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Spheres and Stages of Discipleship



“The percentage of Americans calling themselves “Christian” has fallen since  1990 from 86 percent to 76 percent. Twenty- five percent of those aged eighteen    and older have “no religious affiliation”; this number has doubled since those in this group were children. 
Only four percent of eighteen- to twenty- five-year-olds listed “becoming more spiritual” as their most important goal in life. 
Mark Silk,    professor of religion and public life at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, puts it bluntly: “The real dirty little secret of religiosity in America is that there    are so many people for whom spiritual interest, thinking about ultimate questions, is minimal.”[1]

            America, we have a problem! Our problem is the lack of discipleship. This paper will demonstrate that individualism; lack of commitment to discipleship in both, the members and the leaders and a liberal approach to the Scriptures are some of the main obstacles to discipleship. This paper will also demonstrate biblical and practical solutions to this problem by taking a closer look at the Five Stages and Four Spheres of Discipleship.

The Challenges of Discipleship in Todays Church

            With the rise of Neo-Evangelicalism[2] we now face an epidemic of private interpretations of Scripture in this country.[3] This is a major obstacle in the process of discipleship as one of the requirements of discipleship is to remain in God’s Word.[4]

            Another challenge of discipleship in America is individualism. According to Barna 52% of church leaders feel the most effective method of discipleship is for people do it on their own.[5] The same study showed that nine out of every ten Christians recognize that discipleship is important. However, when asked how do they prefer to be disciples, 16% answered one-on-one, 21% prefer mix of groups with one-on-one, 25% prefer a group, however, the clear majority, 37% prefer to be disciple on their own.[6]

            Putman & Harrington make it very clear that “…it is our job to take these people and help them move from spiritual immaturity to spiritual maturity.”[7] The emphasis here is that we must have in place a systematic and biblical plan to accomplish this task. However, Putman & Harrington also made it clear that “In reality, the responsibility for spiritual growth never rest on the disciple maker alone.”[8] There is a part that rest in the disciple maker, the disciple and God.[9]

The Five Stages of Discipleship

            Putman and Harrington give two very important tools in recognizing the spiritual level of people; 1) By their fruit[10] and 2) by their conversation.[11] He also made clear that maturity has nothing to do with the amount of time or involvement in the local church or responsibilities in the secular world or age.[12]

            Level 1 Spiritually Dead (Ephesian 2:1-5.) They are not born again; no expectations on this level; they are spiritually dead and in need of love and prayer. Level 2 Infant (First Peter 2:2-3) Spiritual infants have a significant lack of knowledge on the things that Jesus taught. They are in need of somebody who cares and feeds them the Word.

            Level 3 Child (1 John 2:12) Even as these children are growing, much of their spiritual life is focus on themselves. They need teaching on who they are in Christ and the importance of fellowship with other believers. Level 4 Young Adult (First John 2:13-14) Young adults are described as making a shift from focusing on themselves to focusing on Christ and others. They are beginning to understand serving-hood. They need a place where they can learn how to serve; they need a mentor or coach to help them respond to the expectations of the people they are serving.

            Level 5 Parent (Second Timothy 2:1-2) These are folks who are strong in grace and in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. They have a solid understanding of God’s Word and its application. They need assistance in delegating responsibility; peer accountability, continue training and, they need permission to develop people to maturity.[13]

The Four Spheres of Discipleship

            The word Sphere is defined as “An area of influence or activity.”[14] Putman and Harrington gave us these four spheres of discipleship out of the book of Ephesians.[15] We are not called to leave God out in neither one of these spheres; Putman and Harrington are very eloquent in establishing a clear theme that explains that we do not, in any aspect of our lives, neglect Jesus as our authority (Head), deny Jesus the power to transform us through his Commands (Heart) and dare to walk away from our God-given responsibility of joining Jesus an a Kingdom mission (Hands).[16]

            This model is the “what” in the midst of the “how”. It outlines how a disciple grows in four main spheres of life. Sphere 1: The Centrality of our Relationship with God. This is the most important, the core and the foundation of all our relationships. The first two chapters of Ephesians give us the Biblical foundation for this sphere. As we deal with the Head, is proper to ask, is this person has an active relationship with God? Heart: Are there visible changes happening in this person’s life? Is there any visible fruit? And Hands, Are they following Jesus and putting to practice what they are learning?

