8 Questions About Discipleship Answered
I’ve been a Christian for more than 25 years and have served in pastoral ministry for more than a decade. In that time, I’ve had a lot of conversations with people about discipleship. A few months ago I wrote an extensive article about my observations on how to disciple people well, “The Five-Step Discipleship Process to Spiritual Maturity.”
Over the last several years, I’ve been asked many questions about discipleship, mentorship, and spiritual formation. Here are the most common and most important of those questions.
1. When Should Someone Start Discipling?
Immediately. As soon as someone comes to faith in Christ, we should start training them and encouraging them to help others come to faith in Christ as well. For the new believer, this means they ought to be sharing their newfound faith enthusiastically with their friends and family, whether they are spiritually mature or not. Whether they have Bible knowledge is irrelevant at this point. We want people to start sharing their faith with others.
The first step in discipleship is evangelism and that should start as soon as someone comes to Christ. Greater spiritual depth will come in time, but for now, it is important for new believers to use what they already have.
2. How Much of the Bible Do I Need to Know in Order to be a Disciple Maker?
The answer is not a specific amount of the Bible that you need to know, but it is the reality that you should be ever-growing in your faith and biblical knowledge. The goal is not to know a lot about the Bible. The goal is to simply be growing in how much of the Bible you know. If you are growing in your faith and learning more about God, then that is more than enough to be effective in discipleship. However, there will certainly be moments where you are discipling someone that you have a limited understanding of a particular topic that is applicable to their life.
In that case, what you need is access to the answers that you might not have. The best place for this is the pastor of your church. Hopefully, you are a part of a quality, healthy, and gospel-centered church where the elders love you and can be of help to you. Rely on them. Lean on them. When you are discipling and you don’t know enough about the Bible, tell the person you are discipling that you don’t know the answer but that you will get back to them. Then, ask your pastors for wisdom. Hopefully, they will give you good books and blogs that will be helpful to you as you seek to disciple others.
3. Should I Disciple People Older than Me?
Yes, but be careful. What I mean by that is simply this, when we are discipling people there will come moments when we need to correct them or challenge them. If you are a younger person discipling someone older than you, you want to be very careful and gentle when you correct them. Partially, this is because older people don’t take well when younger people correct them. You want to be as tender and kind as possible. In addition, just because you may know more about the Bible than someone older, doesn’t mean you know more than them in every area. If someone is older than you it is likely that they know more than you do in many areas. You don’t want to come across as prideful.
You may have been a Christian longer than the person who is older than you. Yet, the mere fact that they are older than you means that there are areas of life where they know more than you do simply from experience. You want to be sensitive to this and you want to learn from them in those areas just as much as they are learning from you when it comes to spirituality and Bible knowledge. It is absolutely appropriate for younger people to disciple older people in certain moments, although, it is rare. It can be effective, however, the younger Christian, who is seeking to disciple an older person, should be very respectful and mindful of the fact that the person who is older may have more wisdom in other genres of life.
4. Should We Disciple People of the Opposite Gender?
This is a question that comes up quite a bit, particularly in my youth ministry context. Generally speaking, it is best for older men to mentor younger men and for older women to mentor younger women. Predominantly, you should spend the bulk of your discipleship efforts investing in those of the same gender. This is because people are best discipled if they are discipled by someone of the same gender. A person of the same gender will more naturally understand them better.
Me, as an adult man, will never understand what a teenage girl is going through, therefore there are limits on what I can say. Certainly, I’ve had moments of insecurity and inadequacy, which is something that I may have in common with the average teenage girl. I have some wisdom to offer her, but a woman who loves Jesus and knows the Bible well will be far more equipped to speak to that teenage girl.
In moments where you will cross-gender you want to do so in group settings, not one-on-one. We’ve all heard stories about pastors who have had moral failures. Many of those situations started because of an inappropriate relationship that grew out of something that seemed like a discipleship relationship.
Certainly men can invest in women and women can invest in men, but we need to be very cautious to stay way above reproach. And again, ideally in group settings. As a pastor, whenever I’ve met with a woman for pastoral purposes, I almost always do it in a small group setting, in a public place, and during the day time. I have never met with a woman in my office one-on-one, never for dinner, and never in the evenings.
