Don’t tell me, show me! – the process of discipleship

Ken Blanchard, who spent years developing his famous Situational Leadership Model[1] and devoted his life to advising secular leaders on how to lead and grow healthy organisations. The leadership model he developed draws focusses on the required leadership style and approach based on the maturity of the followers.

Ken Blanchard came to Christ late in his life and found it remarkable to see how church leaders fail at this, especially since his model of leadership agrees so much with Jesus’ model for discipleship. [2]


He notes that church leaders tend to instruct (“say”) their members on how to live and what must be done, and then commission them to do it (“send”).  But – as we see everywhere – the cognitive download in itself rarely leads to fruitful life transformation of these members, not even mentioning a lack of societal reform.  This class-room approach rarely ever works.  He explains that church leaders frequently make the mistake to assume that after instruction, a disciple has both the ability and confidence to execute what has been instructed.

Ken Blanchard illustrates how Jesus’ model of discipleship – which mirrors his own model – equips the disciple with the necessary knowledge, skill and experience to ensure that both the disciple and his leader are confident in the capacity and confident to do what is required.

Therefore, after instruction, a disciple needs to observe (“see”) in practice what he has been taught, then have the freedom to try what is being taught in a safe coaching (“support”) environment, before being commissioned (“send”) to live it out, as illustrated in the adapted model below.


Even a cursory reading of the Gospels reveal how Jesus discipled his followers along this model: a period of primarily instruction as in Luke 5-8 (“say”), where after His disciples were “with Him” (Mark 3:14) to see his life example and ministry (“show”).  After this Jesus sent out his disciples on short term mission outreaches, with coaching and feedback as in Luke 9-10 (“support”), and eventually he commissioning them in Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15-20 (“send”). The Great Commission only happened after the disciples had proper instruction, a period of observation, and ample time to gain confidence in participation under the guidance and coaching of Jesus.

This Great Commission of Christ also implies this model of discipleship when He said “make disciples” through conversion (“baptizing”), instruction (“teaching”) and training, as the command states (“teaching them [how] to obey my commands”); the focus is on training and coaching more than instruction. Leaders should not merely relay the commands of Christ, but rather teach them how to obey Jesus’ commands.

This model is extremely important. Whether you instruct a disciple in devotional disciplines (such as Bible study, prayer and fasting, witnessing and discipling), skills (such as teamwork, teaching and preaching, healing and deliverance, conflict resolution), or character (such as integrity, compassion, kindness, humility, self-control), the process of discipleship is the same.

To enable a disciple to fully grow in the imitation of Christ, the teacher needs to say what must be done, be shown what that looks like in practice, be supported in participation, and only then be sent to do it in confidence.


[1] Blanchard K., (Ed) Segil L., Goldsmith M., and Belasco J.A., Partnering: The New Face of Leadership, (New York: AMACOM, 2003), p59-71.

[2] Lecture relayed by Randy Pope during a “Discovery Bible School” of Perimeter Church, 2010 found online.

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