Lesson 4 - Discipleship Methods





In the previous lessons of this course, we have been learning about what it means to be a disciple and to make disciples.  Beginning with this lesson and for the remainder of the lessons in this course, the focus will be more practical.  We will examine how to go about making disciples – and our model for how to do that will be no other than Jesus Christ himself.



Jesus’ Model of Discipleship


Jesus gave us the perfect model for discipleship.  He spent three years training twelve men to carry out his mission.  These were men who were common, uneducated, and to be honest were not very promising in their prospects.  After three years with the savior – and with the help of the Holy Spirit – they changed the world.  So how did this world-changing event unfold?  It unfolded with Jesus’ decision to invest in a select few lives.


Jesus Personally Chose 12 Men as his Disciples


People flocked to Jesus from every direction to be healed, to see signs and wonders, and to see the curiosity of his fame.  Jesus had lots of disciples and followers, but it was the twelve that were his inner group that he personally discipled.  These twelve were not people that were simply drawn to him; rather, Jesus’ twelve closest disciples were people he personally chose.    

In fact, most of the twelve were chosen not once, but twice.  First, he chose them individually.  For example, as he passed by Levi’s tax collection table (in Mark 2:14), Jesus looked directly at Levi (Matthew) and simply said, “Follow me.”  He said the same to the fishing brothers, Simon and Andrew (Matthew 4:19) and to Philip (John 1:43).  This was how he called many of them.  However, he chose them again collectively in Luke 6:12 when, after going up into the mountain to pray all night, he personally selected his small band of twelve and called them apostles.

As pastors, you lead whole congregations, and the wellbeing of the whole congregation is your responsibility.  However, when it comes to personal discipleship, you should find a select group of people with whom you choose to personally invest your time.  As we shall see later, this is not favoritism because the ones you choose to disciple will be those that will ultimate go and make disciples themselves, expanding the discipleship influence as they do so.


Jesus Spent Time With the Disciples


We do not know for certain whether the 12 disciples literally spent every waking moment with Jesus, but based on scripture, we know they spent a significant amount of time together.  They got to know each other very well.  They became friends.

You cannot expect to disciple someone unless you are spending time with them.  Only then can you understand their personal needs and help them on their spiritual journey.  Discipleship, therefore, is a very intimate process.

This reinforces the importance of why your personal discipleship group should remain small.  You cannot spend the one-on-one time necessary to disciple your entire congregation.  You can guide the course of the church as a whole.  You can teach them as a group.  But you can only disciple a small number of people at a time.  As one pastor has said, “if Jesus could only disciple twelve men at a time, then what makes me think I can do more?” 


Jesus Told Stories and Asked Questions


Jesus taught in 4 different ways


1.     He proclaimed the kingdom of heaven

2.     He taught in the temple

3.     He told stories and parables

4.     He asked questions


There are times we preach – just as Christ often proclaimed the kingdom of heaven. There are times we teach – just as Christ did regularly in the temple. However, when we disciple, we should be a little more intimate and personal. 

Jesus used stories and he asked lots of questions.  Often Jesus spoke in parables and he did so in order that his disciples could understand even while the world did not understand.  They painted a picture that helped the disciples learn important truths about the Kingdom of Heaven.  The fact that the gospels record so many of these stories is a testament to the fact that it must have been a regular method by which Jesus taught them.

In addition, he would probe his disciples with questions. Do you recall the question he asked of his disciples on the way to Caesarea Philippi?  He asked “Who do men say that I am”.   This was a highly thought-provoking question that caused his disciples to contemplate the nature and identity of their teacher.  The result was a lively discussion about various possibilities based on what other people had said about Jesus.  When Jesus then he asked who they thought he was, the answer came quickly – you are the Christ!

The stories we have in the Bible still serve as one of the best ways to disciple.  Telling these stories – and asking probing questions about them – helps us discover important truths about our savior as well as key insights about the Kingdom of God.


Jesus Taught the Disciples to Pray


In lesson 2, we learned that prayer is a learned skill.   Like us, Jesus’ disciples had to be taught how to pray.  In Luke 11, after Jesus was praying, his disciples specifically asked him to teach them to pray.   From this request, Jesus taught his disciples to pray in the manner of the Lord’s Prayer (or the Model Prayer as it is sometimes called).  However, he did more than just teach them how to pray, he taught them what it meant to pray.  He compared the Heavenly Father to a good neighbor meeting the need of a friend or a loving father caring for his children. 

