Discipleship means helping someone grow into a more committed and loving follower of Jesus, but how do you actually do that?
I realized I had a lot to learn, so I decided to interview a real veteran. If you spend even a little time with Wes Bowers, you’re bound to hear amazing stories of people coming to faith through his influence (though, of course, he’d never take the credit). Wes doesn’t just dabble in discipleship; it’s a regular part of his life. Whenever possible, he makes sure to follow up with those he has led to Christ. In an average week, you could find him connecting with a few men over coffee, inviting a couple over to his house, and answering spiritual questions as an online mentor.
So I sat down with Wes and asked him to share with me some things he has learned about discipling new believers. Here’s what he said:
1. Recognize that it’s God’s plan of discipleship.
It's not your plan. It’s the Holy Spirit who guides a person into all truth (John 16:13), so your first step is to prepare yourself spiritually. That means making sure you're actively following Jesus yourself, and spending time in prayer both for yourself and for the person you’re trying to disciple. Ask God to direct you in what to share and to open the person’s heart to what he wants to accomplish through your conversations.
2. Don’t push too hard too fast.
You would never push a novice swimmer beyond what they were ready to take on. They could develop fears and start to regress. In the same way, be sensitive to the individual you are discipling. Follow the pace and agenda you discern the Holy Spirit is setting. In this sense, you’re not so much an instructor, but a tool used by the Spirit who is already at work doing the discipleship. As Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them” (John 6:44a). God is already drawing them. You just need to encourage them to take the next step.
3. Review the basics of the gospel.
Help the person you're discipling understand what just happened when they prayed to receive Christ. They may be confused or have questions about certain aspects of the gospel. You can fill in the gaps and make sure there is a strong theological foundation. They need to understand God’s part in salvation and their part as well. Their part was simply to receive the gift of salvation through faith (John 1:12). God’s part was everything else: providing the ultimate sacrifice for sin, pursuing them and opening their heart to understand and believe. As a starting point, try reading “Discover Life” or “Discover Purpose" together.
If the person has a Christian background, they may assume they’re saved because they grew up in a Christian family and know a lot about Jesus and the Bible, so it’s important to help them understand the full implications of believing in Jesus (John 1:12). Contextually, the word “believe” carries three meanings in the Gospel of John: 1) agree with your mind, 2) trust with your heart, and 3) commit with your life. Simply ask them if they have done all three.Plastic Jesus is a great video for having this discussion.
4. Help them to be confident of their salvation.
They are going to sin. They may be surprised that it was possible to go off the rails so soon and start to wonder: Did I just lose my salvation? Do I have to start all over again? Was I really saved to begin with? They need to understand that as they progress and stumble along the way, God is still on their side and has graciously provided a way to deal with sin throughout their life (1 John 1:9).
As with all followers of Jesus, they need to base their standing with God on Scripture, not on feelings, which can change from day to day. So it’s important to review the principles of assurance of salvation — to affirm that despite our unfaithfulness, God remains faithful (2 Timothy 2:13). Here are some verses to discuss: Hebrews 7:25; John 8:36; 1 John 5:13. A useful resource to go through together is “How to Know I’m Really Saved?”
5. Tell them it’s impossible to follow Jesus.
As they continue to progress in their spiritual journey, it won’t be long before they begin to think that living the Christian life is impossible. This is your chance to wholeheartedly agree with them. The truth is, it’s beyond anyone’s ability (in their own strength). Encourage them to memorize these words of Jesus: “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). They’ll need to learn how to live in partnership with Jesus, leaning on his strength daily. Introduce them to the Spirit-Filled Life Teaching, which is all about living a life directed and empowered by the Spirit.
6. Help them take more responsibility for their spiritual growth.
They may be relying on others to facilitate their connection with God. Going forward, they need to develop spiritual disciplines to keep on growing. This is where the following acronym (GROWTH) is useful:
Go to God in prayer daily. Read God’s Word daily. Obey God moment by moment. Witness for Christ by your life and word. Trust God with every detail of your life. Holy Spirit – Allow him to control and empower your daily life and witness.
(For a fuller explanation of these steps, see How to Grow in Christ, lesson three in the Knowing Jesus Personally series.)
In addition, being in community with other believers is especially important for their spiritual growth. If they are comfortable attending church at this point, this will become a major source of growth. If not, encourage them to start by connecting them one-on-one with other believers. Then make sure you remember to revisit the topic of church involvement down the road.
7. Teach them how to share the gospel.
Jesus didn’t wait long before getting his disciples actively involved in ministry. He sent them out to share the good news of the Kingdom and make disciples (Luke 9:1-6; Luke 10:1-24). This process of spiritual multiplication changed the world forever, leading to billions of changed lives throughout history.
Help the person discover his or her unique role in fulfilling Jesus’ Great Commission. If they develop the habit of sharing their faith early on in their Christian journey, it is more likely to become a natural part of their life. Share with them what you’ve learned about sharing Christ.
Take a look at the Exponential Faith and Share Your Faith series, two great tools for training someone in evangelism. God Tools is a handy app they can have on their phone; it provides prompts for communicating the gospel to someone. If they’d prefer to hand out something physical, show them where to buy gospel tracts.
As they step out in faith, cheer them on and remind them that “success in witnessing is simply taking the initiative to share Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to God” (Bill Bright). Make sure you are leading by example — pursuing a dynamic relationship with Jesus yourself.
Read Wes Bowers’ Testimony.