What is discipleship, and why is it important to discuss on a leadership podcast? How can churches include discipleship in their structure, and what impact does this have on leadership development?

Discipleship and Leadership Development

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As Christian leaders, we cannot separate the issue of leadership from the issue of discipleship–the two are inextricably linked. But what exactly is discipleship, and how do we implement it in our churches and our everyday lives?

In today’s episode, Holly and I are kicking off a new series on Discipleship. We’re diving into our perspectives on discipleship, as well as our own experiences with it. Then we’ll discuss how discipleship can take place within churches and the connection between discipleship and leadership development. 

Defining Discipleship

The word disciple comes from the Greek word mathētēs. According to Bible.org:

“The Greek term μαθητής (mathētēs) refers generally to any “student,” “pupil,” “apprentice,” or “adherent,” as opposed to a “teacher.” In the ancient world, however, it is most often associated with people who were devoted followers of a great religious leader or teacher of philosophy.”

We also see from Scripture that we are called to be disciples but we are also called to make disciples.

In her article on downlineministries.com, Ali Zimmerman discusses discipleship based on Colossians 1:28-29:

“Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all His energy that He powerfully works within me.” 

She provides 5 key takeaways from this passage (Holly’s wording):

  1. Proclaim him with our lives over ourselves
  2. Warning and teaching everyone over people pleasing or harshness
  3. Why? So that we can present everyone mature over seeking fulfillment in other ways
  4. It will be toil and struggle vs idolizing the easy life
  5. But we get HIS energy to powerfully work within us vs dependence on self

Views on Discipleship

There are various views on discipleship, from the more informal, relational form such as “doing life together” to a more intensive, structured discipleship program.

Esther & Holly’s Experiences with Discipleship

Holly & I both share our experiences throughout our lives with discipleship. We also discuss how our perspectives have changed over time and where we land currently.

Discipleship Within the Church Context

If someone comes to faith and becomes a Christian at your church, what happens next? Is there a path for them to follow?

There are some challenges to the model of service within a church that plugs people in right away. At times, these attendees might not have a solid faith foundation, yet they are passionate and willing to serve.

Here are a few of our ideas about how to help new attendees started:

  • Show them and model discipleship in real life.
  • Pray with people.
  • Help them to see practical ways to live out their faith in their everyday life. 
  • Equip them with tools to help them build a faith foundation. For example: learning the Bible, Scripture memorization, apologetics, theology, prayer, fasting, breaking bread and fellowship.

“What we really need is a CULTURE of discipleship in our churches.”

Developing a culture of discipleship in your church:

  • Make sure the process is easily accessible
  • Reference it often
  • Have walking testimonies
  • Encourage participation
  • Each ministry has a natural “small group”
  • Invite everyone, often

What do we need in a discipleship plan or program? 

  • Learn the foundations of the faith
  • Learn how to apply Scripture and live it out
  • Include apologetics in our discipleship, so that people don’t just understand what we believe but also why we believe it. It’s becoming harder in our culture to talk about faith, and so making sure that we equip people to have these conversations is essential, in my opinion. 

“It’s one thing to know what you believe; it’s another thing to know why you believe it.” – Esther Littlefield

“As we are discipling and developing leaders, it’s important not to just tell people what to think, but to teach them how to think.” – Esther Littlefield

Resources & options for discipleship programs:

The Link Between Discipleship & Leadership

The link between discipleship and leadership development cannot be separated. In order to be effective Christian leaders, we need to also be deeply rooted in our faith and consistently growing. We are also called – all of us as believers – to make disciples. Therefore, discipleship has to be part of our lives as Christian leaders.

It’s also important to recognize that the role that mentoring plays in our discipleship journey as well as our growth as leaders. We discussed this in Episode 19 with Elisa Pulliam.

Leadership development must involve discipleship. But discipleship is not necessarily the same thing as leadership development. 

Principles for discipleship within the structure of church leadership:

  • Always grow new leadership
  • Should work yourself out of a job
  • Give people the opportunity to find and use their gifts (even if they haven’t done it before)

As we move forward in this series, you’ll hear from several experts with various angles on the issue of discipleship. Make sure you are subscribed to the Christian Woman Leadership Podcast so that you don’t miss these conversations.

Other Episodes Mentioned:

Confident Leader Catalyst

If you are listening in real time at the beginning of April 2020, the Confident Leader Catalyst is currently open for enrollment through Wednesday, April 8th. If you’d like to be able to step out of your comfort zone and into your calling, this is for you!

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We need a culture of discipleship