How Do I Start A Disciple Making Relationship?

You have doubts, but deep down you know God’s telling you it's time to start.

Recently, your relationship with God has grown like never before. Each day you spend regular time with Him: praying, reading the Bible, reflecting, and applying. You love it! As you look back over the past few months, there’s no doubt about your growth, it’s real. Still, the thought of inviting someone else to learn from you is scary.

In theory, making disciples sounds great, but the initial step of asking someone is intimidating, if not downright terrifying! Just thinking about that initial conversation kicks your insecurities into overdrive…What if they’re offended because you think they need help to grow? What if they think you need to learn from them? What if they ask lots of questions you aren’t prepared to answer? What if it’s awkward and you don’t know what to do next?

Those who allow insecurities to become insurmountable never experience the joy of spiritual generations flowing from their life. In fact, the importance of the initial conversation is hard to overstate. After all, it’s impossible to finish what’s never started! While I don’t know of any way to totally eliminate fear and insecurity from the equation, it doesn’t have to be awkward. There’s at least one way to invite others into a discipling relationship that’s clear, natural, and effective. Here’s how I do it…

When I invite someone into a discipling relationship, I begin by sharing how being discipled changed my life. Through story, I share about the impact Greg made on me twenty years ago. If you’ve never been discipled then just begin by explaining what God’s been doing in you to get you to this point. Next, I explain what I’m inviting them to do with me.  In short, I say that a disciple making relationship involves three things:

1. Relationship Building. Together we’re going to build a relationship. This isn’t a class or book club, it’s not a Bible study or business relationship, it’s two people learning and caring for one another. We’ll focus on the other’s good and aim for trust, openness, and vulnerability. To do this well, the discipler must be committed to transparency and modeling. 

2. Life and Ministry Skills. Together we’ll seek to develop skills that help us in life and ministry. These are similar, but not the same. A life skill is something that anyone in our culture needs to develop, whether they follow Jesus or not. Examples include money management, conflict resolution, parenting skills, etc. Ministry skills are needs that are specific to Christians. Examples include how to understand Scripture, how to share about Jesus, how to disciple another, etc. 

3. Character Development. Over time, as we build a relationship of trust, we will notice things about the other person that’s not in alignment with Christ. Often these things are subtle and hidden from us but obvious to those around us. Examples include needing to be the center of attention, always taking the best seat at small group, insecurity that leads to social avoidance, etc. As we disciple, we commit to bringing them up to the other person as lovingly and as gently as we can.

After explaining each of those three I ask, “Which of these three do you think is most often left out and why?"

In nearly twenty years of asking that question, people normally say #1 or #3. I believe it’s #3-character building because it’s no fun for anyone. I can still remember the mixture of anger and shock I felt when my discipler asked why I hadn’t gotten up to help clear the table the week before. Almost everyone else at the meeting had, but I sat and talked with a friend. It hurt and I was defensive, but I tried to listen. At the end of our conversation, he gently asked me if I would ask God about that incident and whether I was serving as God desires. I did ask God, and He made it clear that I needed to grow so that I served like Jesus did. Truth is, I’m still working to develop in that area.

The other side is no fun either. Pointing one out a character flaw to someone you deeply care about is a labor of love. As difficult as it is, these conversations have incredible transformational power. In many cases, it’s a tangible example of loving someone enough to tell them something that everyone sees, but no one has the courage to confront.

I move the initial conversation to a close by affirming the person and how I’ve seen God at work in his life. In short, I explain why I think he’d be a good fit for this type of investment. Next, I ask if he has any question. If not, I ask him to pray about it and set up a time for a follow-up conversation in the near future. 

In the next conversation, if he’s interested, commit to meeting together for only a couple months. At the end of that period, assess how things are going. Since many proclaim to be faithful, but few actually are, a “try-it-on” period protects you from committing to someone who is undiscipleable. This also allows him the opportunity to see if you the relationship will be what you’ve described. Regardless of how it’s going after those two months, it’s important to have that conversation. If both of you think it’s going well, then it’s affirming to you both. If one or both of you don’t think it’s going well then you have the opportunity to course correct or to relate in a different way.

This simple approach eliminates a lot of fear and insecurity. There are plenty of obstacles to becoming a disciple maker, don’t allow the first step to stop you from becoming a reproducer! I’ve found that even those who turn down the offer walk away feeling affirmed and honored that you asked. Now that you have a plan, it’s time to find your man or woman!.