Spiritual Stages in Disciple-Making Part 6: Spiritual Parents

This is the final post in our 6 part series on spiritual stages. Please also see Part 1, Part 2 Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5. Today Ashley Chesnut concludes this series as she talks about spiritual parents.

As we discussed stages of spiritual growth in our most recent women’s small group leader training, one of the ladies asked whether or not you have to be a spiritual parent to lead a small group. What do you think?

My answer? You’re not a parent until you have a child.

Now, there’s a big difference between someone who has been a parent for 10+ years than someone who has only been a parent for 10 days or 10 weeks. Also, there are parents who babysat, had younger siblings that they cared for, etc., which better prepared them for parenting. But even such prior experiences do not necessarily dictate whether or not someone will be a good parent. They help just as allowing a spiritual child or a spiritual young adult to slowly take on more responsibility and to serve in various capacities with supervision can help them become better spiritual parents. But if you did not have such experiences, do not despair or let the enemy tell you that you cannot parent well! You have the Spirit of God empowering you, the Word of God to teach you, and the people of God to walk alongside you.

Spiritual Parents

  • They are characterized by intentionality, reproducibility, and strategy.
  • They are self-feeding, mission-minded, recognize the importance of church membership/the local church, are making disciples, and are dependable.
  • They look for ways to help those around them to grow. They may disciples who make disciples.


How do you know whom to parent?

I often hear this question as people learn more about discipleship and want to be faithful but don’t know where to start or who to start with. My first bit of counsel is to pray. Pray for God to open your eyes to whom He wants you to invest in. Pray for wisdom and discernment as you move forward (trust me, you’ll need it!). As you pray, here’s a few things to look for in potential mentees:

  • Availability – Who is around you? Who is already in your sphere of influence whom you could disciple? As you try to meet with the person, do you both keep running into calendaring issues? If you’re 2-3 months in and y’all still can’t find a time to meet, this may not be the person whom you’re supposed to disciple at the moment.
  • Who desires to grow? – Looking at the people around you, who is hungry to grow spiritually? This may or may not be immediately obvious. Sometimes it takes having a couple of conversations with people to find out where they are spiritually. Other times, they exude a spiritual sponge mentality where it is obvious that they want to learn and to grow.
  • Are they teachable? – Some people may want to learn information and amass knowledge, but they aren’t teachable. Is the person willing to apply truth to their life? Are they willing to change? Are they submitted to the Lordship of Christ and willing to yield to Him? Sometimes it is a process of walking alongside someone for them to get to this point, but look for teachability.
  • Spirit’s Leading – Who is God directing you to disciple? Sometimes it is not the person you would think or even someone whom you gel with. I’m sure that Peter or Levi weren’t what folks in Jesus’ day would have considered prime pickings. But Christ saw their potential. He saw who they could be after spending time with Him. Do we see the potential in people, who they could be as Christ transforms them and as God’s people walk alongside them?


Parents aren’t perfect.

Spiritual parents do not have all the answers. They, like regular parents, will make mistakes. They’ll sin. They’ll wish they could go back and do things differently. They’ll look at their early days of parenting and (A) see how much they’ve grown and (B) pray that God works despite their faults in their early parenting attempts. You will face struggles as you parent. You will need to confess sin. You will need to pray for wisdom. And you need to pray for your spiritual children!

Also, even spiritual parents have parents. If you are investing in someone else, you need accountability. You need someone with whom you can share, who can encourage you, and who can help you continue to grow. My mom is this person for me. When I have questions or need to talk through a situation that is going on with one of my girls, I know that I can call my mom. She will pray for me, and she can spot blind spots in me as well as provide wise counsel and point me to Scripture. There’s always more that I need to learn, and God teaches me through my girls as well as through my own mother.

To encourage you (especially if you’re reading this and thinking “I could never do this!”), discipling my college girls has been the most time-consuming and challenging thing I have ever done. But God has rigged this whole discipleship process to be the greatest source of encouragement and the largest catalyst for spiritual growth in my own life. I am amazed at how richly God has blessed me by putting such precious girls in my life. Parenting them has been messy and exhausting, but as I look back and think of the directions my life could have taken, I am so thankful that His path for me included them.

