The Discipleship Triangle

I am currently taking two different courses on disciple-making. One is what is called a Master Course (Practical Tools for Making Disciples Like Jesus) and an online course (The Disciplemaking Blueprint). 

In a previous blogpost, I spoke about how I have come to the conclusion that a great danger exists because congregations are not making disciples who make disciples. In other words, full disciples are not being made because a full disciple is one who makes other disciples. 

And maybe that’s the reality because this is a cyclical problem, meaning that current disciples were not truly taught and shown how to make disciples who make disciples.

Anyway, one of the presenters in the Master Course presented what I have called the “Discipleship Triangle.” There are three aspects, all necessary, to making a disciple who makes disciples. 

The first one is information. This is where information is shared with the disciple from the disciple-maker. In today’s common reality, this would typically be done in a group setting such as a Sunday school class or a small group. And while that is good, I still consider it a “shotgun” approach. It is not done in a personal, one-on-one setting. It is at this point that many congregations stop being intentional in the disciple-making process, possibly thinking that they have succeeded in making a disciple. 

What is better is for that information to be shared in that one-on-one setting. This is where specific and personal and intimate questions can be asked, questions that a person may not be comfortable asking in a group setting.

But conveying information does not make a disciple, at least not in the way Jesus did, and the apostles, such as Paul with Timothy. 

And this is where the second point of the triangle comes into reality – imitation. In order for a disciple to imitate what a disciple does, s/he must observe and experience what his/her discipler in different situations. S/he must experience how that discipler applies that information to real life situations, shaping how s/he acts and responds to situations of life. And in order for that to be observed and experienced, that disciple must be with the discipler. The disciple needs to be at the shoulder of his/her discipler, learning by watching. And, then, that disciple imitates what has been observed and experienced. To the Corinthian believers, Paul wrote, “I exhort you, therefore, become imitators of me. Because of this, I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, even as I teach everywhere in every congregation.” Timothy was the living example of Paul to the Corinthian believers in his absence. He could do that because he imitated what he has seen and experienced from being with Paul. Jesus did a similar thing with the Twelve.

The difficulty with this second point of the triangle is that it involves intentionally inviting someone new into your life, thereby taking time and being messy. But this is absolutely essential. If this is not done, this real-life observing and experiencing, then truly making disciples, especially disciples who make disciples, becomes very difficult. One of the best ways of learning is watching someone do it and then imitate what we have seen while that person watches. This is what Jesus did. But if the goal is to make disciples who make disciples, then we had best be demonstrating how we go about inviting someone into a relationship with Jesus first and then a discipling relationship with us second, all in the view of a current disciple. That way s/he can see how it’s done.

But how many are actually calling other people to enter into a life-altering relationship with Jesus? Based upon my experience, it’s not a very high number and that is a big problem.

Finally, after imitating the discipler, the disciple now begins to innovate on the process learned, observed, and experienced, shaping it to match who s/he is as a person. It still retains the foundation of the original discipler, but now moves beyond that. Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the one who believes in me will do the works which I do and will do greater than these…” (John 14:12) That’s innovation.

And then that disciple becomes the disciple-maker because s/he saw it in action as part of what it means to be a disciple.

That’s the Discipleship Triangle and all three are necessary to the mission of congregations to make disciples who make disciples.

The question that now needs to be considered is this – “How do I go about jumpstarting this process?”


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