Christian Living

Spiritual Life

Swimming Lessons: One-on-One Discipleship

Swimming Lessons.

Odd title for a book about making disciples, isn’t it?

But think about people you know who’ve become Christians. At some point they—like you—took a leap of faith and dove into the pool. They’re swimming, doing well, growing in their Christian faith.

But others are no longer afloat.

They sank.

You no longer see them attending church. You wonder if they’re still in a relationship with God. And no matter what your theology says about their salvation, it’s clear they’re not having much fun. There’s no joy.

Still other people who’ve taken the plunge seem to constantly struggle in their Christian life. Their heads are above water, but just barely. They move from one faith crisis to another, one series of poor decisions to the next.

What these people need—all of them—are some lessons about how to navigate the water of faith. They need swimming lessons.
Here’s the good news: in the same way you can teach someone to swim in water, you can teach someone to hear God, obey him, and thrive in a relationship with him. It’s called discipleship—and in most churches it’s a lost art.

Answer this question: If I placed a recently converted Christian into your care, do you know exactly what to do to maximize the chances of this new Christian maturing in Christ?

Don’t be ashamed if you can’t rattle off your strategy. Most Christians can’t because they don’t have one. In fact, most pastors don’t have one.

In the fall of 2002, I was teaching a discipleship conference in the Philippines. In the audience were over 500 pastors and church leaders. I asked them the question I just asked you.
Of the 500 pastors and mature Christians sitting in that room, just ten raised their hands.


So let me ask you again: If I placed a recently converted Christian into your care, do you know what to do to maximize the chances of this new Christian maturing in Christ?

Jot your answer in the margin of this book. Outline your strategy in detail. List the content of what you’d teach and how you’d go about teaching it. Mention what you’d want the new convert to experience. Be as detailed as you can be.

Go ahead…I can wait.


Here’s what I predict: answering this question wasn’t as easy as you wish it were. In fact, you might have sidestepped the challenge and kept on reading.

You probably don’t, in fact, know precisely how to disciple another person to love Jesus. You’ve got some ideas, but as far as…having a plan…?

It isn’t thereyet.

Embracing discipleship

It’s not that we’re against discipleship. It’s right there in the Great Commission, and good luck plowing through the Gospels without tripping over a disciple on every other page. We support discipleship— we just don’t do it.

Instead, we feel guilty. Guilty we’re not helping new believers get grounded in their faith. Guilty when we see people join our church and then—within three to six months—fade away and go back to their old lives.

And were we to confess to why we’re standing on the discipling sidelines instead of jumping in to help, here are the obstacles most of us would mention:

1. We aren’t quite certain how to go about discipling others.

2. Discipling others sounds like an awfully big commitment.

This book addresses both those concerns, and you’ll discover that discipling others to love Jesus is something you can do. It’s something your entire church can do.

I know because for ten years intentional discipleship has changed lives in my church—and in hundreds of churches around the globe that have put this discipleship program in place. I’ve seen the impact in churches in America, Russia, Cuba, and the Philippines. I’ve watched programs thrive in suburbs and in prisons.

And soon you’ll see the impact of authentic discipleship, too.

In this book I’ll tell you everything you need to know to launch effective one-on-one discipling relationships in your church. The approach I’ll share is practical, proven, and reproducible.

You’ll see new Christians settle into your church and get involved in ministry. Dive into deeper prayer lives. Begin sharing their faith with others. You’ll watch older Christians whose enthusiasm for the faith has bordered on “petrified” get excited again.

And you’ll soon see these benefits that come with discipleship:

Discipleship nails shut the back door of your church. No more watching new believers walk through the front door and then drift out the back in three or four months. When people connect in discipling relationships, each new believer has a friend at church—one who’s actively investing in that new believer’s life. Those relationships are like glue; they cause new believers to stick. A Gallup study demonstrated that when someone has a best friend at church, that person is very likely to report high levels of satisfaction with their church. In fact, 87% of church members with a best friend at church gave their church two thumbs up—way up (as reported in the Group/Gallup resource, Creating a Culture of Connectivity In Your Church, 2005).1

Discipleship prompts older believers to remain vibrant in their faith. Once you’ve been a Christian for twenty years, you’ve pretty much heard it all. But when you’re sharing faith fundamentals with a new believer, suddenly it’s all fresh and exciting again.

Discipleship causes growth—in both the disciplers and the people being discipled. Nothing makes us confront issues in our lives quite like knowing we’ll be talking about those issues with someone else. God uses discipling relationships to encourage everyone involved.

And here’s one of the most powerful pieces of the discipleship program I’ll share with you: once people are discipled, they’re trained and set free to disciple others. We encourage each person who goes through the discipling process and training to disciple one person per year—for the rest of their lives. Start doing the multiplication and you’ll get a glimpse of the impact discipling will have on your church.

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