What is Discipling? (Part 3) – How Did Rabbi Jesus Disciple People?6 min read

This article is part three of a three-part series. Read Part 1 – What is Discipling? and Part 2 – What Do Disciples Do?.

Jesus’ Clear and Simple Discipling Process

Finally, we get to our most pressing question: How do we disciple people? Our answer should look like Jesus’ discipling process. When Jesus commissioned the disciples to make disciples, He did not say, “Go and make up a process for discipling people that seems good to you.” He said, “Go and in the way you have been discipled, disciple others.”

So how did Jesus disciple people? Let’s keep it clear and simple.

First, Jesus invited the disciples to join Him in what He was already doing. The disciples were able to begin imitating Jesus because He was not just teaching them how to seek, recognize, and respond to his Father, He was showing them. Too often leaders forget that they cannot lead where they are not going themselves. Disciples cannot imitate what their leaders aspire to do. They can only imitate what their leaders are doing. Leaders need to take the lead.

Second, Jesus did not attempt to disciple crowds of people. Rather, He discipled a smaller subset of the crowds. Notice Jesus had only twelve (and often just three) on whom He focused. Jesus’ strategy was simple: disciple a few, in order to disciple many. Jesus knew that discipling cannot be effectively done with large groups of people all at once. Discipling requires unhurried access to the leader so individuals can sort through their questions and experiences and make plans for next steps. Jesus loved the crowds and taught the crowds, but He discipled a smaller subset. Likewise, Jesus had a priority on discipling this smaller subset. He would often leave the crowds behind – even though the crowds still had tremendous need – and go off to disciple the twelve. Why? Jesus knew the crowds wouldn’t carry on his mission after His ascension. It would be the ones He had discipled who would carry on His mission. We would do well to trust and imitate his wisdom.

Third, Jesus could only disciple people who wanted to be discipled. If someone did not want to be discipled by Jesus, Jesus was content to move on to someone who did. We seem to burn a lot of time and energy trying to disciple people who don’t want to be discipled. Jesus shows us that starting with those who are willing and ready is the way to reach the world.

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The Discipling Process

three-part-discipleship-process-pathFinally, Jesus discipled like a Rabbi. What did that look like? The discipling process had three equally important parts:

  1. Teaching: The Rabbi sits with a few disciples and tells them what they did not know. His words reveal new worlds to them.
  2. Imitating and Practicing: The Rabbi then shows the disciples how to put his teachings into play in everyday life. Having been shown how the teachings work, they head out to practice. (See Luke 8:1, 9:1, and 10:1.)
  3. Replicating: Eventually, mastering the simple practices of the Rabbi, he sends the disciples out to gather the next group of new disciples so they can imitate and replicate the Rabbi’s discipling process all over again.

What does this discipling process look like in play? Let’s say I wanted to disciple you (coach you) to play golf. I start by giving you a book entitled, “How to Play Golf.” I tell you to go home and read it and master the information. I say, “Next week I want you to come back prepared to take a detailed test on the information in the book.” So, you go home and eagerly get started. You read, you memorize, and you master the information. The next week you come back and you take my test and score 100%. Well done!

Now, do you know how to play golf?

Not really. You mastered the information about golf. You proved it by acing the test. But once you get to the first tee on the golf course, you will quickly realize how little you actually know about how to golf.

The information about golf is important, but it is not all you need. You need someone to come alongside you to show you how all the information actually works on a real live golf course. You need someone who can show you how. If someone shows you, you can start imitating how he addresses the ball, how he holds the club, and how he takes a swing. Once you see it, you can imitate it and start practicing it.

At first, golf seems complicated and awkward. But with a little discipling (coaching), you begin to get the hang of it. You see, you did not lack information (you mastered the book!). You lacked a coach to imitate and help you practice. Turns out, golf is not as complicated as you thought. Soon enough you know how to get up on the first tee and hit a 150-yard-worm-burner. It is not perfect. It is not pretty. But you are playing golf. You are no longer on the sideline. You are playing the game.

And, by the way, now that you know how to golf, you can show others how to do the same. Even below-average golfers can show beginners the basics of how to play golf.

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Discipling People to Follow Jesus

So discipling people to follow Jesus can be as simple as this:

  1. We begin seeking, recognizing, and responding to Jesus ourselves. (We can’t show others what we are not doing.)
  2. We regularly gather in community with the few who are ready and willing to begin. (This does not take a majority of our time but it does take a priority of our time.)
  3. At our gatherings, we support one another while we are learning to put the five practices into play in our daily lives. We do this by asking one another the five questions which correspond to the five practices (listed in part 2 of this series). Hearing and telling our stories in these gatherings help us move from teaching in the group to imitating and practicing in real life.
  4. By God’s grace, and with a little help from our friends, we move from awkward beginners to actual followers. And don’t miss this: we are in the game! We are seeking, recognizing, and responding to what Jesus is already doing around us.
  5. And, by the way, now that we are following Jesus, we can show others how to do the same by gathering the next group of new disciples and imitating and replicating the Rabbi’s discipling process all over again.

Now that we are clear about what discipling is, let’s keep it simple and let’s get it started!

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This article is Part 3 of a 3-part series on “What is Discipling.”

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About the Author

Rev. Greg Finke is the founder and executive director of Dwelling 1:14, a non-profit ministry which seeks to help Jesus-followers connect in their neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools for discipling and missional living ( Before founding Dwelling 1:14, Finke served as senior pastor of Messiah, Midland and Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Houston, Texas. He and his wife, Susan, have three daughters and enjoy life as neighborhood missionaries in League City, Texas.

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