Pastors' Forum


What Constitutes Discipleship and Maturity?

There are obviously various levels of commitment among people who attend church. Some attend occasionally, others consistently. As a pastor, what are the traits and characteristics you look to help promote and build into people as you move them deeper into discipleship and further in maturity? What constitutes true discipleship? What are the traits of genuine spiritual maturity? What can a pastor to do help facilitate and further such discipleship and maturity in the hearts and lives of the people?


Pastor Mark Boer – Meridian, ID

This is a great question and one that we ask from time to time to gage our efforts and focus our attention on doing what Jesus told us to do. A disciple is often defined as a follower of Christ. However, we all know that some follow Him at a distance, while others “followeth hard after thee” (Psalm 63:8). We can see the word “discipline” in the word disciple. True disciples of Jesus are disciplined followers. They observe His commandments (Matthew 28:20) even when they don’t feel like doing so.

Some of the characteristics of maturity we can identify are:

  • Faith — they don’t live by what they see and feel but by the word of God.
  • Giving — Jesus identified being faithful with “unrighteous mammon” as being the “least.” (Luke 16:10-11)
  • Hard to Offend — mature believers are quick to forgive and not fall for this trap.
  • Led by the Spirit — as opposed to following emotion, opinions of others, insecurities, etc.
  • Reproduction — As it is with physical maturity — we reproduce. This is shown in evangelism, teaching, etc. — basically, making more disciples.
  • Stability — “no longer tossed to and fro” (Ephesians 4:14). The mature are steady, reliable, and consistent in church, vocation, relationships and, of course, doctrine.

As for what we can do to make disciples or facilitate that goal, I think we start with what Jesus said in Matthew 28. We are to first baptize them and then teach them to observe all things He commanded. We don’t just teach them to understand but rather teach them to do. We shouldn’t be satisfied with the transfer of knowledge if it doesn’t translate into changed behavior. So, we make sure our teaching is actionable, and then, in ways we are able, provide systems and opportunities for people to do the work of ministry.

Pastor David Kibben – Cheyenne, WY

Let me answer about discipleship first. I believe it is vitally important that there be some type of class/study offered to new believers as well as those who have recommitted their lives to Christ. We have just revamped our discipleship class, and we now offer a 14-week course before church on Sunday mornings. The 14 weeks cover a variety of topics all with the purpose of encouraging these new and young believers to get grounded in the basic tenets of the Word of God. We also have a small Bible college where students get a more concentrated and in-depth instruction in the Word of God. In the fall and spring, we also offer what we call Connection Bible Studies to our church family. Our goal for each of these areas is to help believers grow in their relationship with God and with each other, and to enable them to share their faith with others.

Concerning traits and characteristics that we look for and what are those traits of genuine spiritual maturity, first let me say that all of us are growing; or we should be growing. We should never be satisfied with where we are at in our walk with the Lord. The two main traits/characteristics that I look for are faithfulness and commitment. Paul told Timothy to commit to faithful men those things that Paul had taught him. Jesus consistently commends those who are faithful. I believe that faithfulness and commitment go hand-in-hand.

I look for the following things concerning faithfulness and commitment: Do they follow through when they commit to something? Do they attend church on a regular basis (more than just two or three times a month)? Are they tithers? I will not put someone in a leadership position that doesn’t tithe. What is their reputation with others, both inside and outside the church? How do they treat their spouse? Their children? Can they follow guidelines? Are they teachable? There are many other areas, but these are the main ones I look for as far as spiritual maturity is concerned.

Let me also say that I am not looking for perfection, but for people whose hearts are right and who have a desire to grow and mature in their walk with others. I Timothy 3:1-3, Titus 1:5-9, Acts 6:3 and Exodus 18:21 give us traits and characteristics that will help us in discerning genuine spiritual maturity in a person and are the greatest guidelines that we could follow.

Pastor Rob King – Cincinnati, OH

When choosing people for a role (I will especially be thinking in terms of promotions and hiring process), we use the “4 C’s.” It has been so long since I started using this that I can’t even remember who I stole it from. They are well known, but here they are:

Competency: Do they have the skills to do the job?

Character: Have they been PROVEN on the inside where it counts?

Chemistry: Do we enjoy being around them?

Calling: Are they called by God for this place at this time?

I have also recently found one more thing to be helpful when making a hire or promoting a leader. This is something that I have noticed that happens “by the spirit,” if you will, during the interview process. When all four C’s line up, I find that the Holy Spirit gives me a sense of expectancy and excitement about the prospective employee or volunteer leader. In this way, I have learned that when it all lines up then we can look at each other and say as the Apostles did, “this seems good to us and the Holy Spirit.”

