Note: This article is excerpted from our training tool Group Discipleship Strategies.
I had been a Christian for exactly one week when some people at a church I was trying out invited me to lunch. Having been a very successful (read: worldly) pagan, I had no idea what to expect. What I met was a group of crazy, wonderful, dedicated people who welcomed me with open arms, despite my decidedly un-Christian appearance. Kathleen invited me to a coffee hour at her home that evening. Luree invited me to dinner later in the week. Susan invited me to the women's Bible study. And Monica offered to disciple me—whatever that was! And thus began my wild and wonderful ride of growing in Christ.
Monica and I were two busy professional women, but we'd meet for a quick dinner between work and meetings. In the beginning, she just answered all my questions. But in time, she began to shape my understanding of my new faith. She challenged my worldview and taught me how to think biblically. Monica became my safe person, one with whom I could expose my ignorance to her gracious correction. Eventually I did learn what discipleship was—and later I was able to disciple others.
Meanwhile, the women's group also welcomed and encouraged me. There I learned to study the Bible and apply it to my very tumultuous life. This group had rotating leadership, and though I was happy to be an observer, Susan asked me to try my hand at leading after I'd been attending for six weeks. She encouraged me every step of the way, and you know what? I did it! It wasn't my finest hour, but I led. And after that, they gave me more opportunities to lead, both in that small group and in the Sunday morning small groups—all because these women took seriously their responsibility to disciple me.
What Is Discipleship?
Discipleship is both modeling and teaching Christians the principles of Scripture—including doctrine, prayer, Christian living, and worship. But the key is teaching Christians to live out those principles. Ephesians 4:12-15 explains it well as equipping "his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ." It's a lot like parenting: discipleship involves preparing a young Christian for Christian adulthood.
In discipleship we both teach and model what we want our disciples to learn, knowing that who we are is more important than what we teach. Monica, Susan, and the others taught me a lot, but it was their character that motivated me to grow up in the faith. I saw a maturity that I wanted, and I was willing to work for.
Over the years, I've learned a lot about discipleship. While discipleship happens in both formal and informal settings—and through all different techniques—I've found three keys to successful discipleship:
Whether you're doing a prepared study in a small group or simply handling new believer questions, it's important to ask good questions. Good questions move the conversation forward, call disciples to discover truth for themselves, require disciples to apply what they know of Scripture, challenge faulty worldviews, and keep disciples coming back for more. Of course, these are good tips for all small-group leaders. If you have baby or immature Christians in your group, though, good questions become crucial.