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8 How to Train a Disciple – Imparting The Basics

As the disciple of Jesus Christ begins his disciple-making ministry, he finds before him a fivefold objective elaborated by the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10. They are:

  1. Solid decisions for Christ. “For our Gospel came not to you in word only, but also in prayer and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as you know what manner of men we were among you for your sake” (v. 5). When Paul preached the Gospel to the Thessalonians, the Word was proclaimed with power. It was accompanied with the Holy Spirit, and the result was that the people who came to Christ were filled with much assurance – they made solid decisions for Christ.
  2. Disciples: “And you became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the Word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost” (v. 6) this is rather useful definition of disciple: one who is follower of us and of the Lord. People learn how to follow the Lord by following the Lord’s people. Paul was able to disciple by following the Lord’s people. Paul was able to disciple the Thessalonians because they were willing to follow him. Because Paul’s life was consistent with the Scriptures and the leading of God, the Thessalonians became followers of the Lord as well.
  3. Pacesetters: “So that you were examples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia” (v. 7). The Thessalonians became a showcase for what it meant to be a Christian. Their lives were examples to the rest of the people in Greece.
  4. Reproduction: For from you sounded out the Word of the Lord not only in Macedonia but Achaia, but also in every place your faith to Godward  [toward God] is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak anything” (v 8). Wherever Paul went, the response was “We know exactly what you are talking about, for we met some of those Christians from Thessalonica.“ Paul’s ministry to the Thessalonians was such that their immediate response was to share the Gospel with others.
  5. Commitment:You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for His Son from heaven” (vv 9-10). Notice what was involved:
  • A turning from Idolatry
  • A turning to the true God
  • Service, not passive profession of faith
  • Expectation of Christ’s glorious return

Thus far we have seen what is involved in bringing men to Christ and then following up as new Christians. Now what is involved in bringing people from initial stages of follow-up to discipleship? We can call this the training process.

The Training Process

The dictionary defines train as to direct the growth of; to form by instruction; discipline and drill; to form by bending ; pruning, such as directing the growth of a plant.”

In training we want to help people maximize their potential for Jesus Christ. In the training process, it must be remembered that the trainer cannot take upon himself the work of the Holy Spirit. He cannot reach down inside a person and change his sense of values.

All the trainer can do is help a disciple become what he wants to be. If a person does not see things from God’s point of view, if he does not surrender his life to Jesus as Lord, if he is unwilling to pay the prize of being Christ’s servant, there is very little that can be done to disciple him. If a person is committed to Jesus Christ and highly motivated to do His will, the training process becomes simple, even enjoyable.

In final analysis, the trainer can contribute to a person’s development I only in two areas: (1) the giving of a time, (2) the opportunity to learn. All other factors conducive to change and growth – a feeling of personal responsibility, willingness to work sacrificially, attitudes of teachability and flexibility, native intelligence – are either inherited or controlled by the person himself.

The trainer, therefore, must yield the total responsibility for change to the person he is training. He can, however, provide the person with a variety of training techniques which the person can use for his own self-development. The trainer them simply assumes the role of a guide and stimulus for the person, enabling him to attain his own goals and objectives.

There are many tools, techniques, and methods available for training people to become disciples. These should be clearly distinguished from principles, which have universal application. For example Jesus said, “If you continue in my Word, then you are my disciples indeed.”(John 8:31)  One of the principles of discipleship is to “continue in the Word”. The new disciple may be looking to you as the trainer for help in acquiring the best methods, but methodology should never be the primary goal and objective in the disciple-making process.

In working with a young Christian, you might want to begin by asking him, “What is a disciple?” After he comes up with various possible definitions, you might further suggest, “Why don’t we do a study in John’s Gospel during this next week to see what it says?”

A week later you get together with him and go over what John’s Gospel says a disciple is. Then you ask your Timothy, “Would you like to be a disciple?” Assuming his answer is yes, take the idea mentioned in John 8:31 about continuing in the Word and ask him to spend the next week thinking through how he can continue in the Word. Later you will suggest various ways in which a person can get into the Word of God, but at this point don’t tell your disciple what they are – let him discover them for himself.

At your next meeting, ask him to share with you the various ways one can get into the Word of God after going over the things that he has discovered on his own. For his next assignment ask him to spend a week praying through what the Lord would have him do in each of these areas that he has listed. For example, he might have suggested Bible Study, hearing the Word, reading the Word, and Scripture memory. His objective now is to find out what the Lord would have him to do in each of these areas.