Last bit of advice comes from a saying I stole from another friend: “NOT QUITE IS NOT RIGHT.” I have learned to never override the small nudge that says this is not quite right. Not quite – no matter how talented the person is – is NOT RIGHT.

Pastor Herbert Bailey – Columbia, SC

After the basics of salvation and Holy Spirit infilling (let me add that in my church, Holy Spirit Baptism/Infilling with the evidence of speaking in tongues is foundational and we speak about it all the time and offer it in every service), signs of true discipleship (based upon Acts 4) is regular consistent church attendance, tithing (and generosity), and serving/volunteering in some area of ministry. This also includes involvement in some sort of small group, home fellowship groups (which we do once a month), and other small group disciplining, men’s prayer group, man-to-man sessions which I do, women’s bible study, etc.

I also look to see if people are sharing their faith or at least their excitement about their faith and/or church by inviting and bringing others to church.

Finally, I look to see how they have been integrated into the church and have developed relationships with others in the church. I discovered that there are reasons that people stay distant, which usually is not a good indication for future leadership positions.

However, when all has been said and done, after 20+ years of ministry, I have discovered that unless you are regularly around people and have intimate fellowship with them, people can deceive you and even live double/alternative lives than what we see in church. Therefore, to really evaluate spiritual maturity and measure another’s preparedness of higher leadership positions, we must hear God and listen to the Holy Spirit.

Pastor Gil Zaragoza – El Paso, TX

The Apostle Paul wrote the following under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost to Timothy:

2 Timothy 2:1-2
Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, THE SAME COMMIT THOU TO FAITHFUL MEN, WHO SHALL BE ABLE TO TEACH OTHERS ALSO.

When it comes to discipleship and spiritual maturity, FAITHFULNESS is the key to being an effective disciple and going from faith to faith in spiritual maturity. A church member cannot spiritually grow and be an effective disciple without BEING FAITHFUL.

First, they must be faithful with their time. In other words, they must be faithful to attend church on a regular basis. The only way they can get to know the heartbeat of the local church is to attend regularly.

Second, they must be faithful with their attitude. They need to be teachable. They must be open to hear, believe, and receive God’s Word. They are also to walk in love and believe the best in everyone.

Third, they must be faithful with their talents. The best way to feel a part of a local church, to meet other people, and to grow with a local church family is to get involved. They need to use their talents and do something.

Fourth, they must be faithful in their commitments. They must be people of their word. They must do everything with a spirit of excellence. They must be the kind of people who can be counted upon.

Finally, they must be faithful in their financial resources in order to further the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the local church. They must be generous in their giving. They need to be taught to give their first and best 10% of all their financial income to God’s house so that there will be provision in His house (see Malachi 3:10-12).

Pastor Steve Smothermon – Albuquerque, NM

What makes up a mature Christian? I believe a person is mature if they forgive quickly, repent quickly and obey. Now, they also need to have a good grasp of the Word of God. If a person will forgive quickly, repent quickly and obey God’s Word, their relationship with God will always be good.

A disciple is basically a student of something or someone. We are called to make disciples not converts. So a disciple is one who follows Jesus and is willing to learn His teachings and apply them. People at times will say, “I know what the Bible says,” but are unwilling to apply the Word of God in their lives. So a disciple is a doer of the Word not a hearer only. We can lead people to Christ, but they have to decide on their own to serve Him and to learn of Him, it’s their choice. So I believe a disciple is a doer of the Word. They not only attend church consistently, but they are involved and they give their tithes and offerings.

When a person makes a decision for Christ, they need to be water baptized. It’s the beginning of discipleship; it’s doing what the Word of God teaches. It’s impossible to have a healthy relationship with God outside of being a part of the local church.

Pastor Doug Foutty – Parkersburg, WV

First off, I want them to be committed to Jesus and their Heavenly Father. As they get deeper in to their relationship with the Lord, they don’t want to miss church.

We offer nights for just prayer. We also have a book club where they read a mini-book and come together to discuss what they learned etc., to try and find a niche for what motivates them to want to be in fellowship with their God and with their church family. Sometimes we give a small bit of authority in a church area to see how they react, to see if they are faithful, to see if they get puffed up, and to see if their gift flourishes and blesses the church. We spend some time in fellowship outings and work days to show them that ministry can be work and it can also be fun. We try to show them that they need to make God a part of each area of their life. I feel like I have to live it before them. I have to give them some kind of example to follow as they follow Christ.

