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What Works in Disciple Making? 10 Answers from People I’ve Discipled

Photo of Michelle EagleMichelle Eagle | Bio

Michelle Eagle

Michelle currently quarterbacks the Discipleship Ministry at Harpeth Christian Church in Franklin, TN. Prior to joining the ministry team at Harpeth, Michelle was a Physician Assistant working with HIV infected mothers and their children in Jacksonville, FL. After a family move to TN in 2008, Michelle began volunteering in the home groups ministry at Harpeth which led to a staff administrative position. A lot of experience has been gained over the years and she takes great pleasure in coordinating and educating home group leaders, as well as matching church members to groups. Much of her experience has been gained through supporting women while they work the 12 steps of Celebrate Recovery. Michelle finds great joy in helping women grow in their relationship with Christ.

At core, I’m a disciple maker. I believe Jesus’ Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:18-20) is a command on my life to walk beside women as they learn to trust and follow Jesus. Taking my cue from Ephesians 4:12-14, I disciple women by helping them to effectively mature as disciples of Jesus. I believe that Ephesians 4:12-14 is incredibly helpful for clarifying Jesus’ Great Commission:

“Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.” (Eph. 4:12-14, NLT)

I thought it had become fairly easy for me to describe what goes into effectively maturing a disciple of Christ. But recently I asked myself a different question: Had I ever asked the women that I have personally discipled what really works? The answer was no. So, while preparing a talk on disciple making, I decided to ask that question to about 20 women that I’ve discipled over the last 5-7 years.

So, what worked? What did I do while discipling them that helped them grow in their walk with Christ?

“What did I do while discipling them that helped them grow in their walk with Christ?”

There were a few things I thought would make the list—for example, the great curriculum we followed, my answers to their hard questions, and the Bible knowledge I imparted to them—that didn’t actually make the list.

Here’s what did make the list:

  1. Intentionally pointing them to Jesus
  2. Allowing the Holy Spirit to lead
  3. Being available
  4. Being safe
  5. Leading them without dragging them along
  6. Encouraging them
  7. Providing accountability
  8. Keeping spiritual growth as the purpose
  9. Staying transparent
  10. Focusing on kingdom life

Let’s break these down. The order isn’t too important, but I will say that the top two—intentionally pointing people to Jesus and allowing the Holy Spirit to lead—were mentioned in almost every woman’s response. This was a genuine surprise to me.

1. Intentionally Pointing Them to Jesus

What does it look like to intentionally point a person to Jesus? It means using God’s Word as the source of wisdom. Practically, it means saying, “I’m not sure; let’s see what Jesus has to say about that issue. Where should we look in Scripture?”

Even if you already know the answer, your goal is to develop disciples that can go to God’s Word and find the answers for the situations that life is going to throw at them—long after you are no longer feeding into them. This is a teach-a-man-to-fish moment, after moment, after moment. We do not need more disciples of me or you; we need more disciples of Jesus!

“We do not need more disciples of me or you; we need more disciples of Jesus!”

2. Allowing the Holy Spirit to Lead

I was very surprised when almost every woman that answered my question said they just had an awareness that I was driven by the Holy Spirit. I didn’t realize that I had taught this in our time together. I hadn’t. They had caught this one.

So, when the Holy Spirit calls you to reach out and the timing ends up being perfect, give him due credit. If you feel led by the Spirit to call an “audible” for your time together and make an unforeseen change, let them know that you believe the Holy Spirit is asking for that change, and you are simply trying to be obedient. Share frequently how you believe the Holy Spirit is moving in your life and share openly when you know you have grieved the Spirit. You are discipling God’s children to listen to his voice and to obey when called.

3. Being Available

Responses I heard from the women I asked included, “You spent time with me,” and “I never felt like a project; you wanted to know me.” To be effective disciple makers, we must create bandwidth in our lives for disciple making. So be available. They shouldn’t feel like a project to be rushed to completion.

Disciple making is not a 9-to-5 gig. It is messy and teachable moments usually happen between scheduled meetings. Make sure you are available to love the people that God has given you the privilege to disciple. It may mean thinking outside the box. You may end up talking on the phone while walking the dog, or even better, asking someone to go with you while you walk the dog. It might mean going to their kid’s soccer practice, so you can have one-on-one time together.

