Once upon a time, someone stumbled upon my blog because he had done a Google search on “how to shorten the discipleship process.” How do I find the quickest means to the end? As though we could put the raw materials of humanity into a mechanized system and spit out perfectly formed disciples on the other end. Discipleship is about a completed workout, not a completed worksheet. It’s about a journey, not a destination. It’s about something we’re always becoming (present tense), not something we became (past tense). It’s about being in the process, not having arrived at the product.

I promptly wrote a new post to inform that person he should quit his job. This ain’t FedEx; it’s discipleship.

As leaders, we need to be aware of the ways the people in our group are growing and how our leadership is affecting that. Ultimately it’s the role of the Holy Spirit to bring change in a person’s life, but often we lead in such a way that we expect disciples to simply materialize if they’re physically present in our groups. But Jesus told us to make disciples, not find them, which requires the investment of time and tremendous effort. All that blood, sweat and spit stuff.

If the people in our groups aren’t growing, maybe we need to reconsider the way we’re leading. If we get discouraged after one month or one year or even three, we haven’t yet grasped that discipleship takes time. Twelve Galilean guys spent three focused years with Jesus himself and still didn’t show up for the prayer meeting on the most important night in history.

When I think about discipleship process, I think about relationships and journey. Two steps forward and one step back. Conversations, experiences and moments shape us, but we don’t see it at the time.

It’s tough to be a small group pastor in a church culture that loves the event. It’s easy to get excited about the outcomes of events: we have instant success, instant data, instant results. However, while events might spark change in a person’s life, they rarely exceed spiritual yield points. Permanent life change happens much more slowly and imperceptibly, and it requires us to be committed for the long haul. If you think making disciples happens within the context of a once-a-week small group over one semester, you’re crazy.

Change happens slowly. Gradual, consistent change over time is the best kind and the most lasting. A few days ago, I received an unexpected call from one of my mentors, Dave Buehring, who said something that really stuck with me: “Discipleship can’t happen in sound bites.” What a profound sound bite! He said it in a very casual, throwaway kinda way, but I think it’s a statement of critical importance. In an age of short attention spans, meals in microwaveable boxes and life moments reduced to 140 characters, we need to recapture the ideas of longevity and endurance.

Discipleship is a whole life journey, not an eight-week class. It’s about developing the fruit of the Spirit and spiritual gifts and looking more like Christ, not about checking off a set of boxes. It’s a process of becoming, not a destination. There’s no way to short-circuit discipleship. It’s about turning every moment of every day into an encounter with God.

Zempel, Heather. 2012. Community Is Messy: The Perils and Promise of Small Group Ministry. Westmont, IL: IVP Books.


Key Verses:


Discipleship Law #1: The Law of Mind

Romans 12:2 (NIV) Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Discipleship Law #2: The Law of Training

1 Timothy 4:7 (NIV) Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.

Discipleship Law #3: The Law of Worship

2 Corinthians 3:18 (ESV) And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Discipleship Law #4: The Law of Community

Ephesians 4:16 (NIV) From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Discipleship Law #5: The Law of Habit

Hebrews 10:24–25 (NIV) And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Discipleship Law #6: The Law of the Holy Spirit

Galatians 5:16 (NIV) So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

Discipleship Law #7: The Law of Example

1 Corinthians 11:1 (NIV) Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

Discipleship Law #8: The Law of Effort

2 Peter 1:5–8 (NIV) For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Discipleship Law #9: The Law of Faith

Romans 1:17 (NIV) For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”       

Discipleship Law #10: The Law of Talk

Ephesians 4:15 (NIV) Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

Discipleship Law #11: The Law of Pain

Hebrews 12:3 (NIV) Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Discipleship Law #12: The Law of Gospel

Romans 1:16 (NIV) For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.

Discipleship Law #13: The Law of Service

Galatians 5:13 (NIV) You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.

Discipleship Law #14: The Law of the Way of escape

1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV) No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

Discipleship Law #15: The Law of Commitment

Luke 9:23–24 (NIV) Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.

Discipleship Law #16: The Law of Time

Ephesians 5:16 (ESV) Making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.

Discipleship Law #17: The Law of Prayer

Mark 14:38 (NIV) Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Discipleship Law #18: The Law of Replacement

Romans 12:21 (NIV) Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Discipleship Law #19: The Law of Confession

James 5:16 (NIV) Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

Discipleship Law #20: The Law of the Kingdom

Matthew 6:33 (NIV) But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Discipleship Law #21: The Law of Sovereignty

Philippians 1:6 (NIV) Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.