of the categories above. Even that short amount of time will help you begin to get the hang of thinking like a discipler and will greatly bolster your confidence that you have lots to pass on.
  2. Think through the diagram of head, heart, hands for one of your disciples to determine if there is a gap in any area of growth.
  3. Evaluate your own discipleship to determine if you have a tendency to lean more heavily on head, heart or hands to the detriment of the others.

There are no perfect discipleship materials and no perfect disciplers. If you are even one small step ahead of someone else, though, you have something to pass on. May God use the knowledge in your head, the passions of your heart, and the skills of your hands to develop disciples that will walk with Him for a lifetime.