What’s the difference between follow up and discipleship?
In truth, many people lump them both under discipleship, but I find it really helps to maintain the distinction.
When someone first becomes a Christian there is a need to follow them up. The Bible uses the metaphor of being born again, and when someone’s just been born we call them a baby. That’s where we get the term “baby Christian.” Whereas in discipleship the focus is on helping people grow and become more like Christ as they follow Him, when you do follow up – you are following them, just like babies aren’t expected to follow their moms and dads, their moms and dads have to follow them!!!
So there are totally different expectations going into this, as well as needs to be met!
Think about what a baby needs – to be fed, cleaned, protected, with lots of love lavished on them… Seriously, that last part is THE most important. When babies fail to receive adequate attention and care many simply give up and die. Those that don’t are often impacted for the rest of their lives.
But they also aren’t going to last very long if they aren’t fed. In the very beginning you are providing the sustenance for them, and sometimes you need to be creative in helping them eat!!!
I love to have shared quiet times with baby believers – frequently!!! In truth, in the very beginning they often get more out of what I share from my quiet time than from their own. But before you know it they’ve grown to the place where they can start feeding themselves. That’s why a key goal when you first start following up someone is to help them learn how to feed themselves. Having a shared quiet time will usually be all we do together until I see them start doing this on their own (granted, I often select specific passages for us to focus on related to what’s going on in their lives!). But after loving them, their next greatest need is to learn how to feed themselves – adequately and regularly! (you can read more about this in the article “How to have a shared quiet time” located in the Helps! section).
The second key goal in following someone up is helping them grow in trusting God. Of course they have to trust God to become a Christian in the first place! But it can often be one thing to trust Him for your eternal destiny and quite another to trust Him with the details of your life today ~ especially when His ways aren’t your ways!
Helping them get to know who God is and experience Him is so very key for this occurring. One key gift He’s given to facilitate this are His very great and precious promises! I have found time spent helping them learn God’s promises and how to apply them in their life is a HUGE help, spurring them on in trusting Him. (I’ve just placed a second article in the helps section entitled, “Promise Based Follow Up” which explains in more depth how you can help someone with this!)
Discipleship begins when someone becomes a disciple – as soon as they’ve reached a key point in their walk with God where they are willing to say, “Not my will, but yours be done.” Usually there is one issue that the Lord will highlight, a fork in the road where they have to decide, “Am I going to go my way or the Lord’s way?” followed by a time of intense wrestling (like Jacob with the angel of the Lord!) that finally ends in surrender. It can really be helpful when first meeting with someone to share what that looked like for you and then ask if they’ve experienced anything like this.
For me that happened the summer after I became a Christian. I’d always been incredibly ambitious, with a ten year plan already set in motion! I was studying Broadcast Journalism and by the end of my freshman year was already the Assistant Programming Director for a local radio station. In high school I’d hosted a television program for two years, so I was making certain I had extensive experience both in front and behind the camera. But then the Lord called me to give up my plans and follow Him – to follow Him without knowing where or how He was going to lead. You’d better believe I wrestled! By mid-July I finally reached the point of surrender, writing in my Bible, “Tonight I said “Yes” to giving up my plans and following Jesus wherever He leads.” When I got back to campus that next month I quit my job at the radio station and dropped my major, just taking general ed classes, waiting for the Lord to show me what He wanted me to do. That was when I had a friend ask Barb if she’d disciple me! And you better believe after making that sacrifice I was ready to do whatever the Lord (and Barb!) asked me!
In all honesty, I would not have been ready to give up my major, let alone say no to everything for a month the way Barb asked me to (see “The Challenge!” posted August 8th if you’re wondering about this story!) right after becoming a Christian! God has a timing for all of this! It’s like a flower blooming – you can’t try to force it without doing damage. Your expectations for a flower just starting to form has to be different than once it’s fully opened!
I run into people all the time who get so frustrated because they are trying to disciple someone who still needs to be followed up. “She never does what I ask her to do!” is a common complaint! Or “I’m just not sure how serious she is. Sometimes she’ll do exactly what she believes the Lord wants her to but other times that’s not even on her radar screen!” That’s a key symptom of someone who is still struggling to trust God. She trusts Him when His way is her way and it makes sense to her, but when that fork in the road comes, she’s not yet sure about giving up what she thinks is best to follow Him.
All too often, people think discipleship is about helping someone become a disciple of Jesus! But that is the goal of follow up! Discipleship begins once someone has become a disciple, once they are ready to follow Jesus and learn from Him – not just in a soak-things-into-your-head way, but to make his teachings “the rule of conduct for their life” – not to earn His favor, but to be with Him and increasingly become like Him. And you don’t have to take my word for it! The online dictionary defines discipleship as “The state of attempting to follow the example of Jesus or another leader.” It’s not about making the decision to follow as much as once you’ve decided to follow learning how to do this!
So follow up is helping people come to the point where they are ready to head in Jesus’ direction. Discipleship is coming alongside someone as they are heading in Jesus’ direction to help them persevere and learn what He wants them to, so they are increasingly transformed into His image for His glory! And then able to help others in this way too!
If you can understand the goals of follow up and how they differ from the goals of discipleship can that ever help you! And them! And save you both from a ton of frustration!
So here’s my big suggestion for the day – Don’t expect a baby to follow you up a 14er! And don’t get upset if she’s easily sidetracked! Love her! Feed her! Help her get to know and experience Her daddy! If you do, it shouldn’t be too long till she’s ready to start following Him – even when it involves jumping off cliffs!