The chances are that when you get together again, you will discover that the goals he has set for himself in these areas are far higher than any goals you would set for him. One of your jobs, therefore, will be to help him modify and keep realistic his own personal objectives. Whatever these objectives may be, they are his idea, the product of prayerfully determining God’s will for his life.

Help your disciple discover the principles of discipleship for himself through his study of the Word, and make sure that the applications he makes from these principles are his own.

This type of individual instruction and coaching can only be done on a one-to-one basis or in a very small group.

What Are the Basics

What are the absolute essentials that must be present in a new Christian in order to consider him a disciple? The best way to illustrate this essential qualification is by using The Navigators’ “Wheel”.


To learn more about the pictorial illustration of the Navigator’s Wheel, click here:


The Wheel is an illustration of a Christ-centered, Spirit-filled Christian walking in obedience. The parts of the wheel are:

The Hub of the Wheel .

The hub of the wheel is Jesus Christ. He is the center of everything. The apostle Paul explained this relationship when he wrote, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Chr5ist lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me” )Gal. 2:20). The hub of the wheel at least does two things – it provides the power that moves the wheel, and it also gives direction for the wheel. This is the vital roles that Jesus Christ plays in the life of the believer.

As an illustration, when a spare tire is released on top of the hill, it will roll down the hill but will be out of control, bumping anything along it’s way because there was no direction given to it. Christ serving as the hub to the life of a Christian provides him with direction. Without Christ’s direction, we are constantly in trouble, bumping into people, getting ourselves into difficulties and causing damage.

The Spokes of the wheel.

The four spokes of the wheel are:

1. The Word.

The foundation spoke of the wheel is God’s Word. Scripture says, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching, admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:1).

Dawson Trotman, the founder of The Navigators, developed a simple Illustration to how the Word can be implemented in the Christian Life – called the “Word Hand”. Clike here to see the picture.

The Word Hand Illustration 1


To learn more about the Navigator’s Word Hand, click here.


There are five main ways: hearing, reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating. All five must be functioning if one is to have a firm grasp of the Word.

a)      Hear – Help your disciple to develop a regular hearing program. Suggest that he takes notes in Church as the pastor preaches. After the worship service, compare notes with others, talk about what was said, and seek ways to apply it.

b)      Read – Encourage your disciple to adopt a plan for reading through the Scriptures once a year. By reading approximately 3 chapters a day, he can get through the Bible in the course of a year. There are many reading programs in the internet and you and his pastor can help him in locating one that will meet his needs. Reading through the Bible once a year will give him a panoramic view of the Scriptures and will acquaint him with how God has worked through the ages.

c)       “Study to show yourself approved to God, a workman not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Bible study is the “meat and potatoes” of delving into the Word of God. There are five principles that all Bible studies should have irrespective of what method is employed:

(1) Original investigation – The disciple and the Holy Spirit get together in the Word of God, and He assumes the role of instructor. The disciple may want to refer to Bible-study aids, but this is to be done only after he has completed his own original investigation.

(2) Consistency and system – Bible study should not be a hit-and-miss program where the disciple studies a portion one week and them misses three months before studying another portion for a week. By system, I mean the disciple has a plan of attack rather than approaching the Scriptures in a haphazard fashion.

(3) Written reproduction – The disciple writes his thoughts from the Bible study. Somebody once said, “Pale ink is better than the most retentive mind.” All of us have had the opportune experience of losing a thought that we got from the
Word simply because we failed to write it down.

(4) Pass-on-able – Remember, your objective is to have a continuing ministry of disciple-making “to the third and fourth generations.”

(5) Application – The Bible was not given primarily to increase our knowledge, but to change our lives. As Dr. Howard Hendricks, a professor in Dallas Theological Seminary says, “interpretation without application is abortion.” In Bible study, we not only try to find out what Scripture says, but also what it says to us.

You might find that answering the following questions on a passage provides a useful method of Bible study:

(1) What does it say? Analyze the passage (either a cross-references that come to mind. For example, if you were studying 2 Timothy 3:16 on the inspiration of Scripture, a possible cross-reference would be 2 Peter 1:21. Then list all observations or thoughts you might have on the passage.

(2) What does it say that I do not understand? Write down all the problems that you have with the passage. The deeper you probe into the passage,  you will realize that there are more questions in the chapter you do not understand. Some of the questions you have will be answered in the course of your Bible Study, some will be answered as you talk with others about them, and some may never be fully answered.

