Stages of Discipleship

In your thread, analyze and summarize the 3 stages of discipleship. Give ideas and suggestions for each stage and discuss how you plan to develop and implement those ideas in your church ministry context.


Discipleship is a process, not an event. Dave Earley asserts that the process of discipleship occurs in three stages: (1) win the lost, (2) grow disciples, and (3) multiply disciples.[1] First, Earley explains that winning the lost is a process of sharing the gospel in a way that leads to the event of salvation.[2] To win the lost, the disciple maker must first know the gospel, and then know how to share the gospel. The former may be the most challenging. Anecdotally, this morning I noticed a post in a Christian Facebook group where someone asked, “What is the gospel?” Mayhem ensued. According to N. T. Wright, modern Christians continue to moralize and Platonize the gospel message by focusing on keeping rules and going to heaven.[3] However, once the gospel is understood as a new creation status in Christ through God’s gift of righteousness (cf. 2 Cor 5:17-21; Rom 3:21-18, 5:17), the opportunities and motivation for sharing the gospel with Christians and non-Christians are inexhaustible. William Fay provides a simple, yet highly effective, approach regarding how to share the gospel in a post-modern society by using inquiry and Scripture.[4]

The second stage is growing disciples. Earley suggests that once an individual is won to Christ, the believer then needs to be taught to obey all of Jesus’s commands.[5] Furthermore, Earley contends that the method for discipleship involves asking God for disciples, building relationships with them, inviting them into a small group, providing ministry opportunities, and praying for them.[6] Regarding ministry activity, Earley suggests that disciple-making may be ineffective if disciples are “not forced into an environment where they must minister to others.”[7] However, the gathering of a small group of believers who are forced into ministry activity through prayer is not, in and of itself, an effective approach. First, small group environments have the potential to be quite toxic, and even undermine the gospel, especially when religion or moralism dominate.[8] Second, the Reveal study claims, “Involvement in church activities does not predict or drive long-term spiritual growth.”[9] Alternatively, discipleship is primarily about being transformed into the image of Christ by believing, thinking, feeling, and acting like Christ (cf. 1 Cor 11:1). The question remains as to how a new believer is transformed into His image. First, the disciple-maker assists the disciplee in discovering areas of life that need addressed through inquiry and empathy. One method of discovery is to have the disciplee read Galatians 5:16-26 and identify unhealthy emotions and actions that are not in alignment with the fruit of the Spirit. Second, the discipler asks the disciplee to identify (take captive) the belief or thought that is leading to the unhealthy emotion or action (cf. 2 Cor 10:5). Third, once the beliefs or thoughts are taken captive, the discipler, through empathy and inquiry, helps the disciplee compare the thoughts with the truth of Scripture (cf. John 8:32) and where the thoughts do not align, a new thought is identified. Finally, the truth of God transforms the emotions and actions of the disciplee as he or she focuses or meditates on the new thought, which is aligned with truth (cf. Rom 12:2). The truth ultimately sets the believer free to believe, think, feel, and act like Christ (cf. John 17:17).

The third stage is multiplying disciples. Earley suggests that making disciples consists of grasping the teachings of Christ, regularly meeting with “faithful men,” doing ministry together, and deploying men into ministry by keeping them focused.[10] Multiplying disciples is certainly not less than the list provided by Earley, but ultimately without a method of facilitating transformation, the steps of meeting and doing are powerless. Accordingly, once a disciplee experiences the process of transformation through the renewing of the mind on God’s transforming truth, the same methods of inquiry and empathy that facilitated his or her transformation must be taught and deployed by the disciplee to multiply disciples.

The ministry context I am involved with is a non-profit discipleship coaching and counseling organization called Lives Transforming. Upon reflection of the three stages, the second stage is fully deployed with hundreds of individuals in personal and group sessions each month. However, stage one and stage three need to be developed to a greater degree. First, regarding evangelism, the primary focus of the ministry is believers. Accordingly, the organization needs to identify ways of engaging non-Christians into the coaching and counseling process and each coach and counselor needs trained with Fay’s method of evangelism. Additionally, stage three also needs developed. Currently, the focus of our coaches and counselors is on discipleship–God’s transformation of believers. However, although the organization has deployed extensive training to discipleship coaches and counselors, the same training must be extended to those believers being discipled to maximize multiplication efforts.


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

Fay, William, and Linda Evans Shepherd. Share Jesus without Fear. Nashville, TN: B&H, 1999.

Hawkins, Greg, and Cally Parkinson. Reveal: Where Are You? Barrington, IL: Willow Creek Association, 2007.

Keller, Tim. Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012.

Wright, N. T. The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2016.

[1] Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey, Disciple Making Is…: How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2013), 126–30.

[2] Ibid., 130–31.

[3] N. T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2016), 99, 146–47.

[4] William Fay and Linda Evans Shepherd, Share Jesus without Fear (Nashville, TN: B&H, 1999), 29–56.

[5] Earley and Dempsey, Disciple Making Is, 147.

[6] Ibid., 147–52.

[7] Ibid., 126 (emphasis added).

[8] See Tim Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 63–71.

[9] Greg Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, Reveal: Where Are You? (Barrington, IL: Willow Creek Association, 2007), 33.

[10] Earley and Dempsey, Disciple Making Is, 157–63.