Life-on-Life Discipleship

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Life-on-Life Discipleship

Posted on 23 Jun 2023


Insights from a Disciplemaking Learning Community


If there is one topic that would ignite a fervent discussion among the Navigators, it would undoubtedly be the concept of life-on-life discipleship.

We have compiled some insightful thoughts shared by our staff members during the recent Disciplemaking Learning Community (DMLC) discussion session facilitated by the Church Discipleship Ministry (CDM) team.


We would like to share with you some of the insights that were gathered from our staff members, which will add depth and richness to your understanding of life-on-life discipleship.


What is life-on-life discipleship?

Life-on-life discipleship can be likened to a master-apprentice relationship wherein a close and intentional relationship is formed between the disciple (the one being mentored) and the discipler (the one providing guidance). This relationship is rooted in the discipler’s own relationship with Christ and their life and ministry experiences.

Life-on-life discipleship entails the willingness of both the disciple and the discipler to open up their lives to each other, fostering transparency and vulnerability.


While there is often an impartation of knowledge and wisdom in a discipler-disciple relationship, there is also a deep sense of love and commitment to walk alongside the other person through various aspects of their personal life, be it in their work, family and other relationships, offering support to them in both challenging and joyous times.


Life-on-life discipleship is the practice of having authentic and accountable relationships.



“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”

– 1 Corinthians 11:1



Just as Paul called the Corinthians to follow his example of living just as he follows Christ, life-on-life discipleship is
a purposeful relationship of imparting skills, vision and character through modelling — modelling a Christ-centred life to the person you are discipling so that they can observe and learn from example.

Life-on-life discipleship can be structured or unstructured. Structured times focus on truth and content through Bible Study or studying a book together. On the other hand, relationship building is best achieved during unstructured times when we relate with another on a deep and personal level in the context of daily living. 


Why is life-on-life discipleship an important part of our disciplemaking ministry?

Ultimately, the goal of life-on-life discipleship is to equip the disciple to become a disciplemaker themselves. By establishing a strong spiritual foundation in their lives, this empowers them to effectively help or disciple others, thereby reproducing subsequent generations of disciples for Christ.

Jesus modelled what discipleship looks like. He chose twelve disciples, and
during His time with them, he did not just impart truth to them; He imparted His life as well.

Life-on-life discipleship provides a conducive and supportive environment for one t
o learn how to practically apply God’s Word in their life and live it out, even in the midst of struggles and difficult situations.

Disciples would also be able to draw from the guidance and life experiences of others in the community as they make important life decisions and overcome life’s challenges.  The positive transformation that results would help them to live for God in the long haul.


The strong spiritual foundation that is established in the disciple would then serve as a solid ground for them to help or disciple others in their journey as well.


What do you do in your “life-on-life time” with the people you are discipling?

Here are some examples of the “with me” or “with him/her” activities that we often do during our “life-on-life time” —

  • Spending time in the Word of God together;
  • Cooking, eating, praying and even living together;
  • Listen to their stories and learn to understand the people in their generation;
  • Bringing them along to serve others, for example, in a work project;
  • Expose them to our life and family, and visit their family in order to understand their background;
  • Bonding time with each other through fun activities, where we get to observe their behaviours in different situations.


We do these things in an environment of love, acceptance and faith in them. We sometimes entrust them with responsibilities to help them grow in faithfulness and character.

In all our activities, we recognise that
we are partnering with God as we become aware of what God is doing in the lives of the disciples.


What are some essential character traits a disciple should have and why?


Humility and a teachable heart are essential traits for a disciple to have so that they will be willing to make time to learn from God, you and others.


This is what the Beatitudes call “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:7) — knowing that they are not perfect which would drive them to their knees. This spirit of humility will bring about a sense of dependance on God.


A love for God is important too because it leads to:

  • Obedience — taking up their cross daily to follow Him
  • A desire to be like Him and to learn from Him
  • A thirst for righteousness


Other key traits that a disciple should possess include:

  • A servant’s heart — a heart to serve God and others
  • Submissiveness — a surrendered heart, out of devotion to the Lord and faith in Him
  • Faithful — being steadfast and unwavering in sticking to the course


The Church Discipleship Ministry team also had a panel discussion with several esteemed leaders who openly discussed the character traits they identified as the most challenging to develop in a disciple (in others and/or themselves). Drawing from their personal experiences and keen observations, they shared their valuable insights:


What are the character traits you have found to be the most difficult to develop?


Humility

“When disciples get better at something, for example, they are practising their spiritual disciplines or helping other believers to grow in their walk with God, pride can start to creep in. It is an insidious thing — they begin by being teachable and eager to learn; but when they become good at it, it trips them up.


The moment that you say, ‘I have cultivated humility’, you have failed. However, it is not about saying the right things, but the posture of your heart. It requires a lot of self-reflection to even ask yourself, ‘Was I really humble when I said this or that?’”