“Disciple making is not a 9-to-5 gig. It is messy and teachable moments usually happen between scheduled meetings.”

Make room in your life and be gracious as they are growing and learning how to make room in their lives for others too.

4. Being Safe

Be a safe person. And provide a safe environment when in a group setting. Responses included, “I felt safe to take risks and share,” and “I was challenged to do things that were uncomfortable.”

It can be risky to share what is going on in your life. Many have been hurt in the past by “the church.” So, be sure to be a soft place to land and to protect privacy. When you provide that type of environment, they will feel safe to take risks.

In one group I was leading, the day before meeting I asked one of the women to lead us in communion. She had never done it before but hesitantly said yes. Later she said that she knew this was a safe place to try something she’d never done, and I was there to catch her if she stumbled. She did a beautiful job!

5. Leading Them without Dragging Them Along

You are the leader, so lead. You can’t ask someone to go somewhere that you have not already been or aren’t willing to go. Have the hard conversations. Everything isn’t a group decision, and if someone does not have a genuine yearning to grow, ask the Holy Spirit to nudge them.

But you must be okay with “dusting off your sandals” too (Matt. 10:14). There will be times you realize that you may not be the right person, or this may not be the right time for them. You will need to lead people without dragging them along against their will.

“You are the leader, so lead.”

6. Encouraging Them

Encouragement is like putting money away for a rainy day. Encouraging them can mean words affirming the growth that you see. It can mean a sweet moment you have interacting with their child at church, or praising how they handle a situation with their spouse in a God-honoring way. Encouragement will help them in big ways and will give you the relational currency in their heart to tell them the truths that can be hard to hear.

Everyone needs to know that you are for them and that you notice what’s good and beautiful that they do. Be specific and encourage frequently.

7. Providing Accountability

Accountability is a two-way street. Be accountable to those you are disciplining and have them be accountable to you and to others. Don’t pretend that you have nothing that you need someone helping you with.

Most people will shy away from asking someone to help them remember to do what will lead to spiritual growth. Create daily check-ins via text or other apps (GroupMe, Marco Polo, etc.) until new habits are formed. Follow up on the items someone says they plan to do. One woman told me, “You were unwilling to let me stay where I was. I was challenged, and then held accountable for the changes I said I wanted to make.”

“Create daily check-ins until new habits are formed.”

8. Keeping Spiritual Growth as the Purpose

In a discipling relationship, spiritual growth is the goal. That should be known up front. Ask good questions that lead to discovery. Teach them how to listen to the Holy Spirit and share the tools of handling everyday life as a mature Christian. Ask questions about humility, forgiveness, and what dying to self looks like in everyday life—and specifically in their lives. Share your own spiritual journey, past and present, and let them know that spiritual growth is a process not a destination.

9. Staying Transparent

Transparency breeds transparency. Share your wins and your losses and give them insight into why a situation went sideways or was God honoring. Let them see you peel things apart so that they better understand the way God works in your life. Give examples of how the Holy Spirit guided you into Christlikeness in that disagreement with your spouse or how the enemy got in your head and you believed the lies and lost your cool and said things you regret. They need to see you up close and personal so that you have the right to ask those questions of them.

“They need to see you up close and personal so that you have the right to ask those questions of them.”

10. Focusing on Kingdom Life

It is possible to be a part of God God’s bring the kingdom life to earth, and we are called to do just that. It is possible to produce the fruit of the Spirit even in the broken world we live in. Peace is abundantly available from Jesus, called in Isaiah 9:6 the “Prince of Peace.”

We need to display God’s kingdom reign in our lives; we must live this out so that the people we disciple see it. This means we must try to be the same person on Sunday morning as we are one-on-one or in a group. We must love and serve our families from the love we receive from God. They should see Jesus’ kingdom reign in you that you are pointing them to and eventually be able to recognize the call of God’s kingdom in their own lives.

These tips are tried and true, and the good news is that any follower of Jesus can do them, which makes them reproducible. Even better news: Jesus is with you in the process and wants to do the heavy lifting of disciple making. Let’s continue to join his mission in making disciples who can make disciple so that the love of Christ will spread! Happy disciple making!