5 Characteristics of Real Discipleship

This is a guest post by Chad Barrett. He is the Director of Child Evangelism Fellowship of Greater Houston and Director of Inspiring Evangelism, a ministry dedicated to inspiring and training believers to share the gospel effectively. He is a speaker and has authored two books, Journey to Freedom: The Pursuit of Authentic Fellowship among Men, and The RADIUS Initiative. He lives with his gorgeous wife, Melissa, and their 4 kids. You can connect with Chad on FacebookTwitter, or at his blog

Chris recently trusted in Christ as his Savior, and he had enough baggage from his past that would fill a 747. He was not the easiest guy to get along with, and the people in his church soon began to avoid him. They had him fill out a church-membership card to join, baptized him, and made sure he got into a Sunday school class. But Chris needed more than programs, and growth in Christ was stifled.

Lonely Sports Fan In Stadium

Author Dr. Dennis Okholm once wrote “…in our desire to maximize our return on investments in reaching people for Christ, we…are often captives of the consumer-driven, efficiency-minded, results-oriented culture in which we grow our churches. But [Saint] Benedict and his contemporaries remind us that Christians mature more like trees than like fast-spreading computer viruses….We have become consumers of religion rather than cultivators of a spiritual life.”

The spiritual life that Okholm speaks of involves making disciples. To make a disciple, one must enter into the life of another, show the love of Christ, share the good news of Christ, and continue on developing maturity in Christ.

Many times, this developing maturity can be a bear of a task! But we are commanded by our Savior to make disciples. Here are 5 things to keep in mind in order to get involved in real discipleship.

1. Real discipleship takes time. Sometimes we expect new believers to act mature when we haven’t given them time to mature. It would be like me expecting my 12-year-old son to respond to life the same way I do. But I’m 37-years-old. I’ve had more time to mature. (No comments from my wife, please.) Discipleship takes time and patience.

Jonathan and Chad making goofy faces

2. Real discipleship takes effort. If a young believer isn’t growing in his relationship with Christ, perhaps we should question the other Christians in his church. Whether it was Paul, Peter, James, or Jesus, discipleship took hard work on the part of the discipler. Listening patiently, exhorting, encouraging, and leading (not driving) takes great effort. Real discipleship is not easy.

3. Real discipleship can be dirty. Many times new believers carry lots of dirty baggage. This is quite overwhelming and burdensome to deal with. Discipleship involves helping the new believer to sift through and weed out the dirty laundry. This could include addictions, anger issues, certain doubts, dealing with dysfunctional families, grave fears, bad habits, etc. It’s quite inconvenient to get phone calls at 2am due to any of the above-mentioned items. Real disciple will get your hands dirty. And sometimes more than that.

4. Real discipleship can be painful. People who experience pain can easily cause pain in others. Especially in those closest to him. It’s just human nature. That’s why Christ tells us to weep with those who weep. But sometimes we weep because the one we disciple has hurt us. To put it rather bluntly–sheep bite. One pastor once told me that when a soldier falls, he usually goes down swinging his sword. Real discipleship can be painful when that sword nicks you on the leg. Hurtful words, confrontation, depression, etc. Real discipleship can be painful. It was for Jesus.

5. Real discipleship is rewarding. As painful and difficult as real discipleship can be, it is incredibly rewarding. Not just in heaven with your eternal rewards for faithfulness (1 Cor. 3:9-15), but even here on earth. The Scriptures are full of passages where the discipler is overcome with joy at seeing those in his care grow and mature.

Pray that God will place someone in your path whom you could disciple. Whatever you do, don’t leave a new believer alone.

And if you’re the new believer, pray that God will send someone to mentor you. Talk to you pastor about it.

Question: What are your thoughts about these 5 characteristics of discipleship? Perhaps you could add more!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • ChristianNick

    Chad, This is a great reminder in our microwave society, where we want everything now and are impatient for the results to show. I often find it hard to be patient with myself, let alone those whom I disciple. Makes me think of gardening–to get a great harvest, you really need to work the soil and put in time and effort to protect and nurture the young plant so that your harvest will be great and rewarding. Great post!


    • Hey Nick, you make the perfect analogy with gardening! My grandpa is 91-yrs-old and still makes a great garden. A big one, too. He works diligently out there pulling weeds, turning the soil, watering, etc. Yeah, you’re right. If he left it alone, it would certainly wither and die.

      I’m gonna use this example in the future. Good thoughts bro.

    • Love your analogy Nick. It is hard work. It takes our time and our energy and sometimes our money. But the harvest is well worth it.

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  • Great guest post! I like that you mentioned investing in others means investing in their baggage and that means getting dirty! We can’t be superficial if we want to really make a difference.
    Jesus got down and dirty with us and we should be willing to invest that type of commitment to others!

    • He sure did. Randy Alcorn wrote a novel called Edge of Eternity. One part is when Jesus gets into the mud and muck with the main character and carries him out. Very cool analogy. Spoke volumes to me–just that one part.

    • You’re spot on TC. Too often we just want that superficial “look at what I’m doing” work. Not the down and dirty.

      In what ways are you getting dirty when you invest in others?

      • Taking time to really listen, to pray, to follow up. So often we say we are going to pray for people, but then we don’t follow up to see how they are doing.
        Taking time to invest in peoples emotional journeys isn’t easy, it is time consuming. Sometimes people need extra encouragement or to talk things through in detail.
        Sometimes I feel as if I’m not doing enough, but God reminds me that I am only one person- each part of the body of Christ has their own duties.
        An area I would like to be involved in is caring for the Homeless, but at the moment I don’t feel this is what God wants or where He wants me to focus. Sometimes “good” things are not necessarily God things. Even Satan can use “good” things to distract us from the task God wants us to focus on.
        Thanks Joe for the challenging post.