The apostle Paul commands us to live above reproach, which means we should not do anything that remotely seems inappropriate. Therefore, in those moments, I will meet in a group of three or four. I will typically do it in a public place where lots of people can see, such as a coffee shop. Some people might say that I’m far too cautious. I’m fine with that accusation. I’d rather be too cautious than too loose.
5. Is There a Wrong Way to Disciple?
Generally, the answer is no, there is no wrong way to disciple. However, there are some best practices. Whenever we are making disciples, we want to have a plan. We don’t want to be haphazard or random. Instead, we should strive to be strategic or intentional. We should have a goal in mind. All that we are doing and working for should be to reach that goal for the betterment of the other person. Discipleship that doesn’t have a plan typically ends up being shallow and not nearly as effective.
If you’re looking for some tips and wisdom on how to disciple and mentor well, check out my TEDx talk, “How to be a Great Mentor.”
6. What’s the Best Passage of Scripture to Take a New Believer Through?
Most Christian leaders recommend using the gospel of John. Often recommending that you focus conversations on the signs that proved that Jesus was who he said he was.
Also, be sure the new believer understands the divinity of Christ. Put an emphasis on the “I AM” statements that Jesus makes throughout the gospel, culminating in John 8. This verse declares Jesus as the “I AM” of Exodus 3. Thus, Jesus is equating Himself with Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament. This is essential for new believers to understand who Jesus is and who He claims to be and what passages of scripture points us to that. In addition, the gospel of John has lots of great theological truths that are helpful for new believers.
7. Which Book of the Bible Should I use in Evangelism with Unbelievers?
The gospel of Mark is my personal favorite book to use when I’m working with unbelievers. Certainly, you can use any number of passages of scripture, yet, the gospel of Mark is my favorite because of his style. He is writing particularly to a gentile audience, specifically trying to convince them that Jesus is the victorious, supreme leader of the universe. Jesus is authoritative. He is victorious over sin. He is worthy to be followed.
Mark is quick and relatively abrupt and fast-paced. He does not elaborate on many of the narratives that are unpacked in detail in the other gospels. Mark is more punchy, which tends to be helpful in evangelistic conversations. Again, it is important to note that all of the Bible is helpful and can be utilized in evangelism. What stands out is Mark’s intention and style. This leads him and his writing to be the ideal for unsaved persons.
8. Can Single People Disciple Married People?
All of the same sin patterns and proclivities that married people have are also common to single people as well. Therefore, single can indeed mentor married people. Jesus was unmarried and He spoke to single people and continues to do so today through His word. The apostle Paul was also unmarried, as well as many of the Prophets of the Old Testament. If marriage is a prerequisite to be an effective discipleship maker, then all these men are disqualified.
With that statement, it is also important to note that there is practical wisdom for relying on and leveraging the wisdom of married people. As a single pastor myself, I have done premarital counseling and have discipled married peoples throughout my pastoral ministry experience. However, I have intentionally gone out of my way to involve older people from the congregation to be a part of those relationships and conversations. Married people understand much better than I will ever understand, being that I am unmarried. It would be foolish if I did not rely on them and use their understanding.
In addition, there are a lot of great books that I believe single people should read to help them in their pursuit of mentoring married people. As a single person, you may not have firsthand experience but you can acquire the knowledge necessary to be an effective disciplemaker for those who are married. Furthermore, the vast majority of problems that married people face and also faced by single people. They simply manifest themselves differently. Therefore, the same antidote given to a single person can also be given to a married couple.
Discipleship is a necessary way to grow the body of Christ and to bring new believers into the church. Discipleship should occur at all times and at all levels. All followers of Christ have something to offer their fellow believers and those who are open to hearing about Jesus.
Discipleship can occur in numerous ways within one person’s life. The discipler can also be discipled by other believers who have greater Spiritual wisdom. This allows believers to continue growing in maturity, all the while, leading other people into the family of Christ.
The entire body of Christ should be used in the discipleship process if possible. It is highly beneficial to involve believers from various stages, ages and ways of life into the mentoring of specific individuals. By learning from one another and other resources, the discipleship process can become efficient, effective and unified.
Kenneth E. Ortiz (M.Div.) is a professor and recruiter at Bethlehem College and a pastor at Cities Church. He has 15+ years of vocational ministry experience. He’s also a podcaster, author, and Ph.D. student. Kenneth lives in Bloomington, MN with his wife Malaina, they have one daughter.