The most common term Jesus used to identify his followers was “disciple” (Luke 14:27). Furthermore, Jesus commanded his disciples to “make disciples” (Matthew 28: 18-20). In fact, this was his last earthly request. In others words, according to Jesus, making disciples is important. Some have observed, ‘Christianity is always one generation from extinction.’ Jesus understood this dynamic. In fact, I believe it is part of God’s plan. Jesus came to make wrong relationships right: first with God and then with others (Matthew 22: 37-40). Hence, the Christian faith by nature is highly relational. In fact, the term ‘righteousness’ literally means ‘right relationships.’ Moreover, righteousness is arguably a major theme of every single book in the Bible. The continuation and growth of the kingdom is likewise relational. Jesus likened the expansion of the kingdom to yeast (Matthew 13:33) which we today might understand as a virus. It spreads through personal contact. God uses disciples to make disciples, or followers to begat more followers. The Apostle Paul understood this concept well as he counseled Timothy:
2 Timothy 2:2 – The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.
Paul describes four generations of disciples in this challenge to Timothy. As Paul disciples Timothy, he asks Timothy to disciple others who will in turn disciple others still. If the chain is broken, the kingdom stalls within that community of people. Thus, believers everywhere are responsible to disciple others to follow Christ. We are responsible for building intentional relationships for the purpose of leading others towards Christlikeness. This kind of discipleship was a normative practice in the early church and it should be for us as well.
New Testament leaders also practiced a very natural and relational style of discipleship. Mature believers took personal responsibility for leading others towards maturity in Christ. This type of discipleship is all too often neglected in today’s Christian circles. This is probably for two reasons. First, we have come to equate discipleship with Bible Study. While Bible study is certainly an important part of discipleship, authentic and effective discipleship is much more. The kind of discipleship that Jesus, Paul and other New Testament leaders practiced is a personal, spiritual, relational and dynamic process where one person invests in another to guide them towards Christ and Christlikeness. We will discuss this later at length. Another reason we do not practice intentional discipleship relationships is that we may not know how. We ourselves have not been discipled, nor have we witnessed others being discipled. We are uncomfortable because we don’t know what to do, or even where to start. We do the best we can, but our methods do not resemble the methods of our forefathers, nor does our fruit resemble their fruit.
My purpose in writing this Coaches Guide is to empower Christians to make authentic disciples by providing practical principles, insights and resources to help them lead others towards Christlikeness. This guide can be used in churches, home churches, neighborhoods, or workplaces: anywhere there is an opportunity for one Christian to disciple another. This guide can be used in a traditional mentor to disciple relationship. We have also found that it can be very effective in peer to peer discipleship as well. A person can even use this guide alone if there are no other options. The important thing is that we are making disciples.
So, how does this work? What does Thrive 316 look like? Well, discipleship is essentially a special kind of friendship that involves intentionality and spirituality. It is one believer helping another in the way of faith. ‘I care enough to pass on what I know about the Lord and his kingdom.’ It is friendship because it is both natural and relational, or at least it should be. It is intentional because the relationship has direction: a direction both parties are eager and excited to explore. It is spiritual because we discuss spiritual things: we study scripture together, we read books together, we fellowship together, we pray together, we minister together, we encourage one another, and we challenge one another. Furthermore, this special friendship is far more satisfying and powerful than the usual kind, for God’s Spirit is present in disciple making relationships (Matthew 28: 18-20). There exists an exhilarating edge when deep matters of the heart along with the practical matters of life are exposed and influenced by the mysteries and wonders of God and his word. Few things in life are more exciting than walking arm in arm with a good friend on a sincere journey towards Christ.
If you already know how to do this, you can disregard much of what is in this Guide. You may already do most of what is outlined in these pages. In fact, you may think these methods are a little stiff or mechanical for your tastes. That is not only OK, but preferred. The ultimate goal of this resource is to develop natural, Spirit led disciple makers. The principles and procedures outlined here are meant to be like training wheels until you can go it on your own. The material in this Guide is also meant to be a resource for even the seasoned disciple maker. It is my prayer that you will return time and again to this guide because it contains insights and resources that you find valuable in your quest to help people follow Jesus Christ.
Therefore, the information in this Thrive 316 Coaches Guide is not necessarily a system to be slavishly followed. I hope that you approach these principles and resources as tools to be added to your repertoire. Discipleship is an art. Like music, beginners will do well to stick to the notes and follow the melody placed before them. However, as you advance you are able to improvise in rich and wonderful ways to enhance the melody and please listeners. Yet, even in improvisation, certain structures or qualities must be adhered to. A musician who completely disregards melody, metric, time, tone and voice creates dissonance that detracts from the music. Such is the nature of discipleship.