Learning how to pray is an important part of discipleship.  We cannot assume our people know how to pray.  We need to not only teach them to pray as part of our efforts to disciple them, but also to teach them what it really means to pray.  Prayer is a great privilege in which we – as children of God – get to participate in bringing about the Father’s will.


Jesus Did Ministry With the Disciples


Everywhere Jesus went, he was helping others – healing the sick, feeding the poor, blessing those he came in contact with.  Repeatedly in the gospels, we see how Jesus was moved with compassion for the needs of the people.  In all of this, his disciples were with him and by all indications were helping with his ministry.

Jesus taught his disciples the importance of compassion and mercy for the masses by involving them in mercy ministries.  Neither Jesus nor his disciples were rich by any means, but they did not hesitate to help where it was needed.   From this, the disciples learned an important lesson:  No matter how bad your circumstances may be, you can still help others.


Jesus Sent the Disciples out on Mission


At the end of the day, though, Jesus did more than just teach his disciples about doing ministry, he actually sent them out to do ministry.  There are two examples of Jesus sending his disciples out on mission.  In Matthew 10, he first commissioned the twelve apostles, and then sent them out.  But in Luke 10, he sent out 72 of his disciples two by two.  In doing so, he was showing that it is not just the spiritual leaders who are to be doing ministry, but in fact every Christian has this responsibility.

In both of these examples, the ones who were sent out were proclaiming the kingdom of God – they were preaching.  Jesus knew that at some point his disciples would be the leaders of the church, so he had to teach them how to go out and preach – sharing the gospel with others.  However, the idea of proclaiming the kingdom of God is not just limited to the church leaders, so Jesus taught all of his disciples to do ministry and then sent them out two-by-two.


The Disciples Became Disciple-Makers


At the end of the day, the goal of Jesus’ efforts to teach his disciples was to train them to be disciple makers.  When Jesus returned to heaven, it was his disciples that became the leaders of the church.  Lead by the power of the Holy Spirit, these men who three years before were the least likely to lead anyone became the leaders of the church.  The disciples had become disciple-makers.


The goal for all disciples is that eventually they become disciple-makers themselves.  The key word here is multiplication.  We are to make disciples who make disciples.  As Jesus sent out the disciples to make new disciples, those we disciple ought to ultimately go out and make new disciples as well.



Elements of Discipleship

(compliments – Dr. Bill Wilks, Northpark Baptist)


By truly studying Jesus’ model of discipleship, we can better understand how we can make disciples.  From his example, we find there are 6 elements to discipleship that build upon the foundation of a small, intimate discipleship group.  Those elements include regular (weekly) meetings, fellowship, teaching/bible study, prayer, mission, and accountability.

There are a number of ways in which these elements of discipleship can be organized.  In many churches in America, this has traditionally been done through the organization known as Sunday School.   Another common form of this same concept are Community Groups or Small Group Bible Study groups that meet weekly – perhaps at times other than on Sunday.  Many churches also have other types of discipleship programs, including Sunday evening or mid-week discipleship classes that are centered around various subject-oriented bible classes that change periodically so that the student can expand their biblical knowledge.

All of these are very good ways to do discipleship, and they should all be considered as part of your overall discipleship plan.  They are not wrong nor should they be dismissed as avenues for doing discipleship.  In fact, they are critical to developing long-lasting relationships where people can become close friends, care for one another, and continue to grow together in the Lord.   

However, there are two important aspect in each case that often deviates from Jesus’ model.   First, there is nothing to stop any of them from growing so large that the personal, one-on-one aspect of Jesus’ model of discipleship is quickly lost.  Indeed, we sometimes get hung up on numbers and actually encourage large Sunday School or bible study classes.  We wear it as a badge of success.  Second, these groups are often encouraged to remain intact over large periods of time.  This discourages multiplication, which we shall see in a moment is very critical to ongoing discipleship.

Jesus kept his discipleship group small – and he ultimately sent all of his disciples out on their own to multiply.  That was his method of discipleship.  Therefore, later in this lesson a method of discipleship will be presented that ensures the small and intimate nature of discipleship is preserved that also encourages continuous multiplication.


