Who Do I Disciple?

“Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him.  He appointed twelve – designating them apostles – that they might be with him and that he might send them out…”  (Mark 3.13-14)

Where do I start?

I had just started my first real ministry role in a church and remember feeling, “I can’t believe I actually get to do this full-time!”  Granted, I was still an intern, and wasn’t really earning a salary yet. But it felt amazing to be able to put my entire focus on helping a group of people grow in their relationship with God, without having to balance that with my studies or another part-time job.  

I was aware that the ongoing expectations for my role included Sunday morning teaching, organsing a mid-week group, as well as planning regular socials and outreaches.  However, the thing I longed to do the most was to put my training to the test and to try to lead a ministry the way we see Jesus doing it:  yes, by teaching and gathering people together, but also by giving my best time and energy into discipling a few in hopes that they would, in turn, lead others.

Could sharing life with and equipping a few really result in any kind of lasting impact beyond my internship?  Could this particular group of students and young adults grow deeper in their faith, care spiritually for their peers and reach those who did not yet know God?  I believed that with God’s help this was possible.

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But where should I start?  There was no way I could disciple every person in the group; there were simply too many people!  So who was I supposed to ask?  And how would the others feel about not being asked, especially the couple of tricky individuals that I sensed would probably take every minute I would give them.

I know that as you read this, your situation will be different. But are your tension points the same? How do we know who we should approach to disciple? What about those who feel left out?  And isn’t it ‘playing favourites’ to only focus on a few?

Where did Jesus start?

Let’s look to how Jesus did it. What does he model and why did he do it that way? 

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Jesus spent time teaching, preaching and healing the masses.  But this was underpinned by an intentional commitment to share his life with a few.  We see it in the passage above (Mark 3.13-14).  Out of the many disciples (see Luke 6.12-13 for another account), Jesus chose twelve.  And out of the twelve, it seems clear Jesus invited the three – Peter, James and John – to come even closer and be with him at his transfiguration and in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest.  God’s heart is for every individual.  But Jesus, the human, couldn’t possibly share his life with every person.  That’s why he focused on a few to reach the many. 

How did the disciples who were not chosen to be apostles feel about being ‘left out’?  How did the nine, who were not invited to see what Peter, James and John saw, feel?  Those particular emotions and interpersonal dynamics are largely left unknown.  But what we do know is that Jesus accomplished his mission.  On the last night with his friends, Jesus said to the Father, “I have completed the work you gave me to do.  I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world.”  (John 17.4-6)

What About You?

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How are you doing with the disciple-making work the Father has commissioned you to do?  Unless your group is less than five people, you cannot possibly give enough time to every person in your group in a way that allows them to have a close look at your life, your relationship with God and your interactions with those who don’t yet know God.

So you will have to make choices. 

The question isn’t, “Is choosing a few playing favourites?” But, “How do I choose?” 

Practical Starting Points

There’s been loads written on this topic, but let me leave you with just four very practical steps:

1.  Cast the Vision for Discipleship in your Church and Ministry

Communicate regularly that the goal is for every person to be in an intentional discipleship relationship;  where they are being helped to grow spiritually and they are helping others to grow too.

2.  Paint a Picture of What Discipleship Looks Like

Discipleship involves giving time to be together for a season and committing to doing what God says as we share life, pursue God and serve others inside and outside the church.  

3.  See Who Responds

Communicate your desire to give your best time and energy to a few.  Wait to see who responds to your offer and start there!

4.  If Nobody Responds…

Do what Jesus did.  Pray.  Select a Few.  Tell them that you see their God-given potential and that you were led to approach them. 

If you do this, you will create a culture of discipleship, backed by a growing number of passionate disciple-makers.  And this way, you won’t have to worry about anyone getting left out!

What Next?

Our Expand Training Experiences answer questions just like this one; who do I disciple? How do I disciple? What are the specifics? If you’d like more tips and resources to help you in your disciple-making journey, head over to our Expand page to read more about how our online training sessions could help you.


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Darin (MDiv, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) lives with his family in Oxfordshire, England. With over twenty years experience in leading youth ministry and training youth workers, as well as developing and delivering degree-level modules in Theology, Mission and Youth Ministry, he now oversees Start to Stir.

Categories: Expand Discipleship Training

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