One-to-one discipling gives growing believers not only some important training and guidance, but a new friendship at a time when they really desire it.
No one wants to be just part of the herd. We all long for personal relationships.
This is true especially of new believers as they come into the body of Christ. Some of their old relationships are no longer satisfying or healthy, and they long for new ones.
So by meeting with a new believer individually, and encouraging and instructing him, we meet a deep need in his newfound life in Christ. This is one-to-one follow-up: one person helping another become established in the Christian life.
A good personal relationship is the foundation of one-to-one follow-up, a relationship that hopefully you began when you were witnessing to the person whom you now desire to help. However, you may at times follow up a new believer with whom you have had no previous relationships. If so, in addition to grounding this person in the Christian life, you will want to immediately begin developing a friendship with him.
UNDERSTANDING THE TASK
How long does it take to follow up a new Christian? And how do we know when the job is done?
The time involved varies with each individual. It could take from several weeks to a year or more.
As for how we can know when someone has received enough help, I want you to do a little thinking. On the lines below, write down at least four or five things that in your opinion, would be evidence of a person being established in his Christian life and able to continue his growth without your help. (Don’t skip this step, or you’ll cheat yourself out of the privilege of thinking through these things for yourself. Your plans for one-to-one discipling should be your own, not ideas copied from someone else.)
Now that you’ve done some thinking, here’s a list of goals I have found helpful in following up someone: (1) that he be assured of his salvation; (2) that he recognize the Lord as the authority in his life, and understand the importance of obedience; (3) that he experience victory over sin; (4) that he understand the importance of the Bible in his life; (5) that he have devotional times consistently; (6) that he pray consistently; (7) that he study the Bible consistently; (8) that he be consistently involved in fellowship through a church; (9) that he be consistently witnessing to non-Christians; (10) that he recognize God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Depending on the individual needs of the person you are helping and the environment in which you are helping him, other goals may also be set, in areas such as trusting the Bible’s reliability, understanding the biblical view of the husband-wife relationship, understanding and relying on the Holy Spirit’s work, and so on.
It’s easy to think of one-to-one discipling as always being clearly structured, like weekly appointments. But one-to-one personal contact can take place much more casually, and can occur in the midst of a crowd. The private, personal discussion you have together can happen during a meal at your home, over a cup of coffee in a restaurant, while playing sports, while traveling somewhere, and so on.
Of course it can also be more structured: The person may want you to meet regularly with him to discuss particular topics, such as Bible study, Scripture memory, prayer, or any problem areas, and weekly appointments may be the right method for accomplishing this.
One-to-one follow-up makes great demands upon us because we must measure up to the standards we are trying to help others develop. The apostle Paul could ask others to follow his example (Philippians 3:17 and Philippians 4:9) because of the way he lived.
My relationship to someone I am following up has many facets. In some ways I am like his father, his teacher, his brother. But above all, I must be his friend and win his friendship. This is the basis for follow-up. We are not in a classroom, and I am not trying to make him fit a mold or pattern. I am developing a relationship with him—and in the context of that relationship I am helping him develop his relationship with God.
The person you are following up may not want your help in an area in which you want to help him. I find it beneficial to keep this principle in mind: “Help a man where he wants help, and soon you can help him where he needs help.” So for now, go ahead and minister to his immediate need, building him up in the basics.
How do you get started?
Let’s assume you want to follow up someone you have just led to Christ. Frequent contact is very important in this time immediately following his or her conversion. I recommend that you make a few brief phone calls during the first week, plus one or two personal visits.
Schedule the first visit without any commitment beyond that. It could frighten him to think he is getting into a “program” of meetings that will go on forever.
During the first meeting, propose that the two of you meet together six or eight times in the coming months to study the Bible and pray together, in order to help him learn more about the Christian life. Whet his appetite for this, and be sensitive to how much he desires to grow spiritually.
If you detect absolutely no desire for getting to know Christ better or for changing his life, he may not have made a genuine decision to receive Christ into his life. Often a person will make a commitment of true faith in his heart some time after he makes a mental decision to receive Christ. Only God knows when the heart decision takes place, and all we can do is try to observe from an outward vantage point.