The Discipleship Group


Discipleship should begin with a small committed group that you personally select.  Identify a small group of men (or women) and personally invite them to join you in forming a discipleship group.  Jesus selected only twelve.  You ought to begin with a number that is less than that.  Later, you may add others, but the group should remain small.  At some point, the group will need to disband, with your disciples going on to make other disciples (see below).  At that time, you can begin again with a new group.

When you approach those you want to disciple, get a commitment from them.  Discipleship cannot be an activity of convenience.  The disciples were fully committed to Jesus.  Without a commitment, there is no since in doing discipleship. 

The leader of any such small group must, by necessity, be a mature Christian.  It would be of no value and a great risk for a spiritually immature Christian to attempt to lead such a discipleship group. 

Because of the intimacy involved in discipleship, the best approach is for men to disciple men and women to disciple women.  If a man must disciple a woman, it would be best if the woman were somehow related to the man (such as his spouse, child, or even mother).  That woman, after a time, can then disciple other women.

The makeup of the group should be diverse, consisting primarily of less mature Christians with varying strengths, weaknesses, needs, and personal issues.  The point of discipleship is to help the Christian mature and so the discipleship process opens the door to deal with a wide range of life situations.  However, having another mature Christian to help you lead the group can be very beneficial and can bring an alternate perspective to the discussion.


Weekly Meetings


Everyone is busy with things to do, but it is important to find time to make disciples.  Part of the commitment that your discipleship group should make is to meet together weekly at a regularly scheduled time.  This meeting time should be a priority in all of your lives.  Do not dismiss or miss the time lightly or without strong consideration.  Otherwise, meeting together for discipleship quickly becomes optional rather than a commitment, and any optional activity will ultimately be at the mercy of the urgency of life.  Discipleship, however, ought to be the urgency of life.  This is especially true of you as a group leader, for your disciples will follow your lead.




As Jesus spent time with his disciples, we ought to spend time with our discipleship groups.  Preferably, you should find time to spend time with your group members throughout the week, becoming friends with them.  Jesus himself said of his disciples in John 15:12 “15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.”  The worst thing a pastor can do of his flock – but especially of those he is personally discipling – is to distance himself from them relationally.   Even if no other opportunities are available, gathering for weekly discipleship meetings allows you to spend time with them and get to know them even better.


Teaching/Bible Study


The ultimate idea of the discipleship group is to have the bible taught to the disciple.  There are many, many forms of bible study curricula available in some parts of the world, but other parts of the world may not have access to such resources.  Fortunately, we all have the Bible itself as a result.   Therefore, the model presented later in this lesson will be based on your discipleship group committing to read through the New Testament together in one year. 

Using this method, each week every member of your group will read five chapters from the New Testament.  Reading five chapters a week together means you will read through the New Testament in one year.   When you get together, you will study a focal passage from one of the five chapters.  As leader, you will tell the story in the passage and then ask questions and discuss the passage.  The study and question time is good and beneficial, but the real advantage is to get people into the word.  Your discipleship group, therefore, becomes a tool by which you are encouraging and holding one another accountable for the Spiritual Discipline of Bible Intake.  As we learned in that lesson, you simply cannot grow spiritually without access to God’s word.




The fourth element of discipleship is prayer and it is just as important as the bible instruction.  In the same way that you will be able to use your discipleship group to exercise the Spiritual Discipline of Bible Intake, you will be able to do the same thing with the Spiritual Discipline of prayer.  In your weekly discipleship group meetings, you will have the opportunity to teach them to pray because you will be praying with them every time you meet.  At first, it may be just you praying, but as your people grow, they will learn to pray.  You can also encourage them to practice the discipline of prayer during the week, so that they are not praying only when they are gathered with other Christians.  Disicpleship should teach them how they can have direct access to God the Father at any time.




The fifth element of discipleship is mission.  Just as Christ did mercy ministries with his disciples, you have the opportunity to teach your disciple group about the importance of compassion and doing ministry.   Your discipleship group can work together to do mercy ministries.  You can teach them how important mercy ministries are by periodically doing ministry work together.  You can also teach them to evangelize, and on occasion, you can send them out in groups of 2 or three like Jesus did to share the gospel.




