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  • Writer's pictureDarrell Stetler II

Discipleship Pathway: How to Create One that’s Clear

Updated: Jan 18

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If you prefer to learn in a “Workshop” format or via audio/video, you can purchase the Getting Started With Discipleship Ministry Workshop here. Or see the index of all the posts here at the Getting Started with Discipleship Ministry Index page.

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Imagine taking a trip, but you had no idea what was along the way. Your wife asked, “Where are we going, and you just replied, “I’m not sure, just somewhere else!” She’d have a million questions, right? Your kids could ask “Are we there yet?” and you could say, “I have no idea!” (OK, this might actually be a benefit.)


How hard would it be to convince your family to take a trip if:

  • You had no clear destination.

  • You didn’t know anything about your route.

  • You had no idea what cities you would pass through.

  • You had no idea what attractions you would see.

  • You didn’t know how you would measure your progress, or even if you were making any.

As weird as this seems, this is exactly where some pastors are on their discipleship pathway. In this chapter, I'm going to discuss how to make your church's discipleship entrance and discipleship pathway crystal clear.


Why a clear discipleship pathway matters

Russell Brunson is an internet marketing guru who has a following of over 1 million entrepreneurs. He says, "The number one rule of marketing is that a confused mind always says no."


In online business, this means that if there is any confusion about how a potential customer can respond to your offer, you won't get the clicks that you want. Russell Brunson is the CEO of a company that builds websites for sales funnel conversion. He insists that many websites contain too much information, and the call-to-action button (the one thing that you actually WANT customers to push!) is often buried somewhere on page 15, sub-menu 3.


In contrast, Russell stripped out everything except for one clear action that the user can take on the page. The same principle applies to your discipleship pathway - clarity is key. People won't take the next step unless they know precisely what is required of them. Therefore, we need to avoid confusion and focus on clarity. So, how does someone enter discipleship at your church? Perhaps in your tradition, there is an altar where people can come forward and pray, but does that mean they have entered discipleship?


Now, if we're going to make our entrance and pathway to discipleship crystal clear, we're going to have to slow down and ask some pertinent questions.


DISCIPLESHIP ENTRANCE QUESTIONS

  • Exactly how does someone enter discipleship – not just salvation – within your church?

  • Does your potential customer (congregation) know that?

  • What is the exact next thing you want them to do?

    • sign a card?

    • text you?

    • meet with you in your office?

    • ask for a copy of your discipleship materials?

    • sign up for a membership class?

  • If they were interested in discipleship, how would you know?


DISCIPLESHIP PATHWAY QUESTIONS

  • What is your first step?

  • What is your next step?

  • What about your 3rd step?

  • What are the signposts along the way that help a disciple know they’re making progress?

It's essential to have clarity about what discipleship looks like in your church. Some churches have membership classes, booklets, or specific experiences like confirmation or baptism as part of the discipleship journey. What is the next action for your church? In the rest of this chapter, I will provide some helpful insights to guide you in this process.



How to create your discipleship pathway

Let’s start with some general observations:


1. Your discipleship pathway needs to teach frameworks.


Frameworks are mental models that help us distill complex topics into short stories or characteristics. In the last chapter, we talked about “head, heart, and hands.” That’s a framework.


In the last post, we talked about: Develop New Habits, Live In Community, Imitate Jesus & Spread the Kingdom. That’s a framework. Finding a way to teach your framework is vital, because people remember them better than long and rambling speeches.


2. Respect seasons in your disciples’ lives.


It's important to respect the different seasons of life that your disciples may go through. This means creating a modular discipleship plan that can be adjusted according to their life circumstances. For example, if someone becomes a Christian and then soon after has a baby, they will likely have very little time or energy for intensive discipleship activities. It's important to recognize this and adjust your plan accordingly.


The same goes for other seasons of life, such as periods of grief, job changes, or travel. A discipleship plan that respects the different seasons of life will be more effective in helping your disciples grow and develop.