The material in this Coaches Guide is presented with a great deal of structure. It is the only way to effectively catalog such a wide variety of topics and anticipate the various needs of those being discipled. There also exists within the Coaches Guide a great deal of process. I hope you understand that many people need this: especially to get started. Hopefully, you will find these principles, procedures and resources helpful as you develop your personal disciple making approach. You may find that some things are not helpful, or that you would approach a certain task in a different way. Again, that is OK. The most important thing is that as a mature believer you are intentionally investing your life in making disciples.
The Nature of Discipleship
We have already mentioned that authentic spirituality, while certainly involving cognitive elements, is deeply personal, spiritual, relational and dynamic. Should not our discipleship methods reflect this reality and involve a process that is likewise deeply personal, spiritual, relational and dynamic? Learning God’s word is vitally important, yet when presented solely as truth to be intellectually absorbed by the mind, we run the risk of leaving the heart and soul unaffected. Jesus did not focus solely on cognitive learning. He practiced a very personal and relational style of discipleship that involved shared life, spiritual intimacy and teachable moments. Perhaps we can take steps to model our discipleship efforts after Christ and seek to incorporate his style and methods into ours. Perhaps we should further explore the idea of discipleship as deeply personal, spiritual, relational and dynamic.
To say that discipleship is personal is to say the goal of discipleship is not to master a body of information, but to become more like Jesus Christ. Spiritual growth involves growing in love, righteousness, holiness, obedience, grace, peace, generosity, forgiveness, etc… These are personhood issues that impact who we are, not just what we know. We are talking about very personal matters of the heart, soul and spirit. We are dealing with strongholds of sin, fear, shame and doubt. We are delving into the secret core of our identity. These are delicate matters. People are hesitant to allow others access to their most private and personal thoughts. We all feel tempted to put on masks to impress others. We don’t want them to see who and what we really are. Authentic discipleship involves swimming in these delicate waters. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to effectively address matters of the heart to move towards Christ without access to the heart, soul and spirit. Effective discipleship is personal.
Discipleship is also spiritual. Again, this quality acknowledges the goal of Christlikeness and how the real work of discipleship takes place in the heart, soul and spirit. Yes, authentic discipleship involves good Bible teaching, and hopefully plenty of it; however, it is possible for a person to know something to be true and for that person to choose not to do it. For example, many people in America smoke cigarettes. Most of these people fully understand the dangers involved and simply choose to ignore them. In fact, most of these people could explain why it would be in their best interests to quit smoking; yet they either can’t or choose not to stop. We see this same dynamic in the lives of many Christians who choose certain sins. They could easily explain the spiritual benefits of curtailing sinful behavior such as cheating on their taxes, lying to impress their friends or looking at pornography. However, they don’t stop because they either can’t or won’t. The primary problem with many Christians is not that they don’t know the right thing to do; it’s that they don’t do it. Thus, effective discipleship focuses on changing the heart rather than only informing the mind. Effective discipleship is spiritual.
Discipleship is also relational. Authentic spirituality takes place in the context of relationship and is often measured by the quality of our relationships. Even a cursory glance at the major teachings in the New Testament will reveal that spirituality is relational. The Sermon on the Mount is relational, the beatitudes are relational, the fruit of the Spirit are relational, The Great Commission is relational, The Great Commandment is relational, the ‘one anothers’ are relational, 1 Corinthians 13 is relational and on it goes. The Bible constantly emphasizes righteousness, which literally means right relationships. Does it not make sense then that effective discipleship also takes place in the context of relationship? It seems that one of the primary purposes of the church is have people in your life who love you and care about you, who will encourage, edify and admonish you, and who will hold you spiritually accountable. This is what discipleship is. We intentionally let people into our lives for the purpose of teaching, encouragement and accountability. God thus uses our relationship with others to shape us to be more like Jesus. Effective discipleship is relational.
Finally, discipleship is dynamic. It is fluid and responsive. It moves with the flow of life. This is how Jesus operated. He was able to pierce the heart because he dealt with people where they were. He was able to touch the lives of Zacchaeus, Nicodemus, the woman at the well, his disciples and so many others because he operated in the here and now. Jesus was a master of the teachable moment. He was able to perceive the condition of people’s hearts and ask just the right questions to move them forward spiritually. Although I believe there is a place for it, the idea of a set curriculum would have been unthinkable to Jesus. He wanted to seize upon the current matters of the heart. Should not our approach to discipleship be fluid and flexible enough to roll with the current state of a person’s heart? Can we develop a means of discipleship that is both intentional and responsive? Effective discipleship is dynamic.
Thrive 316 is a humble attempt to shift the discipleship paradigm and develop an intentional discipleship approach that is personal, spiritual, relational and dynamic. Our goal is to change lives by helping people move towards the person and character of Jesus Christ. Thrive 316 coaches have the holy privilege of assisting people in this process.
