Before You Disciple Others: Here are the Qualifications
All Christians are called to make disciples. It’ll look different from person to person, but we’re all called to be a part of disciple-making efforts. But are there any qualifications needed before we disciple or mentor someone else?
What are the qualifications of discipleship? There are some qualifications needed for good discipleship: be a Christian, grow in faith, seek emotional health, leadership development, and seek to fulfill the requirements of an overseer.
Now, you don’t necessarily need to be perfect in each of these areas before you disciple or mentor someone else. But there will be natural limits to what you’ll be able to accomplish if you’re lacking in these ways.
Should New Christians Wait to Disciple
Should new believers wait to disciple or mentor someone else? If so, how long? Yes, a newer or younger believer should probably wait before they attempt to disciple or mentor someone else, but there are some caveats to consider.
There are some Christian leaders that would argue that newer or younger Christians should avoid trying to disciple or mentor others completely, until they themselves have developed extensively in the Christian faith, waiting for seasoning or training.
However, some other Christian leaders would say that all believers, no matter how new or young, ought to immediately be involved in the discipleship and mentorship process of others. Many leaders in this latter camp believe that there should be minimal (or even zero) waiting or seasoning before a newer believer jumps into discipling others.
Both sides of this conversation have valuable sentiments to offer. I think there’s a middle ground that we can strike.
There’s an old adage, “You cannot give others what you don’t have.” I believe this applies to discipleship and mentorship. There will be a limit to what a person can give to others, if that person doesn’t have those things to give.
Early in someone’s faith, the primary goal is to grow and mature as a believer. There’s a process all disciples go through. As we develop, we gain insights and wisdom, and then, as time passes, we’ll be able to impart those insights and wisdom to others.
How Can New Disciples Help?
I’d argue that very early on in your faith, you’ll want to be involved in discipleship, in someway. Don’t wait for several years before you start helping to disciple or mentor others.
However, I also think that there are some forms of discipleship that should be done by those believers who are more seasoned, and maybe even those who are formally.
In other words, I think it’s possible for newer and younger believers to help disciple other believers, but there’s a direct correlation between what they ought to be doing, and their maturity.
For example, a newer Christian should not be teaching a Sunday school class. But I think it may be appropriate that the new Christian might assist a Sunday school teacher in preparing for the class (not teaching, but administratively). In a scenario like that, the Sunday school teacher is discipling and mentoring that new believer; that new believer will be learning as she is assisting the Sunday school teacher. And the new believer is getting the opportunity of being a part of the process of discipleship happening in the lives of the individuals that will attend the Sunday school class.
Likewise, I don’t necessarily want a newer or younger Christian leading, let’s say, a children’s ministry small group. However, we might be able to have that newer or younger Christian be an assistant in that small group. Of course, this is going to vary from person to person and from situation to situation. Even being an assistant small group leader would demand a certain level of maturity, so you might need to wait several months, or maybe even a year or two, before you let a person step into that sort of role.
As a Christian develops and grows in maturity, then they can continue to take on more and more opportunities and responsibilities.
Be a Christian
The first qualification to disciple others is that you must be a Christian. This may see obvious, but I want to state it anyways.
You need to be a believer if you are going to be the one who is to disciple others. Pastors and leaders should not call on people to mentor others in the faith unless those persons are followers of Jesus and there is some evidence of that.
You don’t have to know the Bible perfectly, and you don’t have to have been a Christian for very long to disciple others. However, you do need to have some level of genuine faith.
Grow in Faith
It is ideal that those who are leading discipleship, are also growing in their own faith. Again, they don’t have to be people who have figured everything out (let’s be honest no one has), but the person certainly ought to be growing in their faith. Before we call upon someone to disciple others, there should be some tangible evidence that this person has grown in their faith, that they have taken steps in growing in the Lord and have taken steps away from sin. There should be tangible fruit growing and developing in their lives.
Growing in leadership development is another qualification of discipleship.
Ultimately, you don’t need to be a great leader to effectively disciple someone. There will be moments where the quality of your leadership will indeed impact how much discipleship you can do. If you have not been trained as a leader or have limited leadership experience, you’ll be able to disciple a handful of people. But the better trained you are in leadership and the more experience you have in leading, the more people you will able to disciple.
Leadership experience teaches us things that books and blogs cannot. Being in real-life situations with people and seeking to lead people in various contexts and settings pushes us. These new opportunities and experiences expose us to see where we are weak, which hopefully forces us to get better. It also demonstrates where we are strong, which boosts our confidence and inspires us to engage in leadership even more.
Much like leadership, if you’re going to be someone who disciples many people over a long period of time, you have to be emotionally healthy. Emotional health is understanding how to navigate and manage your emotions.
Most people have certain emotions and feelings, and they react to those feelings. They allow those feelings to govern how they think. They allow their feelings to impact how they make decisions every single day, based upon what the are feeling.
Someone who is emotionally healthy has learned to control themselves in spite of their emotions. We are always going to have various moments of feelings, whether angry, happy, insecure, inadequate… emotions are real. God made us to be emotional creatures. But we do not want our emotions to control us. Instead, we want to react and respond appropriately in every situation, no matter what our feelings or emotions are telling us. We want to navigate every situation we are in with Biblical wisdom and make the right choices in line with what the gospel would expect from us, no matter how we feel in the moment.
Requirements of an Overseer
A qualification set forth for those who seek to be the primary disciples within the local church contexts is set by the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 3 (the term elders, pastors, and overseers are all used synonymously and interchangeably in the Scriptures, so I will do the same thing). In order to be the primary disciple-maker of a local congregation, that is the pastor, you must meet the requirements of the overseer.
The Apostle Paul is very clear that the pastors are to be men of high Christian character. The primary shepherd and primary disciple-maker for a local church is the one responsible for shepherding the entire congregation and training other people to be disciple-makers. That person must meet the requirements set forth by the Apostle Paul.
The overseer is a leader of high character. They are the man (or men) who serve as the example for the flock, for the congregation. Let us look at Paul’s requirements in his letter to Timothy:
“This saying is trustworthy: ‘If anyone aspires to be an overseer, he desires a noble work’. 2 An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not an excessive drinker, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy. 4 He must manage his own household competently and have his children under control with all dignity. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a new convert, or he might become conceited and incur the same condemnation as the devil. 7 Furthermore, he must have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he does not fall into disgrace and the devil’s trap.” —1 Timothy 3:1-7 (CSB)
The Apostle Paul makes it very clear that the leaders ought to be people that are self-controlled, that have demonstrated competence, that have good reputations. Also, they live their lives in such a way, (while they are not perfect), that can be emulated and followed by those around them. To be the most effective disciple-maker that you can possibly be, and to be the leader that trains others how to be a disciple-maker, you must meet the qualifications that Paul sets forth.
It is important to note that these qualities are only for the overseers, not for everyone else in the church. If you do not meet these requirements, you should not be an elder in the church, but that should not stop you from being a disciple-maker. You should seek to be the type of person that is qualified to be an elder. But don’t wait until you have accomplished this to be a disciple-maker.
Every Christian from the early days of their faith should seek to help other people in their faith. Every person who loves Jesus should seek to help other people love Jesus and anyone who believes in Jesus should help other people grow in their understanding of the gospel. Not every person is called to be an overseer, but every person is certainly called to be a disciple-maker.
Kenneth E. Ortiz (M.Div.) is a church planting resident at The Grove Church and Ph.D. student at Midwestern Seminary. He has 15+ years of vocational ministry experience. He’s also been a professor at Bethlehem College and adjunct faculty at Spurgeon College. Kenneth lives in Minneola, FL with his wife Malaina, they have two kids.