Why is discipleship training so mysterious? I recently spent some time with fellow Lutheran pastors, and I asked, “How are you training your disciples?” My question was followed by an awkward silence. “Seriously, how are you training your disciples? For example, are you doing Bible studies? Are you training small group leaders, and if so, what is the outcome of the training?”
One pastor honestly admitted, “Tim, we don’t talk like that in our church.” I was grateful to hear his response. Honesty is the beginning of growth. “What do you mean?” I said. “Well, I’ve been trained to preach and teach,” he said, “and the Holy Spirit handles the training.”
I nodded in agreement, “Absolutely. This is all the Holy Spirit’s work. We cannot manufacture growth in God’s people. The Spirit must move people to love His Word and share it with others. Yet can I offer an additional perspective?” “Sure.” His eyes looked receptive to growth. I was grateful. “Who is meeting with your people to assess what they are learning and how it applies in their context? Who is regularly encouraging them as they begin sharing the gospel? Who is debriefing their witnessing experiences?”
Again, another awkward pause. I filled their silence. “Sharing the Word is the first step in training your leaders,” I said. “Invite them to share Jesus with one friend in the next week, and then follow up with them to see if they did it, and how it went.” The pastor nodded and accepted the challenge. I look forward to checking in with him to hear what happened.
Christians and pastors alike often overlook the power of following up. The follow-up does not mean you need all the answers. You simply must learn to ask good questions and be a good listener. Trust the Holy Spirit. He will provide the words for your lips to speak. The questions will come from His Word.
Unfortunately, we have mistaken training for content sharing. We have elevated intellectual knowledge over the content of our character. Sin has led us to lifetimes of selfishly honing our individual gifts, often neglecting to invite others to hone their gifts alongside us. There must be a better way. There is. Meet the greatest trainer of all time—Jesus.
I love acronyms and alliteration. People make fun of me for it. Yet I’m not smart enough to remember concepts apart from pneumonic handles. First, this is my favorite acronym for training disciples.
Give the disciples you are training an IDEA of what it looks like to follow Jesus. (Generation Z Unfiltered by Tim Elmore and Andrew McPeak)
Instruction—Give concepts through metaphor and story. Touch both the head and the heart.
Demonstration—Show. Don’t just tell. Show a video. Give a real-life example.
Experience—Give the person you are discipling an opportunity to practice the insight on their own. (Teaching, serving, leading, etc.)
Assessment—Meet promptly after the experience to ask questions and offer feedback. This form of discipleship is especially important for training our young Jesus followers.
Next, these are two excellent alliterative handles for discipleship.
Shape the character (heart) of the disciple, deepen the biblical content (head) of the disciple, and hone the craft (hands) of the disciple. This is the discipleship handle for mentor training within the Kairos University platform. Discipleship should be balanced between these three C’s.
One of the ULC’s primary contentions is that formal seminary training has historically been imbalanced in shaping the content of the students. This is not an indictment. That is what the classroom is for—filling the heads of students with spiritual knowledge and powerful theology. Character and craft are best shaped in the field with mentors who understand the IDEA discipleship acronym above. It feels as if the LCMS’ almost bullish “gold stamp” of approval for residential education dismisses two-thirds of what is required in the discipleship journey within the local context. Could both character, content, and craft be cohesively taught today rather than risking imbalanced discipleship of future leaders? Yes. I think it could and should.
Okay, my small rant is done. Here is my favorite acronym for discipleship—3D discipleship. I heard it at a conference many years ago. I don’t remember where. I’ve said it so many times that I now feel perfectly content prefacing this alliterative handle with, “As I’ve always said…”
Discover—There are many Jesus followers waiting to be seen, known, loved, and discovered. Will you notice them?
Develop—Once you discover disciples of Jesus, invest in them using some form of the IDEA acronym.
Deploy—Discovered and developed disciples should be deployed to disciple others as you have discipled them.
Training is not hard. It can be messy. Interacting with people always is. It doesn’t require you to have all the answers. Only Jesus does. It simply requires your time, intention, and belief that God will multiply the message of His crucified and risen Son through leader and disciple together.
“And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
Just find your one “Timothy” and encourage this disciple to do the same. The ULC is here to help you in your discipleship training. uniteleadership.org