Alex had been working for many years in middle management, and things were pretty monotonous. Then a colleague suggested coming to a Christianity Explored course. Alex was able to make most of the sessions, although sometimes work got in the way. But once the course was over, there were still so many unanswered questions, so many things to get straight.
Bernie was a fresher at university, having become a Christian a couple of years ago, and was a bit lost. The youth group at home had really encouraged getting stuck into church and CU, and these were great – really good Bible teaching, with lots going on for students. But they weren’t covering the stuff that was proving tricky now: the lifestyles of fellow students, the atheistic stuff that was being taught on the course. There was so much pressure just to go along with it all.
Chris had been at the church for a while., Having come through their 20s ministry, Chris was now getting involved with different areas of church life, and was co-leading a home-group. The pastor was encouraging more of a leadership role, maybe with a view to starting up a ministry among the many elderly people in the local community. But Chris felt under-qualified. Surely you’d need some sort of training for this?
Alex, Bernie and Chris are in very different places, but all of them would benefit from meeting up with someone one-to-one. They all needed someone who will invest time in them, open the Bible with them, apply its truths to where they are, pray with them, help take them on. To help Alex come to Christ, to disciple Bernie, to train Chris.
Because we learn different things in different contexts. In large groups, we can all be taught the same message in a sermon, for example. We can discuss the Bible and pray for each other in small groups. But one-to-one we can work through how the Bible applies to me, here, now. As we develop the relationship we can be far more open about ourselves, our needs and our failings, than we are likely to be able to do in a group. One-to-one, in a relationship in which trust has been built, there can be real openness and accountability.
Not only that, but it’s also a lot easier to arrange to meet one other person than it is to meet in a group. People are busier than they used to be, and it’s difficult to commit to regular weekly evenings, for example. But two people can always find time for a coffee.
But most importantly, it’s a model that Jesus gave us as he spent time with the crowds, the twelve, but also in personal work with individuals. It’s a model reflected in the relationship between Paul and Timothy, and in the way Priscilla and Aquila took Apollos aside and taught him.
The benefit of role models is explicit in Paul’s letters (1 Cor. 4:15-17, 1 Thess. 1:5-7).We need both to learn from (and set) examples of godly living. It’s not just about an older Christian teaching someone younger, it’s about older Christians sharing their lives, demonstrating what the truths of the gospel mean in their situation.
So it’s not that one-to-ones replace small groups or meeting together as the whole family of the church. Far from it! But it is a really useful tool for making disciples: in evangelism, discipleship and training.
Who can get involved?
This isn’t something that only church workers can do – every Christian should be making disciples. But obviously there is wisdom in helping people use their gifts most appropriately.
Because this is such a personal relationship, be careful to avoid an unhealthy, cultic, dependency. And there should no hint of impropriety: mixed gender one-to-ones would be unwise.
Often a younger Christian is well-placed to bring their friends to Christ because they’re more aware of the way their friends are thinking. To bring a young Christian to growth in Christ requires someone more mature in the faith themselves. And to help train someone for ministry will need someone who’s in some sort of leadership themselves.
What’s critical is that the person who’s going to be doing the discipling really loves Jesus, and really loves the person they’re discipling. Doing this just because it’s part of a church programme for discipleship is unlikely to be fruitful.
How can I get involved?
When I was a fresher, in my first couple of weeks someone asked me to meet up to read the Bible with them, and it was brilliant. He was a ministry student at the local Bible College, someone had told him about me, and he came to my room to ask me. If you don’t ask, it won’t happen.
Maybe meet for a coffee or a meal to get to know each other a bit first if you don’t already. But if you know them well enough, just ask if they’d like to read the Bible with you to learn more about what it means to be a Christian, for example. The worst that will happen is that they say ‘no’.
It’s often best to aim to meet weekly; my experience of student work is that weekly is optimistic, but if you aim for fortnightly you get monthly, and that’s probably not often enough.
What does one-to-one look like?
Bible and prayer.
If you’re meeting with someone who doesn’t yet follow Jesus, there are now some excellent resources to use. The Uncover notes from UCCF (uccf.org.uk/uncover, Luke and John’s gospels) or The Word One to One (theword121.com ), for example. Read through a gospel together. For a younger Christian, maybe start with one of Paul’s letters. There’s a lot in the Bible to keep you going! It might be that you want to read a good Christian book together; as long it’s helping you know God’s word better, go for it. The key is that we grow through God’s word.
And work hard on applying the passage to where you both are. Show how it really changes things, helps us see more about God or about ourselves, gives us commands to obey, warnings to heed, promises to look forward to. And as your relationship develops, you’ll see the person you’re discipling change — and they will hopefully see change in you too. But we need to drench all this in prayer.
With another Christian we need to be praying together: praying in the things we’ve learned, praying to help us live more like Jesus in the week ahead, thanking God for help in the week that’s gone, confessing where we’ve messed up. In evangelism, do pray, but don’t expect the other person to do so. And in any case, keep praying for them in between your meetings.
It would be wonderful to see a culture of making disciples one-to-one growing throughout our churches. Older Christians meeting with a couple of younger Christians, who themselves meet with a couple of others… a cascade of discipleship, the whole church building one another up in love, growing up into Christ (Eph. 4:11-16). To the praise of his glory!
There are several helpful books on one-to-one discipleship. The one I’ve found most useful is:
One to one Bible reading, by David Helm (Matthias Media)
Other good books include:
One-to-one. A discipleship handbook, by Sophie de Witt (Authentic)
1-2-1 discipleship, by Christine Dillon (Christian Focus)