        • That’s a great suggestion. One thing that made me think of is how many times do we say we’re going to pray for someone and then we zone out and never get around to praying for them? Instead, we could have taken the time to pray with them at that moment in time.

  • I agree and feel you on all these points, Chad. (love this statement – Sheep bite. So true!)

    Before I moved countries a year ago, I was involved in discipleship (and mentoring) in my local church for 12 years.

    One of the deepest lessons learned, which you have highlighted so well, is that growing a mature christian takes time.

    In normal life, no one never thinks twice about diaper change, feeding, waking up in the middle of the night, sorting baby-sized issues e.t.c for infants. But sometimes people aren’t willing to go that extra mile for infant Christians (new believers.)

    And work continues after infancy. There’s a whole lot more to be done till a person gains some level of maturity, at which point some responsibilities are given in order to grow and deepen them further. Enter mentoring.

    A great insightful post. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Thanks for your comments, Ngina! One thing is for sure, I have a long way to go. The mentors God has placed in my life are patient with me. They know it takes time for me to mature. I’m sure thankful for those guys who love me and disciple me!

    • Your illustration of diaper changes, feedings, and waking up is great Ngina. It takes our time and effort to raise healthy new Christians.

      What are your suggestions for getting in the trenches and building up new Christians?

      • Death to self 🙂

        That has been the biggest revelation for me. Letting go of my opinions, ego, assumptions and embracing a day to day journey, trusting God wholeheartedly. not encumbered by yesterday’s happenings and thoughts. I found that if I could just believe that God had a plan, and that He just needed my availability, not ability, I was useful.

  • discipleship is so needed in today’s society. The Acts church knew the importance of winning others for Jesus then teaching them to become mature Christians, which happens through discipleship. Though it takes time and energy it’s important for Christians to disciple each other.

    Great points and post.

    • Thanks Dan. Your words remind me of Eph. 4:11 and on. Equipping the saints to do the work of ministry for the purpose of maturity in Christ.

      • Your welcome and amen to that passage!!!

    • Too often we just get ’em saved and shipped on out. No equipment, no training, no guidance, and no accountability. We need those that are willing to teach and train to rise up.

  • This is a great post and you make some awesome points and needed in our society today. Praise the Lord for His grace!

    • Amen, Kimanzi! Praise Him for His wondrous works! Thanks, bro.

    • I’m with you Kimanzi! It was my pleasure to have Chad on the blog today. His post blew me away because it’s something that is on Pam and I’s hearts.

  • Great thoughts chad. I love the focus on discipleship. I think perhaps number 1 is the most crucial and overlooked. We focus so much on converting believers that its almost like we forget to do with them afterwards.

    • True, Grayson. So do you have anyone who has spent much time discipling you? Or you with someone else?

      • My pastor has spent some time discipling me. I’m hoping to find others to do more of the same. I may actually be starting to be a spiritual mentor to a peer sometime soon through my church as well.

        • That’s awesome, Grayson. Our churches need more people like you.

    • That’s a great point Grayson. Helping new converts along on their journey has been overlooked far too often.

      We “give” them Jesus but toss them back into a world that doesn’t want them to succeed.

      What suggestions do you have on helping them transition into their new life?

      • I think practical advice is a good way to go. For instance, an “equipping course” of sorts that could explain to them what they might face and some actual examples of how to handle it with grace. Along with this, making sure we establish an open line of communication for guidance and questions.

  • BillintheBlank

    I know I’m running a few days behind with this comment, but at the Christian school where I presently serve as a principal, our mission is discipleship. I was reminded at our Commencement today as I greeted each grad before they walked out — kind of a flashback of all the discipleship that’s taken place over the years. Not all of it appreciated. Some of it life-transforming. But few realloy wnat to engage to the level needed to get it done.

    Conversions get the glory, but the Kingdom advances through Spirit-led discipleship. Good reminder, Chad. Jesus told us to make disciples, not get converts.

    • That has to be pretty heavy Bill. But it also has to be an honor to see these young men and women graduating and completing this stage of their life.

      As a principal, what ways have you seen discipleship transform lives?

      • BillintheBlank

        Joe, Your question forced me to stop and begin recollecting them all. There’s simply too many to go here. I think of a kindergartener who I helped get two basic life truths down with the help of some nonverbal cues we had fun with. A teenage girl who got perspective on relationships and avoided a lot of heartache. Others who didn’t listen then confessed later that they should have. Helping kids deal with absentee fathrs and the anger that goes with it. Guiding young leaders to teach them lessons in the teachable moments. I just finished working with one young man who ran sound for our Commencement. He did a phenomenal job, but I was able to also help him understand more about providing a margin of error in events and life. Countless others who altered course due to a word fitly spoken in relationship. Parents too who altered how they are rearing their chidlren and now tell others the same things I shared with them. Isn’t that the heart of making disciples?

        As I reflect on it, the ones who don’t listen seem to get most of our attention and memory energy while the ones who do listen are often quickly forgotten.

    • Hi Bill, I would say that making disciples includes sharing the gospel. I think that’s what you said, too. Just clarifying myself. I’ve taught in a Christian school before. Not easy. I commend you for being a discipleship-minded principal! And I’m encouraged to stay the course by your commitment to Spirit-led discipleship.

      • BillintheBlank

        Absolutely, Chad, conversion is essential for discipleship. And sometimes the ones who need to be converted the most are those entrenched in the pews — thinking of Jonathan Edwards and his revival ministry back in the day.
        By the way, we just sent the last students home for summer an hour ago.

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