Four Spheres of Discipleship

When our Lord commissioned His church to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, He left a blueprint and an adequate source of power. The enablement comes, not by our own good intentions, but by the ministry of the Holy Spirit in and through our lives: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Yet even with this enablement, we dare not miss Christ’s blueprint for HOW to make disciples. We need to apply these principles to our lives as individuals and as local churches. Consider four spheres that show vital contexts of the discipling process.


Nothing will take the place of our personal walk with God. Enoch epitomised this relationship with the Lord: “And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him” (Gen 5:24). So God calls each of us, not only to a conversion experience (John 3:3), but to continual, personal fellowship: “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” 1 Cor. 1:9).

What is involved in this walk? It includes two-way dialog: God speaks to us through His Word, and we speak to Him through prayer. It is not enough to know about God; we need to know Him personally and intimately. We learn from the lives of those who have gone before us that God deals with His people individually. God personally called Abraham out of Ur to the Promised Land; God personally called Moses at the burning bush; God recommissioned Joshua to lead the people into Canaan; God made a covenant with David to give Him an eternal dynasty (culminating in the birth and reign of the Lord Jesus). The examples continue.

Friend, how is your personal walk with God? I heard about a couple driving along in their car after many years of marriage. On the bench seat, the wife wistfully remembered the early days of their courtship when they would drive down the road cuddled next to each other. She remarked, “Honey, look at us; remember when we used to sit so close together? Why don’t we do that any more?” Her husband replied from behind the steering wheel, “My dear, I haven’t moved!” So believer, if you feel that you’re not as close to God as you once were, guess who moved? “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you…” (James 4:8).


Here is a vital context for discipleship that so many have yet to discover. In his research, church consultant Al Broom found that 90% of church leaders are developed through mentoring.[1] Yet how few churches use a one-to-one strategy?

Acts 16:1-5 records how Timothy was summoned in Paul’s second missionary journey to be his helper and traveling companion. In the letters of 1 and 2 Timothy we see how Paul functioned, not only as a teacher, but as a spiritual father to this younger missionary. The scope of this mentoring relationship is shown in 2 Timothy 2:2: “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). One of the benefits of mentoring is the increased potential for spiritual multiplication. Notice the four “generations” mentioned in Paul’s challenge: Paul, Timothy, “faithful men,” and “others.”

Although we are grateful to each one who is ADDED to Christ in salvation, how much better to have MULTIPLICATION of disciples! Notice the results of Andrew’s personal witness: “One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’… And he brought him to Jesus” (John 1:40,41). Waylon Moore noted, “It was by reaching Peter that Andrew’s ministry extended even to our day. At Pentecost, Peter evangelized thousands of Jews who trusted Christ … This is multiplication; from Andrew, to Peter, to the thousands converted in Jerusalem, to the first mission church in Antioch … This is how you can expand your ministry around the world–by reaching just one other person who may multiply mightily.”[2]

My grandfather (a banker) impressed the principle of multiplication by asking me, “Which would you rather have: a million dollars, or a penny that multiplies every day for a month?” I quickly picked the “million dollars” option. After doing the math I discovered that the penny would be a million dollars by the 28th day of the month! Then why should we settle for addition when in the precious calling of discipleship?


In his profound study of Christ’s principles of training the twelve disciples, Robert E. Coleman observed the importance of investing in a smaller group: “We should not expect great number [of disciples] to begin with, nor should we desire it. The best work is always done with a few. Better to give a a year or so to one or two men who learn what it means to conquer for Christ than to spend a lifetime with a congregation just keeping the program going. Nor does it matter how small or inauspicious the beginning may be; what counts is that those to whom we do give priority upon our life will learn to give it away.” [3]

Christ preached to multitudes, but spent most of His time teaching training the twelve. At the conclusion of His earthly ministry He could declare to them: “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21). And to the Father He could testify, “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4) In terms of preparing the leadership of the first generation church, His mission was accomplished in three and a half years!

In his book, Beyond Church Growth, Robert Logan points out the relevance of Christ’s example with small group discipleship: “What is the span of care that one Spirit-filled human being can give to others? Christ himself drew the line at 12. Yet here we are, pastors and lay leaders, attempting to draw into our fold and then single-handedly care for the needs of people in groups of 50, 100, 250, 500, and sometimes 1,000 people! Are we greater than our master?”[4]

Although fellowship in small groups has become standard part of most effective churches in North America, relatively few designate the purpose of these groups as dynamic discipling. The qualities of Christ’s life, teaching, pattern, and commission call small groups to include two additional features: a focus on reaching the lost and the multiplication of lay leaders. This turns generic small groups (focused on fellowship and learning) into living, REPRODUCING cells. It may not be a coincidence that the human body–a symbol of the church–grows through the multiplication of living cells.

If cell leaders are equipped and commissioned for a pastoral ministry to their cells, the church ministry could be revolutionized. Logan continues, “It’s critically important to turn your organizational chart upside down in order to help everyone realize the strategic importance of the cell-group leader’s ministry. All other support functions in your church should exist to enable and equip the cell-group leader in the task of being a pastor to his or her group … I don’t know about you–but I am excited tremendously by the thought of a church where every need would be cared for, where ninety-nine could be left safe in the fold to pursue the one who was lost (instead of vice a versa), and where no one would fall through the cracks. What a potential such a church could have to reach a hurting world!”[5]

Are you part of a small group that can fulfil the “one another” commands of the New Testament? If not, you’re missing out on a vital context of discipleship!


Although every believer is part of the church universal (Matt 16:18), most of the New testament references to “church” refer to local congregations and the epistles were mostly written to them So, we are admonished to do what should be in our hearts anyway: “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24,25). There is a special blessing to have all the believers together as a testimony of unity and praise (Cf. Acts 2:1).[6]

Fellow believer, if your spiritual growth has been less than your potential in Christ, take advantage of each of these spheres of discipleship, “making the most of every opportunity…” (Eph 5:16 NIV).



[1] Al Broom, Dynamics of a Growing Church, (Campus Crusade for Christ/Here’s Life, 1987), p.15 (from video lecture) Al Broom is founder of Church Dynamics. Cf. Leroy Eims, The Lost Art of Disciplemaking (Navpress)

[2] Waylon Moore, Multiplying Disciples, (Navpress, 1981), p. 36.

[3] Robert E. Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism, (Fleming H. Revell: 1968), p.117.

[4] Robert E, Logan, Beyond Church Growth, (Fleming H. Revell,1989), p.123.

[5] Ibid., pp.139-40. Cf. Ralph Neighbour, Where do We Go From Here; Dale E. Galloway, 20/20 Vision; Melvin J. Steinbron, Can the Pastor Do it Alone? Cf web sites An ideal tool for all four shperes of discipleship (with a grace orientation) is the Dynamic Life Handbook, available from Al Middleton:

[6] In this larger context we see gifted leaders used of God to strengthen the church “… for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…” (Eph. 4:11-12).