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Simon Ford

How do you know if you are discipling someone? 

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“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” Those were the words uttered by the great philosopher Confucius in around 500 BC and yet they ring ever more true today. If you are unsure about that, just take a look around at the amount of books, blog posts or phone apps available to you that are designed to “streamline” or “simplify” our everyday living. They are expressions of this desire in us to recapture something that’s been lost.

Quite often, my observation is that discipleship is in danger of becoming very complicated as well. Perhaps that’s why so many of us have struggled at points with feeling confident that we are actually being discipled or discipling someone else. Maybe instead of being simple and repeatable, it’s sometimes felt complex and elusive.

So what are some simple ways to know if you are discipling someone? Well here are a few ideas based on trying to copy what I see Jesus doing:

If I you’re discipling someone….

  • You are offering them invitation and challenge

Invitation is about welcoming someone further into relationship with you and opening up your everyday life to them.  Leah shared some great thoughts on this topic a few weeks ago.  In this way, they are also able open up their lives to you, to receive your encouragement and wisdom. As the saying goes, often people don’t care what you know until they know that you care. If discipleship happens through relationship, are you growing relationship with that person?

Challenge involves helping someone see where they have the opportunity to grow and often the barriers that are stopping that happening. It’s also about walking the sometimes wobbly, tough, or scary journey with them to help them see breakthrough and live in to that opportunity so that it becomes reality. Part of discipling someone is challenging them to become all they are called to be and keeping them accountable to what they have decided to do.

Invitation and challenge work together to bring someone into a healthy discipling relationship.

Are you offering both invitation and challenge?

  • They are growing in both character and competency

Disciples are people who are becoming like Jesus (character) and learning to do the things Jesus could do (competency).  Both internal and external expressions are really important. So if we are looking to disciple someone, we should be helping them to process their personal spiritual journey and walk with God as well as their everyday family, workplace, community life.  Another way to express that might be to say growing in both Covenant identity and Kingdom purpose. Jesus calls us to embrace both. So our discipleship should reflect that balance.

Are you processing character and competency issues?

  • They are learning what you have learned

When Jesus commissioned his disciples in Matthew 28, he told them to “teach everything I have commanded you”. All the believers had to pass on was what they knew themselves. They couldn’t teach stuff they didn’t know! If we are discipling someone, we should be seeing them experience the same truths, lessons, wisdom and practices that we have learned. It doesn’t mean their life is a carbon copy of ours, rather it means that they are able to inherit things that we have learned, stand on our shoulders, and go even further in living those things out.

Are you sharing your own learning?

  • They know what God is saying to them at the moment and what they are going to do about it

Where discipleship can get a bit vague and messy is if we don’t stick to the simple principle of asking the same two questions:

  • What’s God saying to you in this?
  • What are you going to do about it?

The danger could be that on the one hand, we talk in endless circles about a situation and the deep reflections we are having on scriptural truths that apply in this instance, but never actually put them in to practice. Conversely, we could just rush to identify an issue and try to offer a “solution” or quick fix without really allowing God to speak into the process or for the person we are discipling to take ownership of what they think they need to do. Disciples are people who are learning to answer these two questions in simple but deep relationship with God and others.

Are you keeping it simple and asking the same two questions?