3. Scratch where people are itching on their discipleship journey.


Any discipleship pathway you create has to deal with the actual felt needs of your disciples.


Jesus responded to the felt needs, questions and requests of his disciples:

  • “Lord, teach us to pray.”

  • “What does this parable mean?”

  • “Lord, will you at this time restore the Kingdom?”

  • “Why do the prophets say Elijah must come first?”

Jesus also frequently took stressful situations, and made them into teachable moments. Sometimes, he even created the stressful situation! Remember?

  • In a storm on a boat.

  • Telling confusing stories.

  • The disciples with him when he was transfigured.

  • The disciples who were not with him – at the bottom of the mountain, failing to cast out a demon.

  • Sending them out to proclaim the Kingdom.

  • Allowing conflicts between disciples over various issues.

  • “You feed them a meal!”

Not all disciples are in precisely the same situation. Some may have more knowledge and information. There may be some that know there's a Bible, but they don't even know there's an Old and a New Testament. They know they've heard of Jesus and that's about it.

  • What if you have a disciple who admits to you at some point that he's struggling with some addiction? Maybe it's pornography, or drugs, or alcohol. What are you going to do?

  • What if a disciple starts asking about baptism? (Someone did this at my church 2 weeks ago.) They want to be baptized and you want to baptize them, but what’s your response?

  • What if they’ve got kids, and are feeling the need to start involving their kids in discipleship, teaching them how to know God?


If you’ve thought these things through in advance, you can say, “Okay, we're going to reach out and grab this topic and I'm going to slide it in here right now because this is something I think you're struggling with.”


4. Break down your discipleship pathway into manageable steps.


Don’t make your discipleship plan something that you give all at once.


Don’t make your discipleship pathway like, “Hey, welcome to the family of God, here's your copy of the Yellow Pages.” That's intimidating, and feels unconquerable. As humans, we’re wired up to measure our progress. On trips, we say things like, “After we pass St. Louis, we’ll stop and get lunch.” Make your discipleship pathway able to show measurable progress.


Instead, develop a pathway that has measurable markers of completion that you can hand them and it's something that's substantive, but also feels doable.


For instance, in my NewStart Discipleship plan, no module is longer than 90 days.


5. Promise your presence on the discipleship pathway.


Journeys are better taken together, in most situations.


Promise your presence and then follow through. Let them know that you'll be with them on this journey, or even when they start to disciple others.


Or, introduce them to someone who will walk alongside them for the next six months to a year, and who will help them succeed because he's been trained.


“Bill, this is Jim. I’m going to have him be your mentor to walk with you every step for the next 6-12 months as you’re in discipleship training. Jim has been there, he’s done the pathway himself, and so he’s going to be a huge help to you while you’re getting started. You’re not alone!”


So, promise your presence and then make it happen. Be there for them, send that text, make that phone call, or show up at their house. Set up a routine where you can be present in their life on a regular basis, even if it's just through digital means.


A sample discipleship pathway

It might be easiest to see what I mean by creating this pathway by look at an example. Here’s the discipleship pathway I have designed for use at our church:



NewStart Discipleship Journal: 50 day Bible reading plan and habit development for New Christians.

journal - discipleship pathway step 1

Discipleship Goals:

  • Create a habit of reading the Bible - introduces a clear new Christian Bible reading plan

  • Create interaction with God’s Word - provides space for writing questions

  • Encourage Christian community - includes reminders to contact a mentor

  • Introduce Scripture-based prayers - through daily sample prayers

  • Understand the big story of Scripture - through 5-minute daily teaching videos

If you want to download a free copy of this Journal, it’s available to download here: http://email.newstartdiscipleship.com.


Obedience Challenge – 90 days to learn to obey Jesus’ commands

obedience challenge- discipleship pathway step 2

Discipleship Goals:

  • Habit of reading the Scriptures - 1 chapter of the Gospels daily.

