The Four Stages of Faith

“A lot of churches are very program-based. But we’re discovering that our programs and participation in programs doesn’t necessarily equate to discipleship growth. Making disciples is our mission . . . but how do we know when we’ve made one?

Bob Johnson, the pastor at Chapelwood UMC in Houston, perfectly captured this common issue in churches when he and Mike Johnson met to discuss the stages of disciple growth for our podcast.

Bob pointed out,

There seems to be no direct or very strong correlation between how busy I am in church ministries and my growth as a disciple.”

Matt McClure and Peter Cammarano, two other head pastors Mike interviewed for our podcast, confirmed the problem. “We ran into the roadblock of assumption,” said Matt. “That assumption was that as soon as you do a ministry within the church, it is discipleship.”

“My denomination wanted to know about activity,” added Peter. “They wanted to know, as I like to say it, ‘how many hineys were in the pews and how many dollars were in the plate.’ But discipleship seemed to be more than THAT.”

Through Ascending Leaders, these pastors tried a new way of measuring discipleship growth in order to know how best to help their conversations. They used the Scripture-based Four Stages of Faith.

Jesus’ last command to His disciples was, “Make disciples” (Matthew 8:18-19). In the gospels, we see actually how Jesus did that with the twelve and with other disciples. He gave four distinct invitations that correspond to each stage.

The first invitation is “Come and See.” We see it especially in John 1:38-39, in which the disciples ask, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” and Jesus replies, “Come, and you will see.” Essentially the disciples are wondering if Jesus might indeed be the Messiah, and Jesus invites them to come and observe him. The “Come and See” stage applies to people who are not yet believers but who are interested in seeing what Christianity is all about.

Jesus then extends the invitation to “Come and Follow Me.” In Matthew 4:19, he states, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” This is the stage in which people take the step of actually becoming followers of Christ. It’s also the stage in which you may face the most danger of becoming stuck. Your initial enthusiasm can wane and complacency take over. We call this “The Wall.”

As you traverse past the wall, the third invitation becomes more personal: “Come and Be with Me.” Mark 3:14 states that Jesus appointed the twelve “that they might be with him.” Being becomes here more important that doing.

You might think that in this third stage, you’ve arrived at the most intimate time with Christ. But Jesus gives a fourth invitation. We find that in John 15:4, where he says, “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit in itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” The increased intimacy of being with Jesus leads to deeper surrender and fruit-bearing that comes from remaining deeply connected to Him.

“For us at Prairie City,” Matt stated, “it was really a God-gift to engage with Ascending Leaders and scripturally lay out this maturing process as we grow closer to God.”

Of course, not everyone wants to have their discipleship journey measured and given labels. As Peter Cammarano described, “We did get some pushback. People would say, ‘If you’re telling me I’m at stage 2, does that mean you’re putting me down? Is it an attempt to classify and contain me?’

“Well no. If you’re on a trail, and your goal is to get to the end of the trail, you probably want to figure out what challenges are going to be in front of you and how not to slide back. At the end of the day, don’t you feel good about getting to the next place?”

Mike concurred: “In my twenties, I did a lot of hiking in the Cascade mountains, and I learned that the best way to identify hikes is by the elevation gain. I actually did myself a favor by not trying to take on a hike that had too much elevation gain. If you think of the stages, think of it as elevation gains, you’re actually doing yourself a favor when you say, ‘Okay, I’m ready for this elevation gain but not for that one’ or, ‘Now I want something more challenging than a walk around a meadow.’”

“That would have been super-valuable information for me five years ago,” said Matt. “Because I kicked off this discipleship thing with small discipleship groups, and that’s like ‘stage 4 elevation gain.’ I got together some leaders who were interested in it, but with most of them, it just fell flat.”

Peter shared the story of when he joined some other church leaders on a three-day hike. The water had been rationed out over the three days.

“I remember that last day. We had only a mile left. But you couldn’t see very far, and it was really hard to know what your progress was. So, I had signaled for a break, and we drank the rest of the water. Some of the guys had given me some of their water; they were concerned that the pastor was not going to make it to the end of the trail. But here’s the one thing that made all the difference. The guy in charge of the hike said, ‘Peter, it’s x number of steps’ – I think it was something like 2500 steps in a mile.So I started counting each in my head, and after we made the mile, the guys said, “Pastor, that was the fastest mile you’ve ever done. What made a difference?”I said, “You told me how to measure my progress.”

Peter concluded,

What a powerful experience, to be able to be challenged. To be able to mark your progress, and then to experience the beauty of something that you’ve always had but now is new. Isn’t that essentially what we’re talking with discipleship?”

Hear the conversation between Matt, Peter and Mike in episode 1 of the Discipleship Podcast for Church Leaders.

Listen Here!

Virtual Learning for Discipling Staff and Pastors

“My personal goal right now is to be all in with going through the materials that are sent. Because it keeps it in front of me, because this is what I do for a living. Also, it’s valuable being able to hear everyone else’s comments. I write phrases and notes and go back and look at them. It helps me in ongoing conversations as I go about the week, using more of the language and more of the concepts, while talking to other leaders; and reading other books, it connects to what I’ve been learning in DiscipleOn.”

