Discipleship: Is it about Teaching or Training?


When we are trying to disciple people, should we teach or should we train?

Should we or shouldn't we? Which is better? Can you prove that? All those questions are reasonable about a critical issue in the life and ministry of a healthy church. When we are trying to disciple people, should we teach or should we train?

The Miracle of “And”

I believe in the miracle of "and."  We, in the church, are much too quick to dichotomize our solutions to the troubling questions of church leadership and ministry. We are prone to fall quickly subject to the belief that the issue we are facing has a singular answer in the form of either x or y.

Discipleship is about teaching AND training. There is both a content aspect to our faith and a conduct dimension to our faith. Healthy churches and leaders want to see both evidenced in the lives of those who come into relationship with Christ.

Discipleship is about Teaching

Discipleship is about forming Christ in the life of a believer through the spiritual transformation of the mind (Romans 12:1-2). Obviously the Holy Spirit is the only one who produces genuine growth for a young man or woman, but the “seedbed” of that growth is an increasing understanding and application of God’s Word into their thinking and living. In local church ministry for 30 years, I never found a single solution to the vexing question of how to position people for spiritual growth. We are coming to the conclusion, after ten years of experimenting, that there is no “silver bullet” to the teaching aspect of the faith. So, we use:

  • One-on-One Relationships
  • Small Groups
  • Classes
  • Seminars

We use all of these methods, yet still find ourselves struggling in this arena. Willow Creek’s study (of which our church in NV was a secondary participant) called "Reveal" suggests that our church is not alone in this regard.  I think one of the most helpful tools from "Reveal" is the understanding that discipleship is a journey.  Identifying where a person is on the journey and customizing the resources and tools available may help undergird their growth.

Discipleship is about Training

Discipleship is about forming Christ in the life of a believer through continual surrender of our will to His will (Colossians 2:6-7). Most parents know Proverbs 22:6, “Train a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Study of that text reveals that one of the meanings of the word “train” is to “make narrow.”  Discipleship is about training in that we are helping men and women to become more and more like Christ in the way we think, the way we feel, and the way we live. The Apostle John is clear that if we know Jesus, then we “must walk as Jesus did” (I John 2:3-6).

Discipleship training is the aspect of spiritual formation where we cultivate surrender of our will to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit and learn to follow God with our mind and with our heart and feet. In my experience, this never happens until we are in relationship with others where we allow genuine and grace-filled accountability; in essence, that we allow other people to speak truth into our lives. At our church in NV, we operated with these primary values in view as we live out “Friends Helping Friends Follow Christ”…

  • People Matter to God
  • God’s Word Changes Lives
  • Spiritual Growth Happens in Relationships

The End Result

Our prayer is that Christ is shaped into our hearts and that we progressively learn to surrender to His Spirit as we learn to speak the truth to one another and grow up to maturity as a disciple of Jesus (Ephesians 4:29-32). When we think like and act like Jesus as the result of teaching and training that comes from organic and healthy relationships, we will reproduce health in the lives of those we are able to impact for the sake of His kingdom.

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