Servanthood

“My role as a servant of God is to be His hands and feet, and that includes doing things that are difficult and even underappreciated by others. Naturally, we do not want to be thought of as a servant, or to be called a servant.


In the Singaporean culture and context, we were taught from young not to let others take advantage of us and to look after our own interests. This upbringing works against the kingdom values of servanthood.”


Faithfulness

“The quality of faithfulness includes being trustworthy, steadfast and unwavering (sticking to your course). However, the challenge is that we have many things in life that require our attention, and this is compounded when we go through different seasons in life.


For example, new mothers may struggle with prioritising ministry over their child or vice versa. Discernment, listening to the Spirit and understanding what God is calling us to do at each stage of our life is required, and there is no straightforward way to go about it.”



Purity

“With the easy access of the internet and technology today, many men have issues with purity. It is not that they don’t want to be pure, but the temptations and the sinful thoughts and images that creep into their minds come to them so easily.


As I help them, I have observed that this is one issue that stays with people for a very long time. Even if they want to address it, they find themselves to be so weak and helpless. There is very little that you can do because this happens in the secrecy of their minds and in their own rooms. If they share with you about their struggles regarding this matter, it is already a blessing. I can be a part of their journey and pray with them, but I really need to depend on God to help them out.”


Self-control

“How do we develop self-control? When I was a young believer, as a teen, I had problems with vulgarity. I prayed that I would stop swearing, but it did not happen — I almost gave up trying. But 6 months to a year later, it was gone. I realised that God had been doing something within me. I have realised that we develop self-control by depending on God, and it is not through our own effort.”


How do we develop character?

Spiritual Disciplines and Constant Surrender to God

In tandem with the spiritual disciplines that we cultivate, a constant surrender to God (a dependence and submission unto God to allow Him to work in our lives) allows the Holy Spirit to cultivate godly character in us (Ephesians 5).

We need to develop the habit of examining ourselves constantly throughout the day. This allows us to be mindful of our actions as we ask ourselves, “Why did I do this or say that?” This discipline becomes an important exercise whereby we give the Holy Spirit the time during the course of the day to speak to us through those deliberate short attempts for self-examination.


A Community of Trusted Friends

Character cannot be developed in isolation. We develop character through being part of a community of trusted friends where there is a safe environment for us to be our authentic selves with people whom we can be honest with and confess our struggles to without condemnation. They should also be people who would pray for us and have our best interests at heart.


In a community, we can learn from others through their walk with God. God works through different people to effect change in a person’s life.


The Word of God

The Word of God has authority. If someone can see that the character we are trying to address in them is something that was also addressed in the Bible, they would then be able to perceive that it is God speaking to them and not merely their discipler who is telling them what to do or how to behave. We need to learn from God and from His Word to build deep convictions.


Know the Person

Everyone is wired differently, hence there is no “one-size-fits-all” method in character development. We need to get to know the person we are discipling — how the person learns, the life stage of the person (student/working adult/housewife etc.) and the background of the person in order to be better equipped in helping them grow in their walk with God.


Build a Strong Relationship with the Person

We need a strong discipling relationship if we want to help our disciple grow in godly character. It will be difficult to touch on areas of weakness in character if there is a lack of strength and transparency in the discipling relationship.



Modelling


Just as Jesus modelled to His disciples how to lead a righteous life,
the intentionality of the discipler to grow in Christlike character should already be in motion while he/she disciples another.


Disciples would then be able to learn through modelling the Christlike character and behaviour of their discipler.

Here is a suggested process of how to develop character in our own lives:

  • Understand and learn about the character of Christ that you want to develop in yourself. This can be achieved through studying the Word, consulting spiritual leaders and reading up on the topic through books etc.

  • Self-evaluation — Where am I in this area that I want to work on? One can get feedback from others (e.g. spiritual mentors).

  • Envision —  With the Holy Spirit’s help, what kind of person do I want to become in future? For example, do I want to be a gracious or grumpy old lady/man in my 70s-80s? Prayer and memorising scripture will help to keep the vision fresh and alive.

  • Obedience to the Holy Spirit — We have our part to play and that is to be obedient to the Holy Spirit. This can be done through divine training (what God places in our path to train, mould and prune us) or through intentional training, where we put ourselves through certain training.


Key Takeaways

  • God is concerned about developing our character. The Bible is an instructional manual filled with illustrations and examples on what it means to live righteously. It comes with stories of men and women who have lived righteous lives, as well as those who have not.

  • Actions may not fully reveal one’s character. It is possible to do the right things for the wrong reasons. Character is a matter of the heart.

  • Character precedes service. The Lord modelled and spent much time teaching His disciples godly values and attitudes before sending them out to minister.

  • In order to develop Christlike character in our disciples, we need to create safe and conducive environments for them— environments that provide opportunities for them to observe and model after us, and for us to observe them.

Ultimately, life-on-life discipleship emerges as an authentic and intentional investment in one another's lives, where true discipleship flourishes. Through this personal and relational approach, we grow together, exemplifying Christ's character in every aspect of our journey.


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