(3) What does it say in summary or outline? Either outline the chapter, giving its major divisions, or write a summary of the chapter. If you choose to write a summary, be careful that it does not become more wordy than the passage itself. Some have found it very helpful to apply both techniques – that is list the major divisions and then write a summary under each. Some versions of the Bible already give the summary of the chapter.

(4) What does it say to me? Write your personal application using this form: (a) state the problem; (b) give a specific example of the problem; (c) indicate the solution the Spirit would have you to apply; (d) outline the specific steps you plan to take in applying the solution. Be careful to use only the personal pronouns: I, me, my, mine. Stay away from pronouns such as we and us. Remember, it is not our problem; It is my problem.

d)    Memorize – Probably no method of Scripture intake pays higher dividends for the time invested than Scripture memory. Memorizing the verse itself is only a small portion of the task. Reviewing it a sufficient number of times so that you do not lose it constitutes most of the work.

e)    Meditate – This is the thumb in the Hand illustration and find its application with the other four fingers. You hear the Word and meditate on it, read the Word and meditate on it, study and meditate, memorize and meditate. Meditation drives the passage home, fixes it in the mind, and helps you formulate application. If you will use only the thumb and one finger to hold the Word of God, the grasp is poor. It is not until you have all five fingers in operation that you have a good grip on the Word of God.

2. Prayer

This spoke lies opposite to the Word and plays a balancing role with the Word in the Christian life. The person who is strong in the Word but weak in prayer is like a skeleton; there is no flesh on it.  The person who is strong in the prayer but weak in the Word is like a fleshy person with no skeleton – just like a jellyfish. The Word and prayer together form the proper balance in the Christian’s life.

Prayer does not require a great deal of methodology; it is simply conversing with God. But because of its strategic role in the Christian life, the devil does his utmost to discourage its practice. If you are weak in prayer, get yourself a prayer partner, somebody who will pray with you at regular, appointed times.

3. Witnessing – another hallmark of a disciple is that witnessing is an integral part of his life. The last words of the Lord Jesus to His disciples were, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth: (Acts 1:8 NASB) Witnessing is one of those tasks that we try to avoid, but after we get into a witnessing situation, the thrill and excitement is such that we wonder why we hesitated in the first place.

Perhaps one of the greatest fears people have in witnessing is the fear of being rejected. “He doesn’t want to listen to me,” we rationalize. “He is probably busy and preoccupied with something else. Anyway, he might become offended and rebuke me for talking with him about spiritual matters.” Yet, when have you spoken to somebody about the Lord and found him to be offended? Usually people are very warm and eager to talk about spiritual matters. Evangelism is God’s work – not man’s.  And the Holy Spirit will take the most feeble efforts of people and use them to bring Christ into the seeking heart.

4. Fellowship

In the next chapter, we will talk about the development of people’s gifts and their use in the body. Fellowship around the Word in prayer, with Christ as the center, is crucial to the Christian life. Draw your disciple in to the fellowship of like-minded believers who can help edify him.

The spokes of a wheel must all be in balance for the wheel to rotate smoothly without vibrating. Any one spoke should not be heavier or play a more prominent role in the life of the disciple than another. Furthermore, the longer the spokes, the greater the circumference of the wheel and more ground covered with each revolution. The disciple’s goal is to build up each of the spokes.

Another thing that can be said of the spoke is that they provide the only contact that the hub has with the rim. The Christian is in contact with Jesus Christ through the spokes. Two of them, the Word and Prayer, deal with intake; and two of them, witnessing and fellowship, deal with output. Someone has observed, ”If your output exceeds your intake, then your upkeep becomes your downfall.” This very clearly expresses the importance of balance in the Christian life.

The Rim of the Wheel

Jesus said, “He who has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him” (John 14:21). Obedience is the outgrowth of a disciple’s life. It is this life of obedience that is most visible to the world.

Just as the spokes provide the only contact that the rim has with the hub, so the rim is the only contact that Jesus Christ has with the world. The only Christ that the non-believing world can see is the Christ inside each Christian. When people look at you, do they see Christ reflected in your life?

In addition to using the Wheel illustration to help you train your disciple, you might want to develop some areas of character, such as purity of life, faith, love, and integrity. However, we must constantly remind ourselves that the implementation of our training objectives must be done in synchronization with the individual’s needs.

