Author Greg Koukl
Published on 04/25/2022
Christian Living

Two Important Models of Discipleship

Greg offers advice on how to disciple the next generation of believers and shares examples of how spiritual mentorship has impacted his own life.


Caller: What is your philosophy on discipleship, both personally and for Stand to Reason as an organization?

Greg: One of the first verses that I remember memorizing was 2 Timothy 2:2. There, Paul says, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men.” There, he means people who will be able to teach others also. This is the last book that Paul wrote, so this is his swan song. He’s going to be executed very soon after he pens this letter to his own disciple, Timothy. He is instructing him about the skeleton structure. That is, you take the things that you have learned from Paul—so, Paul’s one generation, Timothy is the second generation—you entrust those things to faithful people—a third generation—who will be able to teach others also—the fourth generation.

The point is that they’re taking a body of information, and then they are not just throwing it at somebody; they’re entrusting it to someone who can then entrust it to others. In fact, in the first chapter, Paul tells Timothy, “Guard through the Holy Spirit given to you that which has been entrusted to you.” I’m emphasizing this because it’s a really important part of discipleship. What he is describing there is discipleship, and it is a kind of a passing of the baton, and the baton is something with content that you are giving over to someone in a fairly direct way so they can carry that thing on to the point where they pass it to the next person.

I think the baton pass is a great metaphor for this kind of thing. I was discipled when I was a fairly new Christian. I was about four or five months old in the Lord when I began my relationship with Craig Englert, who is a retired pastor in Maui right now. He entrusted things to me—a way of life and a way of thinking.

Like the relationship that I had with Craig, I have had face-to-face relationships with dozens of groups of people over the years, and those kinds of relationships started very soon after my relationship with Craig formally ended. I, right away, gathered a group of younger Christians to myself, and we worked together, and that’s been my pattern ever since, and now that face-to-face kind of personal, interactive thing is directly with my staff, my team of people, not just my young guns—my content providers—but all of our staff. I just had a mentoring time for a half an hour or so today with them, and then that is also passed on to other leaders, other authors or ministry leaders that I have a personal relationship with, so I can have a face-to-face kind of investment in their life. That model of discipleship, I think, is the primary one.

So, the first and the most important kind of discipleship is that interactive personal thing, and that has been my way with our team—with people like Scott Klusendorf, who’s now at LTI, or Steve Wagner, who’s at Justice for All, or J. Warner Wallace, who’s got Cold Case Christianity now, or Brett Kunkle, who’s now over at Maven. This is a kind of a passing on of one’s spiritual life to someone else, and the best way to do that is an interpersonal, interactive relationship where you spend time together. But that isn’t the only motif for passing the baton. As I look at Stand to Reason, from very early on, we adopted the ambassador motif. Our goal was not just to pass information on in a certain kind of generalized sense, like you would if you wrote a book. People read your book. They get the information from the book. If you gave a lecture, people listen to the lecture or talk or sermon, and they get information from that. That’s just passing information on. That’s giving knowledge. But we wanted to do more. We wanted to create a certain type of person. We wanted our approach to be incarnational. That kind of person is called an ambassador.

Stand to Reason has an ambassador model: knowledge, wisdom, character. We’re building somebody who has the knowledge but who also has the tactical wisdom to maneuver with the knowledge and has the kind of character that commends the message, not detracts from the message. It took me 20 years before I really was consciously aware of what we were doing, and what we were doing all this time is discipleship. Our mission statement starts with these words: “We train Christians.” That’s what we are all about. I wasn’t thinking about discipleship when I penned those words, but I realized it was just coming right out of my DNA. It’s just coming right out, because that’s how I had been formed as a younger Christian, and that’s how I began in whatever way I could as I grew, forming others, passing it on, passing that baton. I realized that’s what Stand to Reason does. The difference, though, with this kind of mentoring that the organization does is, it’s not so much interpersonal the way the first style of discipleship is, which I think all Christians should be doing, even members of my own team.

The second order of discipleship is trying to pass on this incarnational model but at a digital distance. Now the advantage that I have, which is unique, is that I have a radio show, or I have this podcast, and when you have a radio show and people are listening, there’s an intimacy in that environment that you don’t have with TV. You are maybe listening in your car, or you’re listening at home, or you’re listening in your headsets, where you’re doing other things and cleaning the house, but the person who is speaking is right in your head. That’s intimate, somewhat. Even though there’s a digital distance, there’s still a personal element there.

I find that I can have a different kind of effect on the air in somebody’s life than I have through writing or speaking because of that intimacy. It’s kind of like halfway between the two models, you know, and I think that has an effect on people. That’s why so many people tell me, “I feel like you’re a mentor to me, even though we’ve never met.”

So, what are the ways we’re communicating and passing information on? Well, the podcast is a big way. I think about mentoring individuals. Whenever I send out a Mentoring Letter or a Solid Ground, I want to be building you up, to be passing the baton to you so that you can stand tall, and this is what we’re doing with Red Pen Logic and with STR University. We’re looking for all of these different kinds of ways to pass the baton, effectively, to take the things which we have learned from the ones who came before us and pass them to the next generation. We entrust what we’ve learned to them, this faithful people, so that they can then instruct others also, and that’s really the lifeblood of STR. I’m hoping that people like you, and everybody else who loves the Lord—follows Jesus—will not only be a disciple, but reproduce themselves in other people.

Caller: My concern is, what I see going on is what I think is somewhat of a false discipleship because all that’s being done is, you know, you take a young guy or you get yourself linked up with an older guy, and you go through a book, and he teaches you out of a book. I just find that to be extremely lacking. What I see in the Bible is Jesus walking, and his disciples walking alongside him or behind him and with him for three and a half years or so, and they lived life with him.

Greg: That is the ideal thing, but keep in mind, that was a different culture, and there were different kind of modes that were available to them, and Jesus did teach them, but Jesus didn’t need a book. He was the book. I am sympathetic to just think of all the people who would like to be better at discipleship but don’t feel adequate to the task the way you described. I want those people to begin the process, and if that means that, in relationship with another individual, they’re going through a book together, in my view that’s still discipleship, and it’s the best kind, in the sense that they’re side by side, shoulder to shoulder. There’s an interaction. There’s talking. There’s ways in which the discipler can personally pass things on, even though the foil for that relationship is a book. They can still pass those things on to the less mature Christian—the one that’s being discipled. So, sometimes, that may be the only thing that an individual can offer. Even Craig Englert discipled for years and years and years and years and years, 30 years after me, and he still had a kind of curriculum that he would go through every year. He’d have a new group of people, and he would go through these particular things, trying to build a foundation into them, but still, at the same time, being with them, which is really key. This is what you’re pointing out that Jesus did. Jesus was with them.

A book that I read many years ago, and I just bought another copy—I don’t know what happened to my original—is called “The Master Plan of Evangelism” by Robert Coleman, and he does a great job of describing how Jesus structured a plan to win the world, and that was through the multiplication of discipleship, working with a small group that then worked with a small group that then worked with a small group, and you get this geometric expansion. I have a friend who’s building churches that way right now in India. His goal was a hundred thousand churches in 30 years. Well, he’s got 34,000 churches, and they’re rapidly multiplying now because he’s using the same plan.