Have you ever wanted to join a discipleship group, find an accountability partner for your spiritual growth, or perhaps even start a discipleship ministry? My friend Sandi knows what it’s like to crave something deeper… and she found that need met through starting a discipleship ministry. Her story below will help you discover how to start a discipleship ministry for yourself! This post is brought to you by Sandi’s ministry, Before the Bench Ministries.
Sandi remembers the day she realized her Bible study wasn’t cutting it.
Despite being consistent in her quiet time, she began to notice a complacency, a lukewarm-ness in her faith. She attended Bible study each week… but found herself making the same mistakes over and over again, and falling back into ungodly thinking.
She wanted more of everything about God…but wasn’t sure how or where to start. She wanted more of Jesus, for Him to become greater in her life.
She was doing all the right things. What was missing?
The Difference Between Bible Study and Discipleship
Bible study is one of the most important parts of our lives as believers. But it isn’t the end-all. At some point, we have to move past just “study”, and become true disciples of Jesus.
We want to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only.” Bible study is great (vital, actually), but it’s really just a starting point.
John 8:31 says, “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.” (ESV) Christian discipleship begins with Bible study, but then we have to take action on what we’ve learned.
That is being a disciple.
A disciple is one who doesn’t just HEAR the word of God in Bible study, but ABIDES in it all day.
Sandi started digging into God’s word for herself, outside of Bible study “meetings”, and started APPLYING what she was learning in an Acts 2:42 kind of way. God’s way. She says,
“I was a mom with little ones that were not so little anymore. So I began at home. They were my outreach. AND I LOVED EVERY MINUTE OF IT. Then the spiritual growth happened. God renewed me and my family.”
What is Discipleship?
When we think of the word “disciple” we often think of twelve men in robes who followed Jesus during His earthly ministry. Obviously, you and I can’t don robes and walk around Israel, so how can we be His disciples today?
In the simplest terms, discipleship is being like Jesus. But that is still a pretty broad description. Let’s narrow it down to three areas of discipleship we can focus on:
Discipleship involves learning.
When we think of Jesus’ ministry, we most often think of the great miracles He performed. And there were many of them. But much of Jesus’ time was spent teaching.
In Matthew 5-7 we find the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus sat and taught His followers about everything from prayer and fasting to murder and divorce. It was an epic sermon!
There are many other examples of Jesus teaching, including using parables, object lessons with things like bread and fish, and demonstrating lessons in every day life, such as teaching faith by walking on the water.
While you and I don’t have the option to actually sit with Jesus and learn, we do have access to the Bible! We can still learn from Jesus over two thousand years since He was on the earth.
It’s important for us to study God’s Word. Let it speak to our hearts, and help us grow. No matter how long you have been a Christian, there is always room for more learning. And one more thought- the Scriptures should CONFORM US … not us conform the Scriptures. There is a big difference and something we seem to be forgetting in the church.
Discipleship involves outreach and evangelism.
In Matthew 10–just a few short chapters past the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus sent His twelve disciples out on their own. Their job was to literally behave like Jesus.
He gave them power to heal, but He also commanded them to preach the Gospel. Matthew 10:7 says, “And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’” (ESV)
Eventually, as disciples, we will be called upon to share the Gospel with someone else. Whether it be witnessing to a lost person, or sharing our testimony to encourage a fellow Christian, reaching out and speaking the gospel is part of being a disciple of Christ.
After His resurrection, Jesus gave the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)
This is the ultimate goal of discipleship ministry: To share the Gospel and create more disciples, who in turn create more disciples in a never-ending cycle.
Discipleship involves fellowship.
After Jesus ascended back to Heaven, His disciples could have all gone their own way. Each one making their own ministry. But they didn’t.
The beginning of the book of Acts finds them all together in one place, still learning and still sharing the Gospel.
Acts 2:42 says, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (ESV) Even though Jesus was no longer present with them, they remained His faithful disciples. They were devoted to the apostles’ teaching.
(Remember, those things they learned from Jesus? They were teaching them now. Sidenote!)
Christianity is a “they” and “our” sport. It’s not a “me” sport. Fellowship, encouragement, shared values, accountability, even correction are all vital parts of discipleship ministry. We need one another.
Colossians 3:16 puts it this way, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (ESV)
Christian discipleship ministry involves encouraging one another to obey God. It involves worshipping together, singing songs of praise and worship. It also involves teaching, which can include Bible study.
Key Verses About Discipleship
To gain a better understanding about what is involved in discipleship, check out these verses:
–> “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8 ESV
–> “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” John 9:4 ESV
–> “…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 ESV
–> “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Matthew 9:35-38 ESV
These verses indicate the key elements we have discussed above: teaching the Word, sharing Christ, passing truth on to others, prayer, and doing the works of Christ. So now we come to how to put this into action!
How to Start a Discipleship Ministry
As you can see, discipleship isn’t something done on your own. It requires doing life with others. A discipleship group is a small group where those things we’ve talked about happen. Each person commits to being accountable for reading and obeying God’s word together. It is a place for encouragement, exhortation, learning, and accountability.
Once you’ve grasped the importance of being a disciple, you will want to be around others who value it too! If you’ve felt God calling you start a discipleship ministry, here are a few steps to get you started:
- Pray. Ask God to reveal who to invite to your group and open the door for the group to get started.
- Start by inviting 1-2 people to meet weekly in your home, at a park or coffee shop, a church office, or another venue for a discipleship group. While a home is ideal for privacy (there will be prayer, tears, and sensitive conversation), with the pandemic and other concerns, it doesn’t have to be in a home! Think of a place you could meet that would allow you to talk and prayer together.
- Set a day and time. Your discipleship group will likely morph into your daily lives… which is a good thing! But you need to make sure you have a regular time set aside for gathering. This should be an appointment everyone does their absolute best to make.
- Decide on a duration for the group. No one likes an open-ended commitment! When inviting your group, let them know it is for a set time, such as 6 weeks, 6 months, or one year. As humans, we are more likely to commit to something if there is an end date… so make it clear how long this will run. When that time comes, you can always agree to extend it if you’d like!
- Have a general outline/framework for your meeting. This is where it gets exciting! Having a basic structure for your time will be SUPER helpful in actually using your time wisely and getting the spiritual traction you are all wanting. To help with this, I’ve got a great resource for you from my friend, Sandi, below.
As Sandi began to apply what she was reading in the Scriptures, God opened the door for her to start discipling others. She wanted to be a good discipler of others, so threw herself into studying discipleship. From her study, she put together a resource on how to structure a discipleship group meeting.
This easy to follow 3-page guide outlines the 3 parts of what you will actually DO during your discipleship meeting and walks you step-by-step through setting up and leading a discipleship group. You’ll see how discipleship incorporates Bible study, fellowship and care for each other, and outreach to others.
Using this simple structure, your group members will come together to encourage one another to be disciples. You’ll have opportunities to discuss your relationship with God and pray with one another as you pursue the Great Commission.
To get this FREE 3Thirds Discipleship Worksheet and learn how to structure your small group meeting, simply click here.
Being a disciple is about so much more than Bible study and prayer. It’s about doing all we can to follow the example that Jesus left for us, and leading others to do the same.
As disciples, we devote ourselves to the teachings of Jesus and make ourselves vulnerable with others so that we can obey those teachings. When we pursue discipleship, we leave a legacy behind us of becoming more like Jesus.
Amen and amen!