Discipling Versus Mentoring: Shaping Lives for Christ’s Kingdom

A few seasons ago, I found myself guiding a young mother in navigating the challenges of motherhood. She was a colleague and a friend, often voicing her worries about raising her daughter. I would listen, advise, suggest reading material, and pray with her. We talked about relationships, faith, and finding God’s plan for her life. This was mentoring, a practice many of us are familiar with. Mentoring is about sharing skills and knowledge to help another person navigate life’s various domains.

Fast forward to last autumn, a fresh college graduate, new to our town, approached me with a different request. She sought to be “discipled.” Intrigued, I invited her over to clarify what she meant. She shared her life story and spiritual journey, revealing her deep desire for spiritual growth. I felt an immediate connection, and after praying for a week, we both felt God’s affirmation to start this discipleship journey.

Mentoring and discipleship are relational, helpful, and typically one-on-one. However, discipleship is spiritual in nature, rooted in God’s word, and part of His divine design for spiritual growth. Here are three aspects that set discipleship apart from mentoring:

God’s Initiative Discipleship springs from obedience to Christ’s command in Matthew 28:19, “Go and make disciples.” It’s not our idea; it’s divine. Discipleship involves investing in others to help them become strong followers of Christ. It is a supernatural journey backed by God’s presence and power.

God’s Growth 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 reminds us that it is God who brings about spiritual growth. As disciple-makers, we plant and water the seed, aligning our efforts with the Holy Spirit’s work in the person’s life. We share Scripture and pray earnestly, fostering an atmosphere conducive to spiritual growth.

Purposeful Relationship Discipleship thrives on a platform of trust and vulnerability. We may not become best friends with those we disciple, but we build bridges of trust strong enough to bear the weight of truth. There’s a mutual commitment in discipleship, and as disciple-makers, we intentionally nourish spiritual growth. Discipleship, much like feeding children, requires adapting our guidance to the different stages of spiritual maturity, from ‘milk’ to ‘solid food,’ and eventually to ‘meat.’ The ultimate goal? To enable disciples to teach others (Hebrews 5:12).

While mentors offer advice and influence, disciple-makers invest intentionally in their disciples’ spiritual lives, sharing the Word, prayer, and life’s ups and downs. Disciple-making is an active partnership with God, who leads, supports, and brings about transformative growth. As Colossians 1:28 reminds us, our goal is to “present everyone fully mature in Christ.”

So, when considering a mentor-type relationship, it’s crucial to clarify the outcomes. Are you looking to mentor or disciple? Understanding this distinction empowers us to more effectively shape lives for God’s Kingdom.