By Pastor Nathan Richardson   Heartland Community Church, La Porte City

Stages of Discipleship

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. ~ John 13:35

Discipleship is important in the church, but maybe you are reading this article without the knowledge of what a disciple is. A disciple is a student. In the church we take discipleship seriously, but I think people can confuse what a student really is. Most people think head knowledge is the only important aspect of a student. If you know more you must be a good student. The one thing about knowledge in the school is that it can in some ways be measured by a report card or test scores.
There is a big difference between school and the church however. In the school you have 180 days to go through a curriculum that you will be graded upon. At the end of the period teachers will either promote you to the next level or hold you back for another year.
The church is completely different. There is no pass-fail. But in the end we want everyone to thrive as a disciple or a student of Christ. So how do we assess where one is spiritually and help someone take the next step or “promotion” in faith. There is a book by Jim Putnam called Discipleshift. This book helps us look at the stages of discipleship in a new and fresh way.
These five stages are: dead, infant, child, young adult, and parent. Those who do not know Christ yet are dead, or have not experienced life yet. An infant is dependent on everyone and ignorant to everything. Everything is brand new to an infant. They are experiencing everything for the first time. This is the same to someone who has just come to faith in Christ. Everything is new, they are new and experiencing life for the first time.
The third stage is becoming a child. A child is different from an infant because they are older and are learning to become a little more. They no longer need mom and dad to feed them but have now learned to eat solid food with a fork. They still need help cutting the food with a knife. Children think the world revolves around them. They are very selfish. As someone who is still newer to the faith, no matter the age, children are still learning how to connect to God and other Christians. They might join a small group so they can grow but they are still not concerned about someone else’s faith. This is when the church intercedes and teaches them their purpose.
The fourth stage is emerging as a young adult. This might compare to an older teen in high school or someone who has recently graduated. It is not just the faith of their parents anymore but is something they are grabbing a hold of and owning on their own. They have grabbed a hold of their purpose and start using the gifts and strengths for God. They might start leading a small group or help out with Student Ministries. They are being equipped for service.
The fifth and final stage is one of a parent. A parent is totally committed to loving and raising their child so they might be able to live as a mature adult. A parent helps the infant to become a child, and helps the child develop into a young adult. A spiritual parent never stops loving and helping their child develop into a spiritually mature disciple.
In the church ages do not matter. You can be a Christian for 50 years and never matured to become a spiritually mature disciple. I also know some who have been Christians for three years and already are investing their faith as a spiritual parent for someone who needs a mentor.
No matter where you are in one of these spiritual stages it is never too late to take the next step in your faith. Over the next four weeks we will take deeper looks and how we can take these next steps.