Discipleship Requires Specificity

Having never really been discipled myself, learning how to disciple others has been one of my top 3 challenges in the first years of church planting. Forget “make disciples who make disciples”. I just need to make disciple. How do I help people see that Jesus is calling them to look more like him in some concrete way?


Photo by Aaron Rich


I was astonished this morning. I was reading Stephen Covey’s book First Things First. He consistently asks people a bracing question:

What one thing could you do that would significantly improve the quality of your personal (or professional) life?

When he puts it this way, 99% of the time he gets a response that is immediate, concrete, actionable, time-bound, and in alignment with the person’s top priorities. People seem to just know what they’re really supposed to do.

Now, I still get funny feelings when people start sentences with “God told me…”. Maybe I’ll never entirely get over it. And maybe that’s not entirely a bad feeling.

But if Stephen Covey can ask secular people point blank what they ought to do, and he gets such immediate, concrete, actionable, time-bound, congruent responses… responses that crystalize people’s priorities and catalyze life change, why are we so agnostic about what God is calling us to do? 


The  best I’ve come across in my desperate search for discipleship tools are these 2  powerful questions:

  1. What is God saying to you?
  2. What are you going to do about it?

See what that does?

When you ask people those questions, it

  • forces them to listen to the word of God
  • forces them to discern the way the Bible applies to their life at present
  • convicts them that the Spirit of God is speaking by the word of God to equip them for a present, concrete good work
  • challenges them to take deliberate action

We’ve only begun to adopt these two questions into our discipleship language. But I’ve already been astonished at how it stirs in us the love and challenge of Jesus—how it motivates me and the people I’m discipling to press on in the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Thank you, Mike Breen, for conveying this dreadful simplicity.

What do you think? Do you have the guts to ask people point-blank what God is saying? Do you have the courage to ask them what they’re going to do about it? Is there a better way?

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2 thoughts on “Discipleship Requires Specificity

  1. I like the pointed questions that you use in your discipleship. With the first one, how do you make sure you are limiting it to the Word of God and not what they think they hear God telling them?

    • Ike, great question. Interestingly, that’s precisely the sort of question that some secular people asked Stephen Covey when he would ask them pointed questions about what one thing they ought to be doing. Covey’s response is that it’s usually very difficult to imagine that (in the case of Covey’s interlocutors) the voice inside their head is malevolently tricking them into harmful practices and actions. Time bears out that the things people know they ought to be doing are in fact the most helpful things to get to work on. Covey’s questions just provide the sharp and incisive clarity and a degree of motivation to act.

      When it comes to your question, I think we have to be willing to trust that the Spirit of God speaks now through the written word, applying it to our life in very concrete, personal, context-specific ways. Discipleship is about following Jesus, not just memorizing the written Word.

      In my seminary, there was a very high view of Scripture. But our professors also taught us that meaning and application are not two different things. Rather, application is PART of the meaning. I’d even go further to say that unless there is concrete, specific application, one has not actually discerned the meaning of the written word.

      Finally, if it’s helpful, we could employ the good old Lutheran insight that while the gospel can only come to us by way of announcement from God, the law is pretty much intuitive to us, written on our hearts, and embedded in creation itself. We aren’t perfect at discerning it, and our sin causes us to plug our ears to it in varying degrees. But “what am I supposed to do?” is, in classic Protestant theology, not much of a mystery.

      So my recommendation is that we work on the assumption that what people are ignorant of is the gospel, and especially the way Christ has broken the powerful stranglehold of sin over us. Conversely, we should be much less agnostic about what comes pretty easily to people, with a little help: the thing that we ought to do to follow Jesus more closely.

      What do you think?

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