Growth of a Disciple


It would be amiss to say there is no difference in disciples. Much like the pattern of growth in humans, where humans are classified as babies, toddlers, children, teenagers, adults and finally seniors, discipleship in Christianity is a progression from birth to adulthood. With this being said, Christians do not continually progress from one stage to the next, never to go back to other stages. Much like in life, we can see Christians form growth beyond their years in certain areas and then 5 years later they are still behind the curve in a different area. We can describe the relationship Christians have with these stages as active where one may move between the stages any number of times. However, the stages of discipleship do correlate well with the overall growth patterns we see illustrated, and it is in the spheres of discipleship that we see the growth take place. First we shall go over the stages of discipleship, and then we can go back and look at the spheres in which disciples grow.


This is the stage of the unbeliever. The person who does not know Jesus can only be considered dead. They are dead in their sins, dead in their trespasses, dead in their thought patterns. These people don’t know they are dead and because they are dead, they are incapable of doing anything of spiritual value except making a decision for Christ. Often times, Christians will be dumbfounded and even angry a non-Christian is sinning. They get angry because a person would do something like have an abortion when they don’t know Jesus. They don’t know what they are doing, and Christians will be there picketing the abortion clinic. “Rather than be angry with the spiritually dead person for being dead, shouldn’t we rather deal with the problem rather than their symptomatic behaviors?”[1] A more helpful behavior for Christians would be to pray with those who have had an abortion or offer to talk to them about Jesus instead of condemning them.


Once a person is saved, they are no longer dead and they are born again. But know one would expect a newborn baby or even a year old baby to play Mozart on a Cello. These Christians are the ones who have just become Christians, and need milk from the Christian leaders in their lives such as their pastors. “The Holy Spirit is working in the infant, and there is receptivity to what the word says. But they have also gotten mixed up with the philosophy of the world, combining it with Scripture in a hybrid that works for them or at least at this point they think it is working for them.”[2] They will not have everything together, and Christians should not expect them to. But teaching and showing them in love is the best thing to do. They must be built up in the Word of Christ, and taught to love Jesus through the actions of those around them.


The next stage in life is that of a child, and it is the same for a disciple of Christ. Children are often selfish and dependent upon those around them without even meaning to be. They want to play and have fun, and it is in this stage where many Christians tend to become backslidden. They recognize what Jesus expects of them, but they would rather do their own thing since it seems much more fun. “They need to learn to trust God in obedience, doing what the Word says rather than what their feelings tell them to do.”[3]


Passing from childhood we come into adulthood, adults are fully capable of taking care of themselves, and can start giving back to the world and their community but do not yet have the responsibility of parents. In the church, the spiritual young adults “are starting to understand that God has called them to give to the body of Christ, rather than simply take.”[4] They will make mistakes, they will get burnt, and they will learn to overcome these setbacks and seek the best for the body of Christ. They do not have it all together by any means, but do have enthusiasm and energy to serve Christ with all they have.


There comes a time where young adults proceed to become parents. They are now responsible for not just themselves, but someone else too. These other people will not get what is necessary without them, and in the body of Christ, this is often the many people see the pastor fulfill, but it should be the aim of everyone in the church. Not everyone will serve in teaching capacities, but everyone will teach others and the best disciple making is not going to be done from the pulpit on Sunday morning. Those who are at this level can be seen making disciples, and often there is no place for them in the local churches due to the thought that it is supposed to be the pastors who do this. However, they “need to be encouraged and freed to make disciples in the church,”[5] not just in a public speaking forum, but also through small groups, home fellowships, whatever the case may be.


Up to this point we have only been talking about the stages of discipleship, but not the details of areas in which disciples grow. Putnam, Coleman and Harrington have broken this down to four areas that all need to be growing.

Relationship to God

First is ones relationship with God. This is the single most important area for out of this area all else flows. Out of our relationship with God, we feed the other areas, without God our relationship to the church doesn’t matter, nor does our home life, nor will we have interaction with the world. The key to our relationship with God is to submit ourselves to Jesus. Bonhoeffer talks about this and the reality is the submission is the individuals choice alone, “No one can be forced, no one can even be expected to follow him.”[6] It is only the individual who can submit to Christ and allow Christ to speak to all areas of our life. Molding us to be like Christ yet keeping the distinct personalities God has given us.

Relationship with the Church

The next sphere of growth is that of the interaction a Christians has with other believers. It is labeled as the relationship with the church, but this is best seen in the sense of the universal church which is all believers. Throughout all of the stages of discipleship, there is interaction with the church from being fed by the other members of the church, learning how to minister to others, and finally giving back to the church. This all takes place in the context of ministry whereby non-Christians are won for Christ and Christians are built up for Christ. “Any discipleship scheme that leaves out ministry is ineffective. Jesus trained them to do something: fish for men and be sent out to preach.”[7]

Home Life

The topic of the home life is a very personal topic. Many people are content to let Jesus have their Sunday morning, as long as they leave the rest of their time alone. But this is not the manner in which God works. God works in all facets of our lives including and especially how we treat those in our family. This area encompasses everything from husband and wife relationships to finances to raising children where every Christian is responsible for discipling their family.

Relationship to the World

Lastly, a Christian cannot accomplish our tasks without realizing that we must be in the world. Jesus has been very clear in the purpose of disciples being trained to reach the world. From the Great Comission to the very presence of Christ on Earth, God is concerned with the world, and if a believer has no contact with non-Christians they cannot meet the requirement to make disciples. It is only within context of meeting people who do not believe in Christ whereby a Christian can make a disciple. The church must train disciples to interact with the world and live for Christ in all we do, and equip believers for the purpose of reaching the lost. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:14) It is the goal of all Christians to be telling the entire world of Jesus. “In order to accomplish the mission, the church must develop disciples to their full potential. The way to grow the body is to grow the individual. The way to reach the world is to develop disciples to their full potential.”[8]


As I reflect on the stages of discipleship, there are a few conclusions I’ve come to in my own personal life. I would describe myself in the parental stage overall even though there are times when I feel that I may not always act like it in all the spheres. I do have a few disciples I’m currently developing that are part of the church already, but I do have a hard time in relation to making new disciples from people who do not know Jesus simply because I have let myself get consumed to the point where I do not have much free time. Most of my time is spent working from home and then going to school so what little free time I have often goes to my wife where we do try to get out of the house and interact with the world. It is in this area I need to do more work on submitting to Christ at all times and interacting with the world so as to facilitate the making of disciples and building relationships.




Boenhoffer, Deitrich, Discipleship, Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2003.

Earley, Dave & David Wheeler, Evangelism is…:How to Share Jesus with Passion and Confidence, Nashville: B&H Publishing 2010.

Earley, Dave & David Wheeler, Evangelism is…:How to Share Jesus with Passion and Confidence, Nashville: B&H Publishing 2010.

Putnam, Jim et al, Discipleshift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Dsiciples, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.

Innovate Church: Discipleship. accessed November 9, 2014.


[1] Putnam, Jim et al, Discipleshift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Dsiciples, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013, 62.

[2] Putnam, Jim et al, 63.

[3] Putnam, Jim et al, 67.

[4] Putnam, Jim et al, 67.

[5] Putnam, Jim et al, 71.

[6] Boenhoffer, Deitrich, Discipleship, Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2003, 86.

[7] Earley, Dave and Rod Dempsey, Disciple Making Is…: How to Live the Great Comission with Passion and Confidence, Nashville: B&H Academic, 2013,

[8] Innovate Church: Discipleship. accessed November 9, 2014.

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