Ashley ChesnutAshley Chesnut lives in Birmingham, Alabama, and works on the Local Disciple-Making Team at The The Church at Brook Hills. Having grown up in college ministry, Ashley has a passion for discipling college girls and for writing and teaching others about God’s Word. Check out more about discipleship and women’s ministry at the Brook Hills Women’s Blog.



Other Resources:

Transformational Discipleship

Growing True Disciples – Barna

Growing Disciples Series


  1. Amy says

    I have been keeping up with these 6 stages of discipleship you’ve so carefully written about. As I read, I couldn’t help but feel increasingly uncomfortable. Soon I realized why. I left the church because of this whole approach. I can appreciate logical thinking and organizing thought into a structured blueprint for recognizing progress etc. I too am personality A type. But these stages are simply not the way Jesus Christ works. He didn’t take in new disciples and watch them for 6 stages of growth before he was assured they would be good leaders. We also, as a church family cannot deny people leadership because we aren’t sure they’ve become strong “parents”. That’s incredibly judgmental.
    Some people in life are young and inexperienced in many ways, yet make great parents, raising great kids. To advocate a process in which people fit into neat slots doesn’t take into account the imperfection, sin and the messiness that is being human. This attitude makes people feel judged, scrutinized and as though perfection must to met and maintained.
    You’re a great technical writer and I do see some of your points, just please be careful with this hierarchy of spiritual stages because it doesn’t feel very good to be judged by man.


  2. Ashley Chesnut says

    Thank you for your response, Amy. You’re right about people not fitting into neat little boxes. The point of identifying spiritual stages is more about giving us handles to hold onto, concrete ways of identifying where people are in order to come alongside and to help others move/grow in their relationship with God. They’re not meant to limit what a person can or cannot do in the church, and I apologize if it came across that way. We do have to be careful about not being legalistic with things such as spiritual stages. They’re tools that are meant to aid us not to hinder. Jesus focused on developing the Twelve, and He did so in relationship with them. He walked with them (Mk. 3:14), taught them truth, served with them, sent them out to serve, debriefed with them – all to prepare and to grow them. When Jesus called Peter and Andrew, He said to them, “‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men'” (Matt. 4:19). He invited them into relationship with Himself and promised to transform them (“I will make you”) for ministry (“fishers of men”). He discerned where they were and dedicated three years to helping them become fishers of men. It wasn’t neat and clean with the Twelve because they were sinful men, and it won’t be neat and clean with the people in our lives because we’re sinful people. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Amy, and for helping communicate this point more clearly.

    • Amy says

      Thank you for your response Ashley. This discussion of spiritual growth would be a very hard subject to write about. You did a great job describing the signs of growth. My concern is mostly for the people reading this who will take it and pronounce themselves a “parent” and head off to fix everyone. Maybe my mental tangle is that Jesus is the only fit “parent” we have. I’m not sure any of us can be truly qualified “parents” or should be. We all express ourselves in many ways and even spiritually mature individuals get excited or ask questions now and again. As a child of God, I believe we are here to encourage and love our fellow man. Live our lives in ways that we can be proud of and recognize that the person we think are spiritually dead, may be closer to God than ourselves. We must not get too smug. ;).

      I love what you said about taking a REAL interest in people. I’m a firm believer in this. You need to be interested in the person, not just their spiritual fate. I’ve had people who felt obligated to tell me their spill etc but there was definitely no real interest in me and my life. This doesn’t work. I don’t understand why people do this. It seems to even push people further from that good place they were headed. It truly is about love. If your not interested in someone or can tell you don’t have chemistry or understand their life, just be kind and pray for them. Gotta know when to let go, let God right? :)

      I also loved your point about dealing with the big issues and letting the small stuff go. The details of it all can be daunting even for a seasoned Christian.

      Anyway, maybe that was your point all along and my brain just didn’t digest it right due to my past circumstances. I in no way want to hinder anyone from their journey to “better”, whatever that is.

  3. Chris Adams says

    Thank you BOTH for your comments and interaction. It’s so helpful to discuss these issues and share from our hearts!

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