Note on the Thrive 316 Strategy
Thrive 316 is presented as ‘organic Christian friendships’ rather than an involved discipleship process because ‘organic Christian friendships’ are far more flexible and organic. The Holy Spirit is free to work and move unfettered by convention and expectation. We have also found the disciple-maker or coach to disciple approach to be intimidating to both coach and disciple. Most Christians feel uncomfortable discipling others because they feel insecure about their own spirituality. They don’t believe they are mature enough, so they are uneasy about participating in the disciple making process. Furthermore, some are resistant to being discipled because the process seems to them to be heavy, involved and cumbersome. Simply meeting with a friend to discuss the Bible and spiritual matters removes these barriers. The friend to friend approach removes pressure, expectations and anxieties. People think, ‘I am just hanging out friends.’ In fact, people seem eager to practice “organic Christian friendships”
A Balanced Discipleship Approach
As we have seen, effective discipleship, or moving people towards Christlikeness, involves the knowledge, attitude, and action. To focus on one at the expense of the others compromises spiritual growth and can lead to Christians who are unbalanced, unhealthy or unspiritual. We have all met Christians who know a lot about God or do a lot for God, but do not look very much like God. A person who goes to church every Sunday, tithes and participates in several mission trips each year may believe himself to be very spiritually mature. However, if that same person is unduly impatient, harsh, unforgiving, bitter and selfish, such a person is not a positive reflection of Christ. In fact, others may view this person as a hypocrite or Pharisee… and they would be right! It is possible to perform almost any external Christian behavior with the wrong motive.
The Pharisees are a case in point. They studied the scriptures, prayed and worshipped better than nearly everyone, yet Jesus critiqued their hearts and called them hypocrites. Likewise, it is also possible for someone to have a good heart and be a genuinely loving person without also being a spiritual person. A Christian who possesses moral goodness without Biblical knowledge or a kingdom focus is typically spiritually shallow and ineffective. First, this person has little basis for joy, peace, hope, assurance and such in their own lives, and they have no means to pass such things on to others. There is also an incomplete sense of goodness. They may have a sense of goodness and responsibility towards others, but they exhibit little desire or pursuit of God. All of this goes to show that it is important to engage our minds, hearts and behavior when attempting to grow spiritually.
Two Spiritual Directions
Some people think of spirituality has having two different dimensions: vertical and horizontal. The vertical represents our relationship with God and the horizontal represents our relationship with others. This can be a profitable way of looking at things as we seek balance in our approach. We must be on guard to not focus exclusively on one or the other. While this understanding is helpful for seeking balance, it is also a false dichotomy. The vertical always impacts the horizontal and vice versa. The two are not mutually exclusive, but inseparably tied together.
1 John 4:20-21 – If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
Matthew 25:40 – “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Thus, if a disciple tends to focus too much in one direction, as coaches we should help them back towards a center balance. Someone who is too mystical should be reminded of the practical and challenged to take their closeness with God into the real world. Someone who is too practical should be reminded of the mystical and challenged to draw closer to Christ.
What Jesus Modelled
Jesus was the greatest disciple maker there ever was. It can be argued that all he really left behind were the lives he touched. Yet, those men and women changed the world. Jesus was intentional about making disciples as he poured himself into others. Yet, his methods may seem rather strange to us. He did not invite his disciples to a school or a class, he invited them to live with him. He was first their friend. This incredible relationship then allowed him to play other roles as well:
- He taught/God’s Word
- He lived with them/shared life/befriended
- He responded/teachable moment
- He encouraged
- He modelled
- He challenged and gave tasks
- He held them accountable/admonished them
- He prayed for them
- He included them in what he was doing/ministry
We see that Jesus modelled a personal, spiritual, relational and dynamic discipleship approach. This is the only way to effectively impact mind, heart and behavior. If discipleship were solely cognitive, then a classroom would be sufficient. However, we know that authentic spirituality as we move towards Christlikeness requires a far more comprehensive approach. It involves truly investing in others. Jesus was willing to open up his life. Are we willing to do the same?
The Role of Cognitive Learning
To say that discipleship is not a cognitive process is incorrect. It is not solely a cognitive process. In fact, cognitive learning is indispensable and vital for a growing spirituality. The Bible must set the spiritual direction for all discipleship and drive the process. The Bible is our foundation, source and text for authentic Christian spirituality. The Bible itself affirms its own value for discipleship and spiritual reflection.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 – All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Hebrews 4:12 – For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
While the scriptures comprise our primary text in Thrive 316, we also make use of biblically sound discipleship materials as well as readings from respected pastors, theologians and spiritual practitioners. We can learn a great deal from others who have gone before us. The reason we study the Bible, and other Bible based materials and readings, is to grow in our understanding of God, his word and his will. Any spiritual progress we make is an outgrowth of a right understanding of God or ourselves in light of God’s word. Thus, genuine discipleship does have an important theological aspect.