The sixth element of discipleship is multiplication.   In some places and in some cultures, this element may be a very difficult element to accept.   Which is better, to have a single large church, Sunday School class, or discipleship group or to have many, many smaller churches, Sunday School classes, and discipleship groups?  No matter where you go in the world, there will be those who believe that larger is better and that discipleship and bible training should be left in the hands of a few, highly trained and/or highly dedicated ministerial persons.  It is critical that we all understand this is simply not the way in which Jesus intended for discipleship to be nor is it how he modeled discipleship. 

If we are to understand the biblical model for discipleship, we must understand that our discipleship groups are essentially training grounds for making disciple-makers.  Multiplication is how we will win the world for Christ.  If you desire to have a large, mega-sized church, there is certainly nothing wrong with that.  If you desire to have a few, large bible study classes with some excellently trained teachers, there is nothing wrong with that either.  However, you must understand that as entertaining as that may be, spiritual growth for the masses will not come until you engage them on a more personal level.  This means lots of small discipleship groups.  In order to have lots of small groups, you need lots of small group leaders.  Therefore, your discipleship groups must be a training ground for small group leaders that multiple into new small groups on a regular basis.

You will multiply in two ways.  First, as you make new believers, you can add them to your group.  Let them come in – don’t turn away anyone.  However, don’t let the group become too big.  If the group gets bigger than 10-12 people, you need to consider splitting off and forming totally new discipleship groups. Second, at some point, each of your disciples should be ready to go out, select a small group of people, and start their own discipleship group where they are the discipleship leader.  This should be the goal of every discipleship group – to multiply.  In fact, if your discipleship group contains the same few people for more than 1-2 years, then they are not being discipled.  If they don’t multiply, they are just another “community” group and not a discipleship group.  The end game of discipleship is to “go and make disciples.”

For this reason, you should be willing to birth a new group at the appropriate time.  The new group should start back over going through the New Testament.  The old group should be repopulated with new disciples and should itself begin again anew.

Think about the principle of multiplication.  Let’s say you start a discipleship group with you and four other people. If all five of you start a new group of five in one year, you will have 25. If all 25 then start a group of five at the end of the second year, you will have 125.  If you can continue that for four years, you will have discipled 625 people.  If through some miracle you could somehow sustain that for 10 years, you will have discipled almost 10 Million people for Christ.  Certainly, you could never disciple 10 Million people yourself, but through multiplication, we can do it together.

That goal may seem unreachable, but that should not be your focus and goal.  Instead, your goal should be to disciple one group this year, with the intent that everyone in that group starts a new group next year. 


Through Northpark Baptist Church in Trussville, Alabama, Designs For Hope have study guides for just this process – to carry you through the New Testament in one year.   If a second year is absolutely necessary, though, you can just start over back in Matthew and – if you don’t want to use the same study guide – pick another passage and make up your own questions.  The important thing is not these specific passages and questions.   The important thing is that you have a group of people that are regularly reading and studying God’s word.




Last, and no less important, is accountability.  The purpose of these discipleship groups is to engage in the Spiritual Disciplines – especially Bible Intake and Prayer.   If you are not reading God’s word together and praying together, the discipleship group will fail.  Hold your people accountable.  Ask them regularly whether they are reading and praying. Encourage them.  Ask them how they are doing.  Help them stay accountable to reading God’s word.



Discipleship Group Meetings


Having discussed how Jesus went about leading his disciples and drawing from that a list of important elements of discipleship, we can now turn our attention to some very specific and practical ways of implementing those elements of discipleship.  All of those elements of discipleship revolve around the small group and the weekly meeting.  This section will describe one way in which you can  implement those meetings.


Before the meeting


The purpose of the meeting is to get together and discuss what has been done outside of the meeting.  Discipleship is not just about a leader imparting his wisdom to his pupils – although there will be some of that take place during the meeting.   Each student, however, has to begin taking responsibility for his own discipleship.  The first step in that process is a commitment to read God’s word every day.  In this model, everyone starts off reading at lead one chapter of New Testament five days a week. 

