How One-on-One Discipleship Works & Tips for Success
You may be wondering what one-on-one discipleship is, how it works, and more importantly, how to be successful at it.
What is one-on-one discipleship? When one Christian is intentionally spending time with another Christian, seeking to help that person grown in their faith.
One-on-one discipleship is important because it is one of the very helpful tools for shepherding and guiding people in their faith. Everyone is different and everyone is so unique, so different people need different things. Many people at different seasons in their life will need some form of one-on-one care from an older or wiser Christian.
How One-on-One Discipleship Works
If you are someone who wants to grow in discipleship or if you’re someone who has not been intentional with discipleship, then let’s learn how one-one-one discipleship works.
One-on-one discipleship should be looked at as something simpler and less intimidating than it typically is. In essence, one person is simply reaching out to another, seeking to spend one on one time with them. It can be as simple as asking someone to grab a coffee or to watch a game with you with the intent of having a conversation about spiritual things. It could also be as simple as going out for dinner or inviting someone over to your house. There are all sorts of various ways to do it. It just simply takes someone asking another person to hang out, which is usually pretty easy and the person is usually responsive to it.
How One-on-One Discipleship Differs From Other Types
Other types of discipleship groups are informal small groups, formal small groups, Bible classes, and congregational leadership.
Informal small groups: This where 3-5 people are spending time together in an informal setting. Such as a home or a coffee shop, with no intentional plan.
Formal Small Groups: More formally, a lot of churches will have community groups or life groups where there is a small group of people with anywhere of 6-15 people between with a very intentional plan.
Bible Classes: This is the traditional classroom model where churches will choose to formally equip members and is offered by a lot of churches as a means of discipleship.
Congregational: Whenever a pastor is preaching or leading a congregation, they are disciplining the entire church. However, this is on a macro level and they are not necessarily thinking on an individual level.
All of these are helpful and very beneficial, but they play a different role in the life of the believer. They cannot compare to one-on-one discipleship.
Discipleship vs. Mentorship
One-on-one discipleship demands intentionality, ultimately with the goal of helping others grow and develop in Christian maturity. Discipleship is a lot like mentorship. Discipleship and mentorship are not exactly the same thing, but there’s a lot of overlap. In my TEDx talk (2019) I talk about how to be a great mentor. These tips and insights also apply to discipleship.
Tips for Success for One-on-One Discipleship
The tips for successful discipleship through the one-on-one model are spending time, allowing others into your life, being intentional, and to be encouraging as well as challenging. You must also have a schedule, and keep regular notes, as this proves to be successful for one-on-one discipleship.
1. Be Willing to Spend Time
You have to be willing to spend a lot of time with people if you’re going to succeed at one-on-one discipleship. Once in a while or every few months is never very effective. You have to be very intentional with people and seek them out. This shows your loyalty and dedication to them and to their faith.
2. Allow Others into Your Life
Be willing to allow people to come into your life. If you’re going to be doing effective one-on-one discipleship and your only setting is sitting across from them at a coffee shop table every single time, that’s not real life. Ultimately, allowing people to come into your life and inviting them into what you’re doing every day will give a sense of how gospel and faith intersect in real life. This is discipleship.
3. Be Intentional
You have to have an intentional plan with people. Whether that’s a Bible reading plan, a book, or something else beneficial, have some sort of intentionality. Don’t just show up to the coffee shop or the hangout unprepared. Occasionally it’s fine, but most of the time its better if you have some sort of plan in place.
4. Intentional Prayer
Be sure that you have prayer in your one-on-one discipleship moments. One thing I often do is have the other person open our time together in prayer and I’ll typically close our time together in prayer.
I ask them to open because heir prayer can often give me insights into their state of mind and their mood. It also gives me insights into things they’re concerned about. It also sets the mood for our time together; asking them to pray sends the message that, ultimately, I expect them to go to God with their concerns, not just coming to me. This technique is even more valuable in counseling situations, should you find yourself in that sort of context.
5. Give “Homework” As Needed
Sometimes, it’s really helpful to give people some sort of “homework assignment” or expectation of your meeting with them. The best example is to read a book together and have them read a chapter, and then expect them to show up ready to discuss it. When someone does that, they typically have more skin in the game and they’re more likely to discuss it. They will be more into the topic, and therefore are more likely to get more out of it. This also helps guard the conversation from drifting toward being superficial, redundant, or complaint-filled.
6. Be Encouraging and Challenging
You have to be very encouraging and challenging. Be sure to intentionally notice what a person is doing well and encourage them. You also have to be willing to challenge and confront them.
As the teacher, you have to be willing to notice things that they are not doing well and to gently (but bolding) confront them on their sins or on things that are getting in the way. One-on-one is the best way to do this. It is not ideal to confront people’s sins, insecurities, or failures in any other setting, so one-on-one is very helpful. You can sit across the table from someone and point out their flaws, in a very gentle, yet very clear way.
7. Have a Regular Schedule
Have a regular schedule. Personally, I like to do one-on-one discipleship weekly or twice a month. But it is very effective to keep it as a set, regular schedule so that your disciple always knows when to expect you. This also helps with the intentionality of the one-on-one discipleship.
8. Keep Notes
Another important tip to remember is to keep notes of your meetings with people. A short pencil is better than a long memory, and you want to remember what you and your disciple have been working on. Of course, keep this confidential at all times, unless you legally must report the information.
Applying the Tips of Success
Now that you have been informed of the best way to practice one-on-one discipleship, I highly encourage you to put these tips into practice. One-on-one discipleship can be more intimidating at times, but the best way to become great at something is to practice it.
Not only will you be enriching your life with a depth of wealth and knowledge in discipleship and interpersonal relationships, but you will also be encouraging someone else’s life as well. Remember that the impact that you’re making now is eternal. You are impacting the Kingdom of God by sowing into other people’s faith, and making themselves and yourself stronger in the process.
Kenneth E. Ortiz (M.Div.) is a professor and recruiter at Bethlehem College and a pastor at Cities Church in St. Paul, MN. 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.