How to Choose Someone to Disciple - Why FAT is Greater Than FAITH

Inviting someone into a disciple making relationship is a big deal. It’s always been that way. Jesus prayed all night before selecting the Twelve (Luke 6:12-16). The disciples prayed before deciding Mathias would replace Judas (Acts 1:24-26). Selection is important and those who aren’t careful will learn the hard way that it’s easier to invite someone to come along than it is to ask them to go away.


All too often, disciple makers select for the wrong reasons. Some seek to minimize the risk of rejection and choose a believer they know will say yes. Others want to make sure they’ll be needed, so they choose a spiritual orphan who has made a mess of his life. And still others, seek to guarantee they’ll know enough to help so they choose a much younger or less wise person. In each case the reasoning is understandable, but worldly wisdom often leads to spiritual frustration. What should a disciple maker consider before selecting someone to disciple?


To answer that question, disciple makers have primarily used two acronyms to assess who is ready to be discipled: FAT and FAITH. Both acronyms share the F. A. and T., so let’s start by defining those:

Faithfulness is a measure of trustworthiness.

Luke 16:10 helps us understand its importance. It says, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is also faithful in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing I unrighteous also in much.” Faithfulness then, is an indicator of whether a person can be trusted to steward something. Do you want to know how a person will respond to the opportunity of being discipled? Observe how that person is handling his current growth opportunities (corporate worship/teaching, small groups, training opportunities, etc.) as that’s the best indicator of how he’ll handle a new opportunity. Those who are faithful with what they already have are probably ready for more.

Availability is a measure of priorities.


In a culture where the #1 obstacle of disciple making is busyness a person’s availability can’t be ignored. As you talk with those you’re considering, which ones are loudly (& perhaps proudly) proclaiming their busyness? A person who can barely find time to meet with you for their own benefit, is unlikely to find time to disciple someone else. Since we all make time for what’s most important to us, this is actually a priority issue.

Teachability is a measure of both humility and hunger.

Let’s face it, some people aren’t interested in growing or learning. They just don’t have the hunger to grow. Others have the hunger to grow, but distrust everyone who isn’t their favorite Christian celebrity. As you spend time around your potential picks do they seem hungry to learn? Are they eager to learn from you? It’s important not to confuse teachability with a willingness to jettison their beliefs for yours. The Bereans were praised by Paul because they didn’t simply trust what he taught, instead they checked it against Scripture. Teachability is a genuine desire to learn and grow, but it’s also a commitment to wrestle with different viewpoints in order to become like Him.

FAT, it’s simple and easy to remember, but since our culture has an obesity problem, it’s not a comfortable term. For this reason, many view FAITH is more palatable. This acronym adds an “I” and a “H”, here’s what they stand for:

Initiative is a leadership quality born out of ownership.

A person who is invested in the outcome is willing to do things to reach the destination. A disciple who is an initiator will be an asset to promote disciple making. Since we already have faithfulness, initiative skews our thinking towards developing skilled leaders over faithful disciples. All of us are called to disciple making, but only some are called to become leaders (1 Tim 3:1).

Heart for God & People

If a person didn’t exhibit a heart for God would you be considering her as someone to disciple? Since we can’t disciple non-believers, I hope not! On the other hand, there are many faithful, available, and teachable people who are not-yet-relational. Amongst these are many introverts, the highly intuitive, and the relationally wounded, who on the outside don’t appear to have a heart for people.



I get the cultural pressure to lose FAT, but in this case it’s a mistake. Here’s why:

First, FAT is a selection triumvirate of irreducible complexity. Adding more unnecessarily complicates the selection process. Miss on any of the FAT qualities and disciple making doesn’t work. Trust me, I’ve tried!

Second, a skewed selection framework can effectively sideline people who are ready to become excellent disciple makers. I’ve seen both initiative and an outward heart for people develop as a person is discipled. Both of these qualities are muted in those with certain personality types (especially introverts) and cultural backgrounds. In other words FAITH can handicap those who haven’t been trained to manifest initiative and outward heart for people.

So, in conclusion, don’t make this harder than it is, just find a FAT person! And be careful not to call them FAT without the proper context!

This post is also available in Chinese.