  • “Teach them to observe all the things I have commanded you,” - with daily videos to teach what each command of Jesus means.

  • Habit of meditative prayer - By including a 4 minute prayer experience video each day that focuses Praise, Repentance, Listening, and Asking

  • Valuing Christian Community - By including regular encouragement to reach out to a mentor to share how you’re obeying Christ’s commands.


Baptism Challenge: 21 Days to Prep for Your Baptism


Baptism challenge - discipleship pathway step 3

Discipleship Goals:

  • Obeying the command of Jesus to be baptized

  • Teaching the significance of baptism - 7 Days

  • Equipping to write and share your testimony - 7 days

  • Teaching basic Christian theology (the Apostles Creed) - 7 Days

  • An evangelism habit: Prayer over and inviting of, unbelieving friends and family


Moving From Me to We: 40 Day “One another” challenge

One anothers Bible study - discipleship pathway step 4

Discipleship Goals:

  • learning to live in Christian community

  • Study of the “one another” commands of the Bible: love, serve, submit, encourage, forgive, counsel, confront, confess to, etc.


A Customizable Discipleship Pathway


I also have a lot of other modules, that are good for dealing with specific needs in your disciples’ lives.

  • Defending Your Faith Bible study module: Learning the Foundation and evidence for Christianity

  • The Prayer Guidebook: Deepening your prayer life with a 30 day Prayer Journal

  • The Gospel Challenge: a module on the book of Romans, teaching how to understand and rejoice in the Gospel

  • Praying the Psalms: 21 days Introducing Praying the Scripture as a Spiritual discipline

  • 40 Days of Holiness - a 40 day Bible study on holiness to understand God’s holiness and how he produces it in the hearts of believers through the Holy Spirit’s power.

  • Discipleship In the Home - Family devotions, spiritual leadership in the home

  • 6 Levels of Victory over Pornography


“Next Steps” Modules - Covering other things disciples will need to make it. These are pending development:

  • Missional Living Challenge: 50 days to Understand and develop your mission in your neighborhood, to build intentional, Gospel-opportunity relationships

  • How to Deal with How Your Feel: 90 Days to Work Toward Emotional & Mental Health

  • How to Share Your Faith: 21 days to learn & practice sharing your faith (using the 3 Circles Method)

  • The Volunteer Challenge: 40 Days to find a personal ministry and give back to your church family.

  • Gospel of the Kingdom: 30 Days to a deeper understanding of God’s saving reign over my life and the world

  • The Mentor challenge - 30 Days to Find and start Making a disciple of your own

  • Fruit of the Spirit module: Understanding the presence & Developing the fruit of the Holy Spirit


This is what we're building at NewStart Discipleship.

10 Modules are available now, but we're building more at the rate of 2-3 per year. We believe that creating a discipleship pathway means making sure it takes the new believer on a journey that leads to maturity in Head, Heart and Hands!


What’s your discipleship pathway?

You may be able to build something better than we’ve built! But the important thing is… are you building?



Action Steps for Building Your Discipleship Pathway:

1. Identify your “entry point” to discipleship at your church. What is the very first step that you’d like people to take to enter discipleship, not just salvation, at your church?


2. Think PATHWAY: Brainstorm some things you think should be taught & habits that should be built

  • in the first 1-2 months.

  • by 3-4 months

  • by 5-6 months

3. If you haven’t checked out NewStart Discipleship, visit get.newstartdiscipleship.com to learn more about this discipleship system, or register for an upcoming webinar at http://webinar.newstartdiscipleship.com.





A video course to guide you into creating a discipleship plan:

getting started with discipleship course graphic on a laptop

Do you prefer to learn in a video workshop format? Purchase the workshop instead! Featuring:

  • an instantly downloadable 36-page workbook

  • print copies for other key leaders in your church

  • 10 practical video coaching sessions

  • specific action items for each session

getting started with your discipleship plan workbook image



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