If you have read very many of my posts, you know that I am happily enslaved to the expository treatment of the Scriptures. With essentially every topic I address on this blog, my first question is to ask, "What does the Bible say?" Hopefully all of this blog is, at its core, me showing you how I work through ministry issues from the Word of God. So, it will not surprise you to learn that Step One in starting a discipleship ministry in your church is to follow the example of Christ in how He started the greatest discipleship ministry to have ever existed.
Step 1: Invite the Undiscipled to Follow You
To review -- How would you start a discipleship ministry from scratch? Answer: Begin the way Jesus began. He spent all night in prayer to the Father and then called men to follow Him. He invited them to a life of discipleship, whether they realized it or not. At the very beginning, it is not likely that they had any idea where the road would take them.
The way you can do this in your church is to ask God to place one or two (or, if more if you are able) other guys in your church on your heart for discipleship. Then prayerfully approach them about entering into a discipleship relationship and (Step Two) explain what that is.
Step 2: Have a Plan.
One of the problems from recent history that today's church is trying to address is the way we have treated Sunday School as discipleship. For centuries, many people have derived various spiritual benefits from Sunday School ministry. But, by itself, Sunday School is not biblical discipleship. You cannot disciple anyone in one hour per week, 52 weeks per year, no matter how many years you do it. Even if you plan outside activities from the classroom, your Sunday School would be the exception and not the rule if it resulted in biblical discipleship.
Biblical discipleship is life building - doing life together. Mark 3:14 shows that Jesus "appointed twelve that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach." One of my Seminary professors spoke of the spiritual gift of "hanging out." For further reading on this, see Randall Faulkner's Meeting the Dawn at Jimmy's Egg: How Pastors and Lay Leaders Can Be Disciple-Makers. (Visit my growing Bibliography page for excellent books that have shaped my thinking on a variety of ministry topics.)
A great place to start is to pick a book of the Bible to read together in a small group or even one-on-one. The Gospel of John is an excellent choice. Let them into your life, and in time, they will let you into theirs. Be open and transparent about what is going on in your life, and show them by example what this discipleship thing is all about.
Step 3: Give It Time
If you're like me, you are impatient. I know what results I want, and I want them yesterday. But that is not how it works with discipleship. You will be amazed how God will introduce circumstances into the lives of the guys you are discipling that will challenge their faith, draw them closer to Himself, and give you opportunities to shepherd them through those specific circumstances. They will see that you are genuinely the person you claim to be. Your integrity is essential. Paul said, "Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ." 1 Corinthians 11:1 (CSB) Jesus showed great patience with the men He was discipling. He would ask, "How long will I be with you?" He would marvel at their lack of faith and understanding. And yet, He always exhibited love and patience as He poured into these men - men who "turned the world upside down." Acts 17:6
For many pastors, the first place to start discipleship is at home. Disciple your spouse and your kids. This is Deuteronomy 6 (see verse 7 and following). And then you can train the dads in your church how to disciple their families. You will see the impact of supporting God's design of the dad/husband as the spiritual leader at home. This is only the start. But it can be done. It doesn't even have to be something with a lot of attention drawn to it. Just walk to a dude in your church that God is leading you to approach and say, "Hey man, let's grab some lunch one day this week."
Pastor Billy Shaw is a full-time pastor, husband, and father with a passion for helping other pastors.