On the basis of these needs, develop a plan. Always ask yourself three questions: (1) What does he need? (2) How can he get it? (3) How will I know when he has it? These three questions can be asked in variety of ways. For instance: (1) Where am I going? (2) How am I going to get there?

(3) How will I know when I have arrived? Whatever way you wish to phrase them, always ask the same three questions.

Let’s apply this plan to a specific issue:  faith. The answer to question 1 is faith. The answer to question 2: Maybe some good books on faith will help him build his faith. You would surely include prayer in your plan. Have him memorize some verses on the subject of faith. Help him in a guided experience by choosing some area in his life where he can really trust God – maybe in the financial realm, or for another disciple with whom he can work. Question 3 involves evaluation. Without it, you will never know if and when you have reached your objective. Whatever plan you develop, there should be a way to measure if you have accomplished your goal or not.The plan that you develop for each area you want to work in with our disciple should be very flexible thing. The temptation to rigidly apply it should be resisted. Whatever plan you develop, keep it to yourself to create as much spontaneity as possible. Do not form the person to the plan, but rather form the plan to the person.

Helping the Disciple Transmit to Others

The training process does not merely consist of sharing information. Rather, it involves helping people with the “how to” of discipleship so that they can implement a vision. With this in mind, at the earliest possible opportunity encourage your disciple to begin discipling another. This will do several things for him:

1. It will solidify his own convictions.

More often than not when the disciple begins relating to another the truths of Christianity, he is asked penetrating questions. His formation of answers tends to seal the truths to his own heart as well as help the other person.

2. It provides a laboratory for his own growth.

When he builds into the life of another disciple, he has the opportunity to see whether what he himself does is applicable to others.

3. It makes him teachable and eager to learn.

With his own disciple asking many, sometimes awkward questions, it will make him all the more desirous to learn more himself.

Things to Remember in the Discipling Process

There is so much involved in the training process that it would take several volumes to treat the subject in a comprehensive way. It is my prayer, however, that this chapter will act as a catalyst in your own mind and cause you to do some experimenting. There are some common sense “do’s “ and “don’ts” that are applicable in any interpersonal relationship. Here are a few of the more obvious ones for you to apply in your disciple making ministry.

1. Remember he belongs to God.

It is God’s ministry, and God must do the building in your disciple’s life. All you can ever hope is to be a tool in your disciple’s life. All you can ever hope is to be a tool in God’s hands.  “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who builds it; unless the Lord guard the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain.” (Ps/ 127” NASB).

2. He must know that you believe in him and that you have confidence in him.

Don’t ever give him a job and then take it away from him.

3. Do not allow him to become dependent on you.

Train him with independence in mind. Your job is to help him learn from God. Don’t tie him to your apron strings.

4. Allow him the freedom to fail.

In the business world, many executives learn more through their failures than through their successes; and yet the greatest fear that most people have is the fear of failure. Let your disciple know that he can fail without fear of rejection from you.

5. Teach him how to evaluate potential disciples.

Jesus did not rush into choosing the Twelve. His choice of disciples took place only after He was firmly planted in His ministry. Paul says, “Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins; keep yourself pure.” (1 Tim. 5:22).

6. Seek to instill confidence.

A disciple must learn to believe in himself. “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me’ and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith of the son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). In this verse, we  see two “I’s” – the crucified “I” and the resurrected  “I”. In training we often work hard at crucifying the “old” “I” but spend little time in helping a disciple resurrect the “new” “I” in Christ. We must have “no confidence in the flesh”, but at the same time believe that “I can do all things through Christ “.


Making disciples take time. It cannot be done through a series of lectures and a training seminar in the church, nor can it be done by reading a book. It cannot be rushed. One of the dominant characteristics of our modern culture is our ability to mass produce everything – cars, appliances, furniture, pots and pans and household gadgets. We have even become proficient in mass producing houses! It’s so easy to take this “mass-produced mentality” and apply it to disciple making. It cannot be done. Disciples are made but not mass-produced. Each one is molded and fashioned individually by the Spirit of God.

How long it takes is a matter of conjectures and varies from person to person, depending to a large degree on where they are when they begin the training process.  But one thing is certain: it takes time. The Lord Jesus began with 12 monotheistic, God-fearing men, who came from reasonably good homes. He devoted Himself full time to their training and development. He was a Master at the art of training, and yet it took Him three full years. We can hardly hope to do it in less.