Helping Disciples Become Disciplers

Adult Discipleship: Where Relationship and Teaching Collide

There are many different ways you could define discipleship, it’s purpose and what it looks like, but as a starting point, discipleship is a lifelong process of being formed into the image of Christ for the sake of others. It’s something we all need to go through, and likely something we’ll never complete. In other words, it’s process and formation.

Trusting the Process

The first aspect of discipleship is to recognize that it is a process. It’s not something that will take root in our hearts overnight. Like developing any habit, being formed into the likeness of Christ takes time.

Imagine the amount of time the disciples spent with Jesus. Of course, we don’t know exactly what their life together looked like or how much time they spent with one another, but for the sake of this thought experiment, imagine he spent every day with his disciples for three years; that’s 1,095 days they spent together. This would be considered an intensive discipleship program!

If you hang out with someone once a week (which by many accounts is a lot), it will take you 21 years to spend 1,095 days together. If you see someone once a month, it will take you 91 years to spend 1,095 days together. Three years with Jesus would’ve felt like a lifetime of discipleship at the rates we spend with one another.

The point of this thought experiment is to show that becoming a disciple of Jesus is a lifelong process. To mimic the amount of time the disciples spent with Jesus would likely take us years or even decades.

How Are You Being Formed in Adult Discipleship?

The second aspect of discipleship is formation. Formation can be ambiguous, but the easiest way to think about formation is through this question: what type of person am I becoming? Many different things in our life exert a forming influence over us that, in turn, dictates the things we love and shape our lives.

If I watch 5 hours of Netflix daily, what type of person am I becoming by doing that? If I consume two hours of news daily, what type of person am I becoming by doing that? What type of person am I becoming if I am in constant prayer and relationship with others? You get the idea.

Many things are exerting a forming power upon us, often in ways we are unaware of. One of the most transparent ways we see this is through technology usage. Among millennials, 1 in 4 people spend five hours a day on their phone, with fifty percent spending 3 hours a day on their phone. Some studies suggest that we touch our phones between 2500-5500 times daily!

Before we create further generational divides between Millennials, Generation X, and Boomers, what is fascinating throughout various studies is that while older generations might not utilize their smartphones similarly, they still consume a similar amount of media through watching television. While millennials rarely watch network television and spend their time on Instagram or other social media apps, Boomers aren’t hitting up the TikToks but are religiously watching Blue Bloods on Friday night.

Part of discipleship is recognizing that the things that we give our time to are the things that form us. We want to be formed into the likeness of Jesus, so we take time to recognize how we spend our time and where we can give more of it to God and those around us. It isn’t always revolutionary; it might be putting our phones down to spend some uninterrupted minutes with our kids.

Being discipled is essential because it clues us in on how other things in our life are forming us.

What is the Day-to-Day in Adult Discipleship?

Thinking about process and formation can sometimes be abstract, 30,000-foot-view-type conversations. Now we get into the nitty gritty, where the rubber meets the road, and how a lifelong process of being formed into the likeness of Jesus begins to take hold in daily life. It involves discussing life issues, teaching young men and women how to pray, studying the Bible, and living together. All of these things take time but are important ways for us to be formed into the likeness of Jesus.

We believe adult discipleship should be characterized by depth and richness. First, it’s an opportunity for young men and women to gather around a table and share their struggles and joys. They listen intently and offer encouragement and support as they talk and pray together, which fosters closeness and connection. That’s why we discuss life issues together. It’s a way to bear one another’s burdens in the Lord and hear what others might be going through.

We want to lead young men and women into a deep relationship with Jesus so that they are marked by being in His presence through worshipful prayer. Discipleship leads us into prayer without ceasing as we continually intercede for others. Prayer is a way for us to offer intercession and connection with those around us. We bring each others’ requests before the Lord, and we are hopeful and expectant and feel energized and renewed, knowing we powerfully encounter God's presence.

Scripture is a place to learn about God, ourselves, and the world. We study the Bible in a community with one another. We ask questions, share insights, and apply the teachings of Scripture in relevant ways to our life and the world around us. As a result, we have a deeper understanding of God's Word and a renewed sense of purpose and direction by being anchored to the Word of the Lord.

Lastly, we know that adult discipleship doesn’t exist in a void, and it takes shape as we live with one another. We spend time together, share stories, laugh, and build meaningful relationships through a shared faith. We support one another through life's ups and downs, providing a sense of community and belonging that is hard to find elsewhere, especially online.

We’ve found that working on projects, eating meals with spouses, going on walks, working on a ministry team, traveling to conferences, and many other activities have been meaningful ways to foster conversation around God, Scripture, and everything in between. We have benefited greatly by having intergenerational relationships in our life. We have a healthier attitude toward life and energy from being around people of all ages. We’ve found that regardless of age, reciprocity happens in all our old or young relationships. It’s a fantastic blessing to us —‘mutual fruit’ as Paul describes it in the Book of Romans.

The truth is, adult discipleship takes humility. It’s a willful acknowledgment that you don’t have all the answers but are willing to listen and learn from someone who might be ahead of you in their life and formation in following Jesus. However, it’s a step towards flourishing relationships between God and others, and that’s what we are all about.

Additional Resources to Keep Learning...

How Is Your Hearing?

Luke 8:1-21

The Four-Fold Disciple: The Goal of Discipleship

A Guide for Cultural Engagement: A Letter from the Early Church

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