Are you all in for discipleship? Season 4 is Feb.-June, 2018

Register for the next Informational Webinar and discover if you’re ready for DiscipleOn!

December 06 at 2:00-2:45 p.m. CST

Episode 05: Moving Toward Sacrifice

Our Guest for this Episode – Greg Hawkins:

Greg Hawkins was on staff at Willow Creek for 22 years, and is the co-founder of REVEAL research. He’s the author of five books, including Move and More. He’s currently on staff at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, TX, working with Senior Minister Max Lucado.

His latest book, More, is the first book written from REVEAL research targeted to church attenders, not church leaders. It primarily details the journey from “Stage 3 to Stage 4,” using your language”.

Episode 04: Moving Toward Intimacy

Our Guests for this Episode – Julia Johnson and Richard Blackaby:

Julia Johnson has been Small Groups Director for over eight years at Grace Fellowship United Methodist Church at Katy, TX. Her goal is building Christ-centered communities to spur on spiritual growth. She has participated for two years in Ascending Leaders’ DiscipleOn! communities and is currently participating in the Catalytic Gathering hosted by Ascending Leaders. Her husband, Dan, is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Katy and they have four adult children.



Richard Blackaby is an author and international speaker on leadership and the Christian life. He is co-author of the revised edition of Experiencing GodHe has authored over 31 books, including Hearing God’s Voice, Unlimited God, Spiritual Leadership, and Living Out of the Overflow.

Episode 03: Moving Toward Belief

Our Guest for this Episode – Blair Lerner:

Blair has been committed to Christ’s mandate to make disciples throughout 33 years of ministry. He has served in the local church and as a missionary. He has devoted himself to becoming more effective in making disciples. Blair believes that “Ascending Leader training has helped our discipleship staff incorporate and plan a multiplying disciple making movement at our church.”


Congregational Impact from DiscipleOn Season 2

In a continuing effort to improve our support of discipleship in churches, we recently asked the members of DiscipleOn! to complete an end-of-season survey. Here’s just a sample of the congregational impact stories shared in the survey:

”Our staff and the discipleship team have a much greater understanding of how to review our programs and we seek to make our classes and programs cover all of the stages as a core planning tool.”

”It kept me focused on developing the spiritual pathway.”

”We were able to learn from the community and the vault about a team charter for our discipleship team – which was timely and wonderful for renewing the team’s commitment.”

We are also taking some of the feedback on where we can improve and making some important changes for next season. The biggest change is that we’re offering a “BASICS” community for people who are newer to the concepts of the stages of faith and a discipleship continuum approach. This group will have access to everything the other groups have, but will have a set series of topics for their monthly catalytic gatherings. Our desire is for this to address the needs of those who felt overwhelmed and unsure about where to start.

Our favorite takeaway from the survey?

100% of respondents agreed (or strongly agreed) that “I am likely to recommend DiscipleOn to others!”


A challenge to YOU, discipleship leaders…

Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend the live IF:Gathering in Austin, TX. If you’re unfamiliar with “IF:Gathering”, the short of it is that it’s a movement of women in the church, across the globe, to help each other live out God’s calling. This year’s conference focused on discipleship in the early church. I left with one clear message: the world isn’t going to be changed by books, events, or platforms. Transformation of the next generation happens on the living room floor, Bibles open. It happens when someone opens the door of their home over and over, with offers of coffee and maybe some chocolate chip cookies, and then God shows up at the doorway of their guests’ hearts. Jennie Allen (founder of IF) credits her mentor from her college years, who did just that, with the existence of IF:Gathering — which this year alone reached 2,200 live-stream locations around the world in over 120 countries. Jennie’s fear is that the relationships that fostered our generation’s spiritual growth and deeper love of Jesus will be missing for the next generation.

I couldn’t agree more that discipleship happens best in authentic communities of believers “doing life together”. I was challenged to look for more opportunities to “give what I’ve got, where I’m at.” What I want to add to that conversation is that the church, in all the various forms it can take, has a crucial role in nurturing those discipleship relationships. At every Ascending Leaders event, workshop, or webinar I’ve been a part of, I’ve been heartened by seeing church leaders who are earnest in doing that, and doing that better. These leaders…they CARE. They are all-in with this discipleship thing! And I know that after the workshop, after the event, they are in the trenches, tools in hand, covered in sweat and grime, building paths for disciples to move forward on. Rejoice in this! God is at work.

Now I have a challenge for you, leaders. If you’re feeling alone in this work, pause right now and find a community of fellow path-builders. Registration for DiscipleOn, our very own online learning community for discipleship leaders, is open through Monday (02/13/2017). It might not be the community for you. It may not be for you for right now. If that’s the case, keep looking and keep praying for God to bring you your tribe. If you think it might be your community for the next six months, you can:

  1. Join us for a live Q&A session this Thursday (register here).
  2. Watch the super-condensed recording of our “Inside Look at DiscipleOn”.
  3.  Register for DiscipleOn today.
  4. Do nothing and keep pressing forward alone.


I hope you’ll join us. DiscipleOn communities are full of those amazing church leaders I get to meet at our workshops, and I just know that you’d like them too!


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