Pastor Chris Cochran – Midland, TX

Discipleship and maturity, as with any other biblical topic, should be considered and pursued with the objective of reaching balanced and holistic conclusions. When I consider the ideas of discipleship and maturity, I am reminded of the biblical words “perfect” or “perfection.” When considering a church, some people are attracted to the idea that they want to find a place where there are “no perfect” people. This in their mind may remove them from the “pressure” of personal responsibility, involvement in the local church, spiritual development, and the requisite change and right conduct that Christlikeness is to produce. At the other extreme, are those who are looking for the “perfect” church, with the perfect pastor, perfect location, perfect service times, perfect, perfect, perfect…you get the idea. Both expectations are at the extreme and unrealistic ends of the spectrum. Those desiring a church surrounded by imperfect people will, when confronted with the truth of God’s Word, be disappointed to discover that the Lord does not provide the church and fellowship of the saints as a safe haven of mediocrity or complacency. Rather, the Lord expects of us and empowers us to “provoke unto love and to good works” (Hebrews 10:24). Contrariwise, those seeking for a group of believers that have it all together and without further need of transformation, will be disillusioned to find that this is only a utopian framed within their imagination, and not the reality of the existence of any local body of believers.

Recently, within my church I taught for several weeks a message entitled, “Imperfect But Being Perfected.” The general premise of the message was that though none of us are flawless in terms of conduct, we all should be striving to continue to be conformed to the image of Christ. In fact, the Lord expects this of each of us. Here, I am not speaking in terms of the legal and positional side of our redemption, but rather the practical and experiential aspect of our redemption. When we think of being perfect, we might think of someone who never makes a mistake or messes up. In this regard, Jesus is the only man who has never made a mistake, messed up, or sinned. Yet when the Bible speaks of being perfect, it so often is referring to being blameless, having integrity, or walking uprightly. It also conveys the idea of having a perfect or a right heart.

Many scriptures, such as the following, speak of having a perfect heart:

  • 1 Chronicles 12:38
  • 1 Chronicles 28:9
  • 1 Chronicles 29:9, 29:19
  • 2 Chronicles 19:9
  • Psalm 101:2
  • Isaiah 38:3

2 Chronicles 16:9 (KJV)
For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him.

Scripture speaks of God using imperfect people who have “perfect hearts,” and who through obedience and conformity to His will are “being perfected.” Having a perfect heart does not mean mistake free. It does mean that whether or not you do sin or mess up, your heart attitude is always right and always wants to do the right thing.

In fact, Jesus said in Matthew 5:48 (KJV), “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” The word translated as “perfect” is from the following Greek word with its accompanying meanings:

τέλειος (teleios). adj. perfect, mature, complete, initiated, fully developed. Describes something complete, mature believers, and the perfection of God. [1]

  1. We are expected to be perfect as God is perfect.
  2. Perfection here is developing and maturing. God is fully developed and mature already, yet believers are to be developing and maturing in order to be more and more like God.
  3. Perfection as used here is again NOT flawlessness.

In addition Paul said something interesting along these lines in Philippians 3:12-15:

Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.

Interestingly, in verse 12 Paul says that he is not perfect. Then in verse 15 he seems to include himself with those who are perfect. What is he really saying here?

  1. Paul is saying that he is NOT perfect, and he has NOT arrived yet.
  1. Though he is NOT perfect, he is being perfected/matured/developed.

In fact, previously in this same epistle, he states the following:

Philippians 2:12-13 (NRSV)
….work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you….

Paul tells us to work out what God is working in us.

With these things in mind, as a pastor, the following is a representative — though not exhaustive — list of traits that I look to build into people regarding discipleship and maturity:

1. Relational expectations:

a. As relates to themselves: They are gifted and valuable.
b. As relates to others: They need others and others need them.
c. As relates to the church: Discover their place of involvement.

2. Integrity:  It’s not just about being made right (righteousness), it’s also about living right (fruits of righteousness).

3. Servanthood:  Our purpose should be Christ’s purpose. He came not to be served, but to serve.

4. Hunger:  Never allow your spiritual fervor to cool. Maintain your pursuit of Him.

What Constitutes True Discipleship?

Simply put, I like to say that the word “disciple” is contained within the word “discipline.”

A disciple is a learner. In a biblical sense, it is one who spends sufficient and quality time with their teacher in order to learn from them, then emulate their teachings, and subsequently pass on the disciplines that they have learned to others as well.

The following scriptures seem best to illustrate this:

Mark 3:13-19 (Message Bible)
He climbed a mountain and invited those he wanted with him. They climbed together. He settled on twelve, and designated them apostles. The plan was that they would be with him, and he would send them out to proclaim the Word and give them authority to banish demons.

