Home > Discipleship, Leadership > The 3 Kinds of Discipleship

The 3 Kinds of Discipleship

Discipleship is the process of learning to live for the glory of God by faith in and obedience to Jesus through relationship with other Christ-followers over time.  It is an ongoing relationship between one believer who assumes the role of mentor and another believer or non-believer who assumes the role of an apprentice.  In most cases, discipleship involves one would-be Christ-follower learning from another more mature Christ-follower.  In other cases, discipleship involves two maturing Christ-followers learning God’s ways with one another. (Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Timothy 2:1-8)

In my experience, no two people are discipled in the exact same way because no two people are alike.  What you did to help one person grow in Christ won’t necessarily help another person grow in Christ.  I have found, however, that there seem to be three broad categories of discipleship.  Each of these methods of discipleship works different for each person, but the general principles behind them are the same.

I’ve listed the three types of discipleship in the order in which a person typically experiences them along the journey from non-believer to mature disciple or leader.  It’s important to note that as a person matures the mentor does not stop using the previous method of discipleship, but simply adds to it an additional method of discipleship.

Image via jrbriggs.com. Click the image for the original article for this image.

Image via jrbriggs.com. Click the image for the original article for this image.

1. Person-Oriented Discipleship.  This is where most discipleship relationships begin, particularly between a Christian and a non-Christian.  In this kind of discipleship, the mentor is focused almost entirely on the apprentice’s personal relationship with and attitude toward Jesus.  The goal is to help the person being discipled to believe in and experience the person of Jesus Christ at work in his or her life. It is the most casual kind of discipleship and it often happens as friends in the context of everyday life: at the office, over a meal during your lunch break, playing golf or hanging out while watching the big game. You can think of this as discipleship of the heart. 

2. Content-Oriented Discipleship.  This kind of discipleship often happens between both a mature Christian and a seriously interested, but not yet converted non-Christian, or a mature Christian and an eager to grow Christian who is typically newer in his or her faith. With content-oriented discipleship, the mentor and apprentice  typically spend most of their time reading through books of the Bible together, studying doctrine and discussing specific topics such as the Trinity, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, spiritual growth and obedience. This is the stage in which a person is learning what the Bible teaches, why it’s important and how it should effect his or her life. You can think of this as discipleship of the head.

During this phase, a mentor must be sure to continue with the person-oriented discipleship, while adding to it content-oriented discipleship. A person can’t grow in Christ if he or she doesn’t know about Christ.  Content-oriented discipleship ensures that the apprentice is learning about Christ, while person-oriented discipleship ensures that he or she is actually getting to personally know Christ.

3. Task-Oriented Discipleship. Where person and content oriented discipleship are focused typically on the matters of the heart and head, task oriented discipleship is concerned with matters of the hands.  In this type of discipleship, the mentor is typically training the apprentice to do a particular task or responsibility such as lead a small group discussion, oversee an area of ministry or serve in a particular way.

The mentor does not abandon the matters of the heart and head, but rather helps the apprentice understand how the matters of the heart should inform the way they think (head) and affect the way they use their skills (hands).   Good follow-up and coaching allows the apprentice to not only learn a skill, but to understand how the gospel should inform the way they think about and do that skill.

To be effective disciple-makers we must capitalize on all three kinds of discipleship.  This enables us to make well-rounded disciples who not only believe the gospel, but whose lives are shaped by the gospel.  What are some of your discipleship tips? You can leave a comment below.

For more posts on discipleship click here.

  1. July 10, 2014 at 4:41 PM

    Whereas discipleship involves the whole of life, it is quite helpful to break it down into these different aspects. Thanks.

  2. September 18, 2014 at 11:39 AM

    I really like the way that you organized this. It makes it easier for the average man in the pew to understand. Would you mind if I quote you in one of my theology classes to our monks. I promise to give you the credit. Br. Jay Rivera, FFV, Superior of the Franciscan Brothers of Life

    • September 19, 2014 at 7:32 AM

      That would be fine. No need to give me credit, though. I’m pretty sure I’ve pieced that together from other people over the years.

  3. October 13, 2014 at 1:14 PM


  4. November 10, 2014 at 1:48 PM

    This was an excellent and very clear explanation of discipleship – thank you for writing and posting this. One of my “discipleship tips” is to remember the value of doing ordinary things together during all 3 types of discipleship.
    For example I have experienced some of the best spiritual discussions and times of teaching working side by side in the kitchen or doing a simple service or ministry project together or just going for a walk in a beautiful place. Those unplanned, unprepared unstructured discipleship moments are so valuable!

    • November 13, 2014 at 7:36 AM

      I agree. Discipleship is as much about experiencing Jesus through relationships as it is hearing about him.

  5. November 13, 2014 at 8:12 AM

    Just as with body-life for a healthy church, I think using Acts 2:42 as a starting point is great in disciple-making. The early church was devoted to sound biblical teaching, the breaking of bread, fellowship, and prayer. These four things can help shape a pretty awesome disciplemaking relationship. Read/study/memorize the Word together, have meals together, be on mission together (serve together), and pray for and with each other. I’m seeing this work right now with a couple of families in my church who have yet to put their faith in Jesus Christ. But they’re thirsty and have come along way. Very exciting!

  6. December 2, 2014 at 9:06 PM

    Excellent teaching. The most important aspect of making Disciples of Christ is personal example. Our Christ-like beliefs, attitudes, words, actions, and lifestyle can never be displaced by any other methods. Jesus said “Follow Me.” The Apostle Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ” and “What you have learn, received, heard, and seen in me, do.” Many Christians think that is being conceited, because they are not secure in their relationship with God, but it is actually humility. It keeps us accountable to both God and man. We will always produce what we are. Matthew 4:19, Philippians 4:9

    • December 10, 2014 at 8:19 AM

      I agree. Our example to people brings Jesus to life for people.

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