            Sphere 2: Relationship with God’s People, the Church. (Ephesians 4) Head, does the person I am teaching know what the Bible says about the importance of the church? Heart: Are they growing in their love for others in the church? Hands: Are they using their gifts to minister to others in need?[17]

            On the next sphere there is a shift that takes places. We now move from our relationship with God and our inner circle with the church, to our homes. Regarding Sphere 3: Relationship at Home, using Ephesians 5 and 6 as our biblical foundation, Putman and Harrington warned us; this sphere is vitally important because it is possible for people to grasp the concepts of the gospel in church, but fail to apply them in the home.”[18] This sphere is all about applications at home, how to be a dad, a mom, a wife, a husband and children as they relate to each other. [19]

            Finally, Sphere 4: Relationship with the world. (Ephesian 6) Here the emphasis is in our behaviors in our workplace and in the world in general. The world is, for sure, watching every move we make. There is already an expectation of morality and righteousness places on us by the world. “Paul makes it clear that when we are in the world, we represent Christ.”[20]

            It is important not to ignore that this is not an easy process; it is not a cakewalk. This process will indeed be challenge by Satan; there will be spiritual welfare involve.[21]


            The crucial importance of obedience can be seen through the history of the Ten Commandments. Deuteronomy 11:26-28 could be summarized by concluding that if we obey God we will be bless, but if we disobey him we will be curse.[22]

            As I look around at the condition of the church I must hold on to God’s Word. The Great Commission encourages us to 1) Go and reach out to all people, 2) teach Jesus’s commands and 3) teach the people how to follow them. There is one Scripture that summarizes everything for me; Jesus said, “…If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;” John 8:31 (KJV). I am to remain in His Word, not in my opinion, denominational ideas or personalities. If I remain in His Word, then I will know about my requirement to deny myself, to carry my cross, to to learn what Jesus commands, to teach others and follow HIM with no compromises.

            Through this paper, the problem was presented statistically. We saw the contradictions concerning discipleship; church leaders and members recognizing the need for it, however both groups assessment is that discipleship can be done individually. We took a closer look at the Five Stages and Four Spheres of Discipleship as biblical tools to spiritually assess our people and to help them into the next level. Finally, I took a sincere look at my own condition. The paper left me with a great deal of conviction, an overwhelming sense of the enormous territory that needs to be covered personally, in my own family and in my local church. Nevertheless, a great deal of hope and inspiration to start the journey of true discipleship.



Barna Group. The State of Discipleship: Research conducted among Christian adults, church leaders, exemplar discipleship ministries and Christian educators. Colorado Springs: The Navigators. 2015

Bonhoffer Dietrich. Discipleship. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2003

Evans, Frederick W. Jr.. Neo-Evangelicalism and its Impact on Missions. Middle East Resources.

Fairchild, Mary. Obedience to God, What Does the Bible Say About Obedience.

Putman, Jim & Harrington, Bobbie. Discipleshift: Five Steps to Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Male Disciples. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 2013

Sciacca, Fran. The Spiritual Landscape Has Change. NavPress. 2015

Swonger, Paul. Private Interpretation. Apostolic Apologetics.











[1]           Fran Sciacca, “The Spiritual Landscape Has Change”, NavPress, 2015

[2]           Frederick W. Evans, Jr., Neo-Evangelicalism and its Impact on Missions, Middle East Resources,

[3] Paul Swonger, Private Interpretation, Apostolic Apologetics,

[4] John 8:31

[5]           Barna Group, The State of Discipleship: Research conducted among Christian adults, church leaders, exemplar discipleship ministries and Christian educators, (Colorado Springs: The Navigators, 2015) 49

[6] Ibid., 44

[7]           Jim Putman & Bobbie Harrington, Discipleshift: Five Steps to Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Male Disciples, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), 55

[8] Ibid., 59

[9] Ibid., 59

[10] Matthew 7:16

[11] Luke 6:45

[12] Hebrews 5:12-14

[13]         Jim Putman & Bobbie Harrington, Discipleshift: Five Steps to Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Male Disciples, 55-71


[15]         Jim Putman & Bobbie Harrington, Discipleshift: Five Steps to Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Male Disciples, 85

[16] Ibid., 78

[17] Ibid., 84-87

[18]         Jim Putman & Bobbie Harrington, Discipleshift: Five Steps to Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Male Disciples, 87

[19] Ibid., 87-88

[20] Ibid., 88-89

[21] Ibid., 90-91

[22]         Mary Fairchild, Obedience to God, What Does the Bible Say About Obedience,

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