They were:

  • Invited: The invitation to discipleship is now available to all.
  • To be with Him: This requires a deliberate decision and sacrifice of other leisurely pursuits.
  • Sent out by Him: A teacher wants to produce (or reproduce) truth in others and then turn them loose.

2 Timothy 2:2 (NIV)
And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.

Notice here that discipleship is not only transformational, but also generational.

  1. Paul himself had received the Word from Christ.
  1. Paul then passed that truth on to Timothy through his actions and teachings (“the things you have heard me say”).
  1. Timothy was then to entrust those truths to others (“entrust to reliable people”).
  1. Those influenced by Timothy would then be qualified to teach others also (“who will also be qualified to teach others”).

Here, then, are four levels of influence produced through intimate discipleship.

What are the Traits of Genuine Spiritual Maturity?

Genuine spiritual maturity from a biblical perspective consists in part, of the following:

1. A consistent love walk and the corresponding expression of all fruit of the Spirit.

Galatians 5:14, 16, 22-23 (NKJV)
14- For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself
16- I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
22- But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23- gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

2. A controlled tongue.

James 1:26 (God’s Word Translation)
If a person thinks that he is religious but can’t control his tongue, he is fooling himself. That person’s religion is worthless.

3. Developed spiritual discernment.

1 Corinthians 2:15 (Net Bible)
The one who is spiritual discerns all things, yet he himself is understood by no one.

1 Corinthians 2:15 (NLT)
Those who are spiritual can evaluate all things, but they themselves cannot be evaluated by others.

4. Are not ruled by their flesh as is indicated by things such as envying, strife, and division.

1 Corinthians 3:1-3 (NKJV)
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?

What can a pastor to do help facilitate and further such discipleship and maturity in the hearts and lives of the people?

Discipleship is not simply conveying truths to others through preaching or teaching; it is also being secure enough in one’s own walk with Lord to be vulnerable in allowing others to observe your life up close and personal.

Paul was secure enough in his walk with the Lord that he could say, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 New Century Version). He is really telling believers to imitate Him. This presupposes that in order for them to imitate Him, they must be allowed to observe Him and hear Him in a fairly intimate way.

In closing, this thought is conveyed by Paul to the Philippian believers and is instructive to all of us regarding true discipleship.

Philippians 4:9 (The Good News Translation)
Put into practice what you learned and received from me, both from my words and from my actions. And the God who gives us peace will be with you.

Paul’s heart was the heart of a teacher ever mindful of implementing some of our Lord’s last words to “make disciples of all nations.” Here, he makes us aware that these believers had heard his words and saw his actions. He had allowed them into his life in an intimate way and now encourages them to practice all that they have received. Their putting into practice all that Paul had passed on to them would ensure that God’s peace would be with them. They would continue to mature and experience his peace that surpasses all understanding. Even so, shall it be with those who emulate faithfully the teachings of the Word, and purpose to pass them on to those who are currently under their influence, as well as to the generations to come.

[1] Rodrigues, A. M. (2014). Perfection. D. Mangum, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, & R. Hurst (Eds.), Lexham Theological Wordbook. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Pastor Duane Hanson – Saint Paul, MN

In simple terms, the answer to the question this month is this:

Discipleship is measured by faithfulness, while maturity is measured by fruitfulness.

Observing and recognizing these character traits in certain individuals will help every leader identify those upon which we should focus our attention. We must be discerning and selective when committing to a discipleship relationship. Show me a person who has been faithful in the least of their responsibilities, and demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit while doing so, and I’ll show you a good candidate for a genuine discipleship relationship.

This principle of faithfulness and fruitfulness also applies to those of us who will be involved in exercising leadership in these discipleship relationships.

2 Timothy 2:1-2
Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able [competent ~ in character] to teach [disciple] others also.

Through our living example of faithfulness, combined with our lifestyle of fruitfulness, we will set the “standard” that others will learn and imitate. This will communicate the desired character qualifications based on the example Jesus established throughout the Gospels, and Paul promoted in his Epistles to the Church (1 Timothy & Titus).

Jesus obviously exhibited faithfulness and fruitfulness at an early age. As a young man, He demonstrated these character qualities, which every believer now has the potential to produce. Through our personal growth and maturing in the Spirit, we will also find “favor” with God and those around us.

Luke 2:52 (GW)
Jesus grew in wisdom and maturity. He gained favor from God and people.

Jesus had this testimony, and we should follow His example when looking to help people grow and mature in Christ.

Pastor Jann Butler – Tacoma, WA

Some of the traits and characteristics that I look to promote are: you must be faithful, not self-centered, humble, teachable, and focus and meditate on the Word.

