Avoid Yes or No Answers
Questions that require only a yes, no, or other one-word answer won't do much to facilitate conversation or discipleship. You'll learn a lot more about disciples and their thought processes if you ask questions that require longer answers. Then you'll be able to spot where their thinking goes off base, and thus be better able to offer insights.
Any questions that could potentially shame disciples should be avoided—and watch your responses that could potentially shame. New believers, and even those who have been believers a long time, often have odd understandings of the faith. Rather than saying, "No, that's wrong" or "How could you think that?" try asking, "Hmm, what do you think Paul would say to that?" or "Where do we read that in Scripture?" Point them back to Scripture to discover the truth for themselves in a way that encourages and empowers them rather than shames them.
Meet Disciples Where They Are
In the beginning, I had little interest in doctrine. I needed to know who Peter's mother was (seriously!) and why I had to change my lifestyle. These leaders didn't push me. They graciously answered my questions and gently led me to the more important issues of the faith. Today when I'm discipling someone either individually or in a group, I usually know pretty quickly what their issue is and what they need to do about it. But I don't beat them over the head with it. I let them take the lead, and gradually ask questions that move them to the deeper issues.
It's understandable to want to use a prepared Bible study. They often require much less preparation time. But few prepared studies will meet disciples where they are, and they seldom stress application. While it's crucial to teach doctrine, teach it within the bounds of disciples' immediate needs. Make sure that whatever you cover, the disciples know what to do with it in real life: How can they apply it at home, at work, or in their internal lives?
Beyond Gaining Knowledge
A key skill we need to teach our disciples is how to apply biblical principles to everyday questions and needs. The world is ready with answers to every question, so Christians need to know how to find the answers they need in Scripture. Of course not every answer is in the Bible, so disciples need to learn how to reason biblically—looking to Scripture rather than Dr. Phil.
Application is difficult not just because it sometimes doesn't seem clear, but also because it often means we must act counterculturally. We need to admit this difficulty to our disciples and walk with them through the challenge. Too many Christians prefer the wisdom of the world, assuming biblical solutions are old-fashioned, judgmental, or meaningless. We need to teach our disciples why and how to be countercultural.
Create a Safe Environment
Discipleship is personal, so it's important to create a safe environment where disciples can explore and grow. Here are three tips for creating safety:
Meet in a Safe Place
It isn't always easy to find physical space for small groups. If you have a family or roommates, your home may not have sufficient privacy. When crying or anger are involved, a coffee shop isn't a good option. You may need to be creative, but you need to make sure that your disciples have the privacy needed for intimate conversations.