The study of scripture and theology enables us to learn biblical concepts and principles. Learning biblical concepts and principles enables us to grasp Christian spirituality. The study of scripture and theology also enables us to understand and know Christ better. He is the goal of Christian spirituality. We want to be like him. We want to conform to his image. He is our master, our teacher and our model. Finally, the study of scripture and theology enables us to engage the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God moves in us as we interact with his word. As we read God’s word and grow in spiritual understanding, we are convicted and challenged.
Our growth should flow from our interaction with God’s word. This is why this coaching guide is so critical. It provides scriptures and biblical resources coaches can use to fuel reflection, insight, challenge and direction. The Bible must remain front and center.
Spiritual disciplines are outward behaviors or habits that shape the heart towards Christlikeness. This is why our image of The Spiritual Person has two sided arrows between the heart and behaviors. Yes, the heart most definitely influences our actions. However, our actions influence the heart as well. Thus, one of the ways we influence the heart is through intentional practices designed to transform how we think and feel about God and spiritual things. For example, the discipline of worship changes our perspective regarding God and his place in our lives. The discipline of scripture memorization enables God’s word to take on new life and power in our hearts. The discipline of community enables us to better understand and love others. Spiritual disciplines can play an important role in discipleship because they allow us to target heart deficiencies or spiritual weaknesses in a proactive and proven way. The following is a list of common disciplines you may encourage your disciples to practice.
General Disciplines – disciplines recommended for all believers
Special Disciplines – disciplines many find beneficial
All of these disciplines have the capacity to impact any and all of the virtues identified as we seek to change our hearts: humility, joy, faith, faithfulness, patience, self-control, love, goodness and truth. However, we have found that certain virtues are especially bolstered by certain disciplines.
The following list is provided by Timothy Harben.
It is important to note that all disciplines must be practiced in a reflective way. In other words, the practice itself has value; however, the power for heart transformation comes through self-awareness.
The spiritual coach is encouraged to seek opportunities to enhance learning and heart transformation through the reflective practice of spiritual disciplines. The coach assigns various disciplines he or she believes will be beneficial for the disciple. After a season of practicing a particular discipline, the coach helps the disciple assess how the practice affected his or her heart and spirituality. The following are some questions to assist in the reflection process.
- How comfortable or uncomfortable were you practicing this discipline?
- Did you approach the discipline with expectation, fear or something else?
- How much resistance to this practice did you feel in your heart?
- Did the practice get easier or harder over time? Why do you think that is so?
- How did this practice influence your target Virtue/Vice?
- How do you think differently about your target Virtue/Vice after this practice?
- Do you think this discipline produced any lasting change?
- Were you surprised in any way as you practiced this discipline?
- Do you plan on continuing this discipline?
- Would you recommend this discipline to others?
Spiritual disciplines are an important tool in your bag. Throughout the resource section of this Coaches Guide, we will remind you of various disciplines that can aid you in helping your disciple address spiritual needs. Your disciple may push back because disciplines address weak or deficient areas of the heart. These disciplines will be uncomfortable for them to practice. Don’t let them off the hook. You are encouraged to insist they try. Work hard to help them see the benefit of taking proactive steps to address areas of discomfort.
Final Spiritual Growth Thoughts
Finally, it is important to mention that the spiritual growth process is not nearly as linear as it has been presented. While certain heart virtues may have corresponding external behaviors (like generosity leading to tithing or love leading to healthy relationships), as the heart changes it can impact a variety of external behaviors. Any of the heart virtues presented can lead to prayer or worship or service. It is important for coaches to remain fluid and responsive in their approach to help people connect those dots.
Another non-linear aspect of spiritual coaching is that a person’s spiritual journey can take unexpected turns and present unanticipated issues. We have people take spiritual inventories to create self-awareness and to help us know where to begin. However, once we get started, the Holy Spirit takes over and reveals blind spots, self-deceit and other unforeseen developments. Again, generally speaking Revelation (via God’s Word) leads to Repentance (in our hearts) which leads to Righteousness (in our behavior). This is the general pattern of spiritual growth. However, this pattern is not linear either. Attempting to live out our new convictions will often lead to new Revelation. Thus, we can move into unanticipated directions at any time as the Holy Spirit reveals and convicts.
As spiritual coaches we understand these things. We understand how spiritual growth is personal, spiritual, relational and dynamic. We roll with the Holy Spirit. We encourage and prod those we disciple to explore the uncharted depths of their souls in order to make genuine spiritual progress. This is an exciting and fluid spiritual adventure that will take many unexpected turns revealing unexpected victories and joys. We search and seek and laugh and cry and pray and disagree and push back and reflect and yield and learn and grow together. This is the special calling of a spiritual coach.