Certainly they can – and should be encouraged to - read much more than that, but for the purposes of the discipleship meeting, they need to read at least one chapter a day.  In this way, the group will read through the New Testament together in one year.  In week 1, they will all read Matthew chapters 1-5.  In week 2, they will all read Matthew chapters 6-10, and so forth for a year.

As leader, you should find opportunities during the week to encourage them and hold them accountable for reading.  In some places in the world, however, the challenge will be those people who do not have bibles – or those people who cannot read.  You will have to get creative about ways to get them access to God’s word. Maybe you get together with them for the sole purpose of reading God’s word together.  Maybe there are other ways that you can think of in your specific situation.  However, it cannot be more strongly emphasized how critical it is that your people are regularly reading God’s word.


During the meeting


When you get together for your weekly discipleship meeting, be sure to fellowship a few minutes.  Ideally, there has been time to fellowship outside of the meetings, but certainly if this is your only time with your students for the week, be sure to spend a small bit of social time so that you can all get to know each other better.

When you are ready to get stared, be sure to say a quick prayer to open the study time – emphasizing the importance of prayer.  Begin the bible teaching session then by paraphrasing the focal story/passage as your disciples listen.  This is just an introduction to the passage.  If you have the Designs For Hope Discipleship Guides, these passages will be identified for you.  However, do not be discouraged if you do not have these guides.  Simply pick out one of the stories in the five chapters you read during the week and use it for your focal passage.

At first, you will be the one doing this.  However, telling stories is an easy way to build leadership in your disciples, so as your group gets established, occasionally assign one of your disciples the task of telling the story (do this ahead of time so they are prepared).  One thing you might do to see if they are truly listening is to ask them if you left anything out of the story or added anything to it. 

After telling the story, go ahead and read the focal passage out loud together.  Once again, you may do this at first, but very quickly (within a few weeks at most) let others do the reading.  This also can be part of the training.

Go over the study questions together.  If you do not have the questions available from Designs For Hope, simply make up your own.  Be sure to have both simple questions whose answered are derived directly from the text as well as more thought provoking questions that help the disciple search deeply into the meaning of the text.  Be sure to allow the students to answer – or at least attempt to answer – the questions.  However, it is your job to teach and correct as necessary.  You may also find opportunities to go deeper and share insights not necessarily contemplated by the questions.

At some point, you will have a disciple who you think is ready to lead his or her own group.  When you get to that point, let him/her lead the discussion for a few weeks to get practice.  Help them along as necessary.   When they can lead the discussion regularly without the need for help, then it may be time for them to consider starting their own group.   They may not want to do this at first because they may be enjoying learning from you.  That is OK.  Allow them to continue to grow and mature. However, after a year or so, they ought to be more than ready to multiply the group by starting their own discipleship group.

After your time of Bible Study, take time to pray together, teaching them as necessary how to pray.  Be sure to take time to discuss prayer requests amongst the group.  If they are comfortable doing so, allow them to pray. As your eventually grow in the Lord, there should be no one unwilling to pray.

One thing you may consider before leaving is to see if anyone had questions about other passages from the weekly readings.  Sometimes, there will be great discipleship opportunities that arise from the portions of scripture that you did not focus on because God was dealing with one of your disciples through those other passages.


After the meeting


After the meeting of course it all starts over again with the next five chapers.  However, there will be times when as a group you will have an opportunity to do ministry together.  If possible, try to do a mission project together at least every other month (more frequently if possible).  Sometimes this may be a mercy ministry.  Sometimes this may be going out in twos and threes to share the gospel.  This will be where you can do your most in grooming the disciples to become disciple makers.


In closing, consider back to the circles of discipleship we discussed in Lesson 1 of this course.  To get started, be sure you are committed to discipleship yourself.  Beyond that, however, ask yourself this question: Who do you need to be discipling?

There are two immediate groups you need to start discipling right now, this week even if possible. The first is your family.  There is no reason that as a family, you cannot commit together to read God’s word and meet once a week to discuss what you have read.  This is your responsibility as a husband and father. The second is your key church leaders.  These are the ones that, within six months or so could actually branch off and create their own discipleship groups.  This is your responsibility as a pastor.  Pick no more than six or eight, but be clear that as church leaders, your expectation is that they will be discipling others within a year.  Very quickly, you will have a number of discipleship groups going and you will start seeing tremendous spiritual growth in your churches.