It is important for him at this stage to look to the Bible for his assurance of salvation, and not depend on feelings. You could give him a copy of the Beginning with Christ booklet from NavPress, and ask him to memorize 1 John 5:11–12 before he goes to bed that evening. Suggest that he read the verse several times to make sure he understands it Tell him you’ll call him the next day to see how he is doing.
Even at this early stage, encourage him to begin developing his relationship with God through spending time in the Bible. Suggest reading ten verses or a chapter each day from the New Testament. The book of Mark is a good one in which to begin. Suggest also that he begin praying privately each morning about what he is going to be doing that day.
Encourage him to talk about his new faith with someone he is close to. The sooner he does this the sooner he will realize the impact of sharing his testimony with another.
By such suggestions you are helping him begin for himself many of the basic things you will later help him with more fully.
Find out what has been happening in his life and thinking. Try to get him to express what he is discovering about God. Be sure also to discuss any problems he is encountering. But don’t be an answer man. Rather, guide him in discovering answers in the Scriptures.
Discuss any particular topic that you had planned to look at together. If he has prepared a written Bible study, go over this together. You could also review memorized Scripture together. Help each other in this.
Include prayer, but don’t force him to pray out loud. Let him grow into this. Help him learn to pray privately first since this is most important.
Try to restrict your time with him to an hour or less. Don’t take up all of his free time or disrupt his time with his family.
Now’s the time to take out your pencil again and do more work on your own. Look at the list below, which you can use as an outline for a potential follow-up plan. After you finish reading this article, begin filling it in.
Topic or Goals
You probably won’t do everything in this chart with any particular person you are following up, but at least you are prepared. This will be your plan because you have worked it out. It will be natural to you.
The structure behind it need not be obvious to the person you are helping, but it will serve you as a useful framework. If it is clear in your mind, you’ll be able to adapt it easily to the specific needs of the person you are helping.
Notice that the chart has room for you to list six topics or goals. These are areas in which you want to provide specific help to the person you are following up. A different topic or goal could be discussed each time you meet together.
What you list in these spaces will probably be the same things you listed at the beginning of this article—something like “Assurance of salvation” or “Victory over sin.” For each of these areas, the chart allows you to develop your follow-up plan according to seven categories:
Principle— The principle is the main idea about this topic that you want to communicate to this person. This is what you hope he will understand as a result of your working together in this area. For example, on the topic of assurance of salvation, the principle could be, “In Jesus Christ I am secure in my salvation; through him I am now and will always be a son of God.”
Scriptures— Write down several verses or passages you can share about the topic, For example, on assurance of salvation you could list John 1:12, John 5:24, John 10:28, and 1 John 5:11–13.
Bible Study— List the titles of Bible study materials that might be helpful. For assurance of salvation, you could give him a copy of Lorne Sanny’s booklet Your Decision, or ask him to complete the first lesson in the NavPress booklet Lessons on Assurance.
Illustrations— An illustration can often help clarify the principle behind the topic you’re discussing. For assurance of salvation you could mention that a boy is always his father’s son, regardless of what he does. There is no way his physical relationship to his father can be broken or taken back.
Scripture Memory— List certain key verses that you can encourage him to memorize, perhaps one or two verses per week. A good memory passage for assurance of salvation is 1 John 5:11–12.
Additional Suggestions— Jotting down some “extras” will help you remember to suggest them to the person you are helping. While you work together on assurance of salvation, for example, you could suggest that he tell a close friend how he became a Christian, or that he begin reading the Bible and praying each day on his own.
Checkup— Here you can write down questions you want to ask him so you can know how he is doing in the areas you’ve been working on together.
As you teach this person how to do something practical, such as having a quiet time, here is a good plan to follow:
Tell him what it is; tell him why he should do it (refer both to the Scriptures and to your own experience); show him how to do it; get him started (this is usually done best by doing it with him); keep him going (don’t assume he’ll keep doing it just because he’s done it once); and, finally, help him help someone else to do it.
So now it’s up to you. You have some theory—and now you must put it into practice.
This article by Jerry White was first published in issue 15 of the Discipleship Journal. Jerry is a retired United States Air Force major general, author and former executive director of The Navigators.