Discipling for Genuine Life Change

“For 75 years I did it my way. For 75 years I walked away from God,” Bob confessed. “But, after 75 years God chased me down, because He loves me so much. So now I’m going to pursue Him and chase after Him.”

Bob shared this testimony with his discipleship group two years after his return to Jesus. God’s love had simply overwhelmed him as he began to spend time alone with God as a result of being in the group.

As Bob grew in Christ, God began to use him to help others. For example, when another man in the group was wrestling with how to parent his preteen stepdaughter, Bob offered encouragement and wisdom by sharing his experience in a blended family.

Now in his 80s, Bob is co-leading a discipleship group with a 31-year-old man. God has used this new group to heal a young man’s crumbling marriage. Now, instead of fighting over how to parent their teenage stepdaughter, this young man and his wife lock arms and work through it together.

Bob's story well illustrates the kind of life change men in David Petersen’s ministry have experienced—change that ripples through spiritual generations. David reports that two thirds of the men in his discipleship groups have gone on to lead a group with other men. He is seeing “significant spiritual reproduction” from his ministry, to the fourth generation.

The seeds of David’s passion for discipleship were sown soon after he trusted Christ as a freshman at the Naval Academy. Navigators there and at bases where he served invested in him. “The young man who led me to Christ spent the next six months teaching me how to have a quiet time, pray, and memorize Scripture,” he says. “All these men came alongside me and walked with me. They made a huge impact.”

Many years later, when David was back in civilian life in Pennsylvania, his interest in discipleship reawakened at a church retreat in 2003. He began to pray for a man to invest in, and God impressed someone on his heart. When David invited him into a discipling relationship, he eagerly accepted. Since then, David has been discipling men one-on-one and in groups of three to five men.

David Petersen “lives, eats, and breathes discipleship,” according to Navigator Church Ministries staff Mike Rohrer. Mike mentors David in creating a disciplemaking culture in his church. He longs to see discipleship go beyond being a program to become part of the fabric of the church’s life.

By day, David is a manager with a transportation company. As a men’s ministry leader in his church, he oversees a dozen discipling triads and quads and is training two other men to help. While continuing to lead groups in his church, he is expanding his ministry to help create a disciplemaking culture in several other congregations and a local rescue mission.

David has adopted the apostle Paul’s mission statement: “He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28 NIV).

“We have a lot of spiritual infants and children because no one has come alongside them on the journey,” David observes. That’s why he is passionate about the process of spiritual multiplication. “It’s going to take an army of men and women to come alongside other people and naturally, organically, and intentionally make disciples.”

What are some of the key lessons David has learned as his ministry has led to generations of disciples?

  • Start by asking God for two to three people. “Don’t rush the selection process,” he says. “God is not in a hurry.” He prays over whom to invite to each discipling group. He asks other church leaders to point out men who seem hungry to learn and grow. As God impresses men on his heart, he invites them to go on a journey for a year. “Think big, start small, go deep.”
  • Create an intimate, relational environment. He limits groups to three to five people of the same gender. “In a discipleship group guys can drop their guard and be real,” he explains.
  • Use an effective, relevant curriculum. David has used many discipleship tools, and he believes the best is the three-book series Every Man a Warrior, developed by Navigator Lonnie Berger. David sees it speak powerfully to men’s needs. Over and over, the combination of this material and the transparency, encouragement, and accountability a group of three to five men have dramatically changed people’s lives.
  • Keep it simple. Use processes and methods that will be easy for people to reproduce. One man generously bought dinner for his group, but he discovered that it hindered others from leading groups because they thought it was expected.
  • Find a mentor. Though he is an experienced disciplemaker, David still relies heavily on input from others. He currently has four mentors who speak into different areas of his life and ministry. “I couldn’t do this without other men in my life,” he says.

David continues to lead discipleship groups along with training others to lead. It energizes him to see life change—the Holy Spirit working in men’s lives, changing them and their families—through intentional disciplemaking.

“I’ve caught the discipleship bug,” he says. “Once you get it you never want to stop!”

Photo: Bob (far right) shares his insights with David Petersen (second from left) and others in the discipleship group.