Discipleship Framework

6 elements of a powerful discipleship framework (1)

Once you know what type of disciple you are trying to make, you can form the discipleship framework to make it happen. No other skill is so important, so needed, yet so elusive in the church.

Lets be clear upfront, however. A discipleship framework is not equal to a church integration path. Us pastors mix up our mandate at times, designing a 4 step process into the local body and calling it growth. But what we are doing there is representing the growth of the church as growth of the person.

Jesus said that He would build the church, and that we are to make disciples. We should be smart in our integration of newcomers, but not at the expense of our personal mandate.

So, let’s go there and define the first three of six cultural elements that are really critical in regard to discipleship culture.



This is the one being discipled. We want them to be Christlike, and yet not feel obliged to resemble a 30-something Hebrew in first century Palestine on their way to a crucifix. Jesus has already accomplished that. But we do want people to resemble what Christ would be like, if Christ was them.

So, how would Jesus treat the people in their setting? What dreams and motivations would Jesus have if He was in their shoes? What mission would He be accomplishing in their workplace, community or school.

Since every person and situation is so vastly different, our goal can only be to build Christ within them, so it is He that overflows in their fruit and deeds. We can’t adequately define each person’s outer lifestyle but can be crystal clear as to what we are trying to form inside.

Discipleship is beyond all things a heart-transforming endeavour, rather than a behaviour modification process. We want them to become what Paul calls in 1 Cor.3:1 the pneumatikos (spiritual person), one who is empowered and influenced predominantly by the Spirit.

Once a heart is in the process of continual transformation, the observable fruit takes better care of itself. All the things we tend to tell people they should do, become more self-initiating when their heart is beating close to God and in sync with Him.

I focus on building those things that Paul describes in 1 Cor.13:13 as the three vital elements that will always remain – faith, hope and love. Get them right and most other things fall in to place.



It takes people to build people. It is all about a life-on-life, week-on-week, observable and interactive journey.

The need for regular relational proximity presents challenges in many western cultures. In her book Foreign to Familiar, Sarah Lanier uses some broad generalisations to explain how people in relationally “hot” or “cold” cultures emphasise connection and community (Read a helpful summary here).

Obviously a cold relational climate is one where people are more emotionally isolated and less drawn to copious amounts of personal interaction. And yet, it is the hot relational climates where huge church growth and revival is taking place. If we are to disciple people well, we need to form an intentional way for them to become relationally warmer whilst still existing in a cold, complex and time-poor setting.

Modern “missional” and even “house-church” models are grappling with this in the west, creating simple settings in which people engage closely and regularly. They aren’t for everyone, and don’t pretend to answer all the big questions around the issue, but they do focus well on the core mission of discipleship.

Regardless of the model, we need to ensure our church-week is simple enough to free up people’s time, and intentional enough that they lean into being grown and growing someone else.

My current quest is to find or create a simple model that acknowledges the need for people to enjoy the synergy of faith that vibrant gatherings provide, without robbing them of the huge amounts of time that servicing a growing list of programs demands.



Understanding the dynamics of the spiritual development journey is crucial in doing discipleship well. There are certain phases we go through, each with its own potential to block progress. And even though it is primarily a heart journey, our minds and actions all need time and practice to come into line with any inner development or change – as such it is a journey of head, heart and hands.

I believe that both the modernists and post-modernists have very valid points in the way they see discipleship growth.

The modernists prefer the (well-researched) sequential model of growth. They define very clear stages in the journey, and use the Engel scale and other modern models to lay out a clear path and predictable process to grow.

The post-modernists are more organic. They define growth in more unstructured terms, being more comfortable with the paradigm of seasons. This gives very valid permission to spend time re-experiencing (possibly in greater depth) a key phase of discipleship such as behavioural change, communion with God, pruning, or reproduction. Life becomes about navigating these various seasons in whatever sequence, and as often as life demands.

When we are developing our own intentional process or pathway to grow we should accommodate both these paradigms. But when it comes to us intentionally helping people in their particular movement of maturity we need to apply a little bit of design to the moment.

There are 4 transformational dynamics required if people are to experience whole-person growth. As they navigate each movement, they will do it most successfully if these are in play. They are:

  • Spiritual: a genuine encounter with the sanctifying and powerful grace of God.
  • Relational: a journey taken with others in transparency, support and regularity.
  • Experiential: being stretched in a particular area beyond their current norms.
  • Instructional: Adopting godly principles to change thinking patterns.

My friend Malcolm Webber has authored extensive materials to flesh out the detail of these dynamics in his suite of books and courses at Leadersource SGA. His models have facilitated developmental breakthrough in China, India and beyond to many tens of thousands of believers.

Resources such as re:FORM and re:FOCUS integrate these four dynamics into their respective journeys. But for whatever growth phase people are navigating, it is very helpful to design a simple 4D plan for seeing it through.


In the next post, we discuss the remaining two elements of a powerful discipleship culture.

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