Every culture, every ethnicity, every village and town has unique discipleship dynamics. There are truly no “one-size fits all” strategies to move people toward a greater maturity in Christ.
For some cultures, programmatic approaches are the best strategy such as Sunday school or in-home small groups. In other environments, personal discipleship is far more beneficial. Investing in one or two people deeply over a sustained period of time is the most culturally appropriate methods.
Still in other context, the idea of forming Christian educational institutions like camps, retreat centers, Christian preschools, K-12’s, Bible colleges or private universities might be the best way for people to be discipled.
You most certainly could include radio discipleship where people listen to teaching on the radio or on CD or online communities where the Bible is taught to people from all over the world through the avenue of the internet and social media.
No matter the strategy, there must be three elements present in any discipleship methods employed.
1. The Bible is the text, curriculum, guidebook, and content first and last. Anything outside of the Bible, such as psychology, financial tips, parenting or self-help, is not truly Christian discipleship. Those topics are helpful and can grow the person in their professional and personal life, but the Bible must be central to grow them in Christ. The Word is what feeds a man’s soul and draws them closer to a holy God.
2. The discipler must be invested in the disciple. Distant, unconnected teaching is not discipleship. It is formal Bible education, which has its place for some. But for real discipleship to occur the leader must invest into the lives of their learners.
Now this gets harder with some strategies. TV, radio and the internet are wonderful tools to listen to the great preachers online or on your iPod. However, you must concede that the people truly discipling you know you personally. They can listen to you face to face and ear to ear. Don’t get me wrong, I learn a ton from John Piper and Jim Cymbala and Albert Mohler and others on my Nano, but they are not the ones discipling me. Mentors and pastors in my life are.
3. Finally, the disciple must desire to be discipled. The transfer of knowledge, passion, correction, rebuke, encouragement, growth, virtue, character, leadership, and service cannot be transmitted unwillingly. There has to be a desire, prompted by the Holy Spirit, of the disciple to receive what is being poured into them. They are the gatekeepers of their own heart. They make the decision what is and what is not let in. As a discipler, I can’t force someone to open up their hearts to me or to God. It is their choice.