Growth in discipleship

If you go to a school of Martial Arts, there is a clear structure describing how you grow from a complete beginner to someone who has proficiency (helpfully marked out by different coloured belts). The same scheme applies in all sorts of other areas. It doesn’t really apply in the church, and I wonder if that is a problem. In other words, I wonder if a clear structure setting out how we understand what it means to grow as a Christian would be of some use. As a first sketch, how about this:



Confirmation course and confirmation

House groups and regular attendance at worship

Private prayer and becoming comfortable with silence

Regular and formal bible study, also some doctrine and church history

Service to church

Service to community

What do people think? What is missing?

Of course, having something like this offends against all sorts of shibboleths, eg that we are all of equal value in the sight of the Lord (true, but irrelevant). It begs the question of whether it is possible to be more ‘advanced’ in the faith than others. Yet I don’t believe anyone actually thinks that there isn’t a difference – it’s just that it is only acceptable to talk about such differences when the people being mentioned are a long way away, either in time or space.

I can’t avoid thinking that there is a distinct gap in our formation of new disciples, and we need something to plug that gap. (NB I’m aware that the Emmaus course covers much of this).

13 thoughts on “Growth in discipleship

  1. Interesting question Sam. In his book ‘Spiritual Fitness’ Graham Tomlin explores the idea that our churches need to be places where people can be formed in Christian character. Graham spoke about it at a theological society seminar earlier this year and I wrote a brief summary at

    Tom Wright picks up a similar theme in his book Virtue Reborn.

    I’m a big fan of Alpha & Emmaus, having used both extensively in the parish, but I think the question of Christian character and the virtues is a big issue for the church.

  2. Bingo! That’s exactly it (it’s why I’m such a fan of Hauerwas and the ‘Resident Aliens’ idea). I’ve got Virtue Reborn but haven’t read it yet – so I’ll move it closer to the top of the pile.

  3. I would think that the more appropriate analogy would be Masonic degrees.

    There too, these structures work fine for the male mind, but I’m not sure women are as hip to such structures.

    Sam, 27th degree Knight Commander of the Temple.

  4. Differing levels of maturity is clearly something that Paul (and Jesus for that matter) had little trouble assuming and discussing.

    Wondering whether you should switch confirmation to “baptism (confirmation)” to reflect the priority of baptism. Or are you assuming that everyone is already baptised?

    It is also worth reflecting on pre-Alpha stages. I’ve seen a number of similar attempts to map out maturity. I think it can be helpful as long as it stays descriptive and flexible rather than prescriptive (e.g. “no Bible study for you until you’re more comfortable with silence! And as for you, go back and do Alpha before you help serving tea and coffee!”).

  5. What is missing…? With that list enjoying yourself! Apart from the Black Belt point. Engagement with the community is where our Lord was/is found, appreciating the beauty of creation and our creativity in His image… I could go on (and on!).


  6. Learning and growth are not linear processes. ‘The process of learning is wondrously spectacular and messy,’ John Abbott.

    A serious discussion could be had on the nature of growth and learning. Real learning does not fit easily within the closely defined structures of the church. You could consider learning more like a delicious trifle. All sorts of things can go in one to make a trifle/Christian. Seriously messy underneath, work of art on the top. The proportions can be altered. Some ingredients can be added or left out. Some trifles have alcohol in which could be a symbol for all sorts of things. Layers are a characteristic of trifles. Using your imagination the trifle analogy can go on ….


    I can’t imagine you are really suggesting that people don’t serve the community until they’ve been through your stages?! One of the most powerful ways to grow as human and as a Christian is by serving other poeple. Many of the things that have helped me grow as a Christian aren’t even on your list!

  7. And, if you think the average teenager(or anyone else for that matter) will be ready to go from Alpha to a confirmation class …. the mind boggles, the jump is too big, too conformist, too unrealistic, to institutional, in a world where most people are so disconnected from the church.

  8. > Pray
    You kneel down and pray.
    You gain +100 experience.

    **LEVEL! **

    You gain +1 wis, but lose -1 dex.

  9. I’m with Shlottie … it’s way too linear, and the list could be mixed up.
    The thing is, everyone will have a different discipleship journey and to me, that’s well worth celebrating.

  10. In no particular order, I would say;

    I think one of the issues with discipleship in the UK is that we are not very good at praying. First thing is to help each other learn how to pray, both together and in solitude. To learn silence and to listen to the Spirit.

    I agree with one to one mentoring too. It is a model they use a lot i India and it appears to be very fruitful. Someone who you are accountable to, can pray with, learn with etc.

    Mission!! Disciples need to learn out in the mission field. When people are engaged in evangelism and mission together there is a growth in relationships, love, gifts and desire to share Christ with others.

    Apostles teaching/Fellowship and Breaking of bread/prayer…(Acts 2:42)


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