Teach all about the Holy Spirit and how the soul functions (involves transformation).

Traits of genuine spiritual maturity: flesh is in control (victory over it), consistent prayer life, family is in order, walks well with others, and serves them first.

To help facilitate and further discipleship and maturity, the pastor needs to learn to better communicate the Word to all people on their level.

Pastor Thom Fields – Kennewick, WA

I teach a series almost every year called “The Three Chairs” (Commitment, Compromise, & Complacency). During this series I stress the importance of living a First Chair Lifestyle and striving to keep clear of the pitfalls that lead to Compromise and Complacency. Then we follow up with more opportunities for discipleship and growth, such as small group teaching and various programs designed to educate at a higher level. At any point in the year you’ll hear people referring to decisions and actions by asking each other, “Would that be a First Chair decision?” It’s really helped us motivate people to keep taking steps toward growth and maturity.

It’s always difficult to locate the most effective tools for reaching discipleship, but discipleship NEVER occurs without INTENTION. Regardless of what system you choose to incorporate, just remain faithful and refuse to back off. Find out and develop a system that protects your culture and go as hard as you can. The temptation is to find a way to “add people” instead of ways to “serve people!” Keep serving people and discipleship will flourish in your house. Allow people to walk thru life together. I truly believe if people walk with godly people, they’ll wind up closer to God in the process.

Pastor Jesse Zepeda – Pflugerville, TX

The characteristics I look for in church members to promote are: faithfulness, diligence, perseverance, and endurance. Anyone can start a race, but few have the characteristic to finish the race. A person’s faithfulness leads to diligence and perseverance, and endurance will lead us to promotion.

Go and make disciples = disciplined ones.

We were all children once and we did childish things. But in the Lord, we need to grow up and mature spiritually to be an asset to the Body of Christ. Genuine spiritual maturity is evident when those closest to you can testify that you have truly been transformed! We can say we’re mature, but it’s what other spiritual people say about us that counts. The people noticed that the disciples, “had been with Jesus.” Like the Apostle Paul, “follow me as I follow Christ.”

We as leaders can develop the character of our people by being the best examples we can be. When they see our commitment to Jesus, their character will change and so will their hearts.

May we all continue to grow up spiritually in Jesus.

Pastor Barry Fredericks – Newtown, CT

Discipleship & Maturity

1. We try to show them what the Word says about disciples.

2. They continue in the Word.

  • I have a one year Bible reading program that we give them and encourage them to stick with it.
  • We constantly encourage the congregation from the pulpit to read the Word.
  • If a mature Christian has a testimony that reflects knowing and standing on the Word, we have them share it at a service.
  • We have monthly handouts on scripture topics and encourage them to declare the scriptures daily.
  • We have guest ministers who emphasize the Word — Tony Cooke, Rick Renner, Bob Yandian.
  • We have mature men or women in the church who mentor those who desire to grow.
  • We have several Bible studies and a weekly healing service — those who want to grow in the Word can.

3. All will know we are Jesus’ disciples by our love.

  • We emphasize the difference between human love and God’s love by messages, testimonies, and endeavoring to be examples in the way we treat them and the rest of the congregation.
  • We help them see God’s love is in them now, and His love protects from the misery of bitterness and unforgiveness.
  • We teach them that we are all human and make mistakes; being correctable is to make us all better and mature, never to embarrass.
  • We try to help them to see how Jesus was treated by the religious leaders. He told us that if He was treated this way, so would we.
  • We encourage them to see godly character and conduct in the Word and to desire and determine to have those qualities manifest in their lives.
  • Knowing there is a devil who instigates others, even Christians, helps them see the battle is not with flesh and blood.
  • Let them know that offenses happen to cause them to back off the things of God or even leave the church.
  • Help them to recognize that critical people should be avoided. Love edifies it does not tear down.
  • We encourage everyone who serves to walk in love and be sincerely glad to greet those who attend.

4. They bear much fruit.

  • They cannot grow, mature, and bear fruit if they are not in church. You cannot get good at anything if you are not interested in it or do it. We tell them this.
  • Tell them that God uses faithful people and gives them the ability to be disciples for Jesus.
  • Emphasize that this is a different world and the greatest protection they can offer their children and teens is Jesus. Their siblings will bear godly fruit.
  • We encourage mature congregants to sit with and befriend new visitors. The ‘fruit’ of these mature ones makes a strong impression on the new attendees.

We have a monthly men’s breakfast and it is my desire that mature men are there to welcome and be an example to any new men who may attend. The ladies also have fellowship events and the mature women go out of their way to welcome new ladies. They exemplify good fruit.