Spheres and Stages of Discipleship


New converts to Christianity are not being taught properly in how to become disciples. When they come to Christ, many are left alone to learn the ways of the Lord and what God expects from his followers. The purpose of this paper is to summarize the five stages and four spheres of discipleship. I will identify what spheres relate to the centrality of Christ based on Bonhoeffer’s call to the cross. I will conclude the paper with a summary of what it means to be walking and submitting to Jesus Christ.

The Five Stages of Discipleship

The “Five Stages of Discipleship” is a path of progress carrying the mentee into the direction of spiritual maturity. Stage One: Spiritually Dead, describes a person as defined by Ephesians 2:1-5. According to Putman et al., “these people are dead in their transgressions and sins.”[1] Putman et al. also wrote, “People in this stage have not yet accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior. They may reject God, they may be seeking God, they may call themselves spiritual, they may even claim to know God or call themselves Christians, but there is no true fruit in their lives. They may claim to know Jesus, but they do not have the Holy Spirit living in them.”[2] For the disciple to help these people, they must reach out in love and create honest friendships. We are to answer their questions and help them come to an understanding of their unbelief in love and prayer.

Stage Two: Infant, describes people who are new in Christ. Putman et al. referenced in Peter 2:2-3, as “newborn babies craving spiritual milk so they can grow in their salvation.  People in this stage are spiritually alive by deciding to follow Christ, but unfortunately, this is as far as they have gotten in their spiritual walk.”[3] According to Putman et al., “The key concept is that infants don’t know much. They don’t understand yet what it means to follow Jesus. They aren’t aware of the ways in which they need to change.”[4]

Stage Three: Child, describes people who are growing through the leadership of their pastor or teacher. Putman et al. states, “they are beginning to grow in relationships with other Christians as well. They are beginning to apply God’s Word in their lives and are walking with other growing disciples in their spiritual journey.”[5] In contrast, a child may have been a Christian for many years or can be a person who recently came to Christ. The key concept is Christ needs to be taught to people in this stage, to trust God and be obedient to him. According to Putman et al., “They need to learn to trust God in obedience, doing what the Word says rather than what their feelings tell them to do. As they grow, their lives will become more and more about God. They will learn to do the right things for the right reasons. And they will learn what it means to have a servant’s heart, rather than one that is self-centered.”[6]

Stage Four: Young Adult, emphasizes John 2:13-14, which describes people who are spiritually young adults. This stage does not mean literally that they are young adults, but could encompass any age range and the spiritual maturity of the person. Young adults are involved in ministry to others and are grounded in the Word of God. They are Christ centered in their thinking and actions. They put others first as they attempt to carry out the Great Commission. According to Putman et al., “They need deep, ongoing relationships with people who offer encouragement and accountability. They also need help in determining their gifts.”[7]

Stage Five: Parent is the highest goal and stage to achieve. In this stage, the Christian is now considered a teaching disciple. Spiritually mature people make disciples and are strong in Jesus Christ. They have grown to the point that they can now teach others how to be disciples.

The Four Spheres of Discipleship

There are four spheres of Discipleship. The first sphere is the most important sphere as it is the Centrality of a Relationship with God. Putman et al. referenced the first two chapters of Ephesians as the support for this sphere, which is our relationship with God. This is the hub that holds it all together and unites all the spheres together. Without having a personal relationship with Jesus, all the other spheres are in vain. Putman et al. emphasize the head, heart, and hands in three questions. Does the person who is being discipled have a personal relationship with Christ? Has his or her heart been changed? Does his or her life have evidence of change? Are these people willing to go where Christ is leading them?

The second sphere is Relationships within the Family of God, the Church. Putman et al wrote, “Does the person I am discipling know what the Bible teaches about the church and the importance of his or her relationships with other believers? Are they growing in their love for others in the body of Christ? Are they using their skills to minister to others?”[8]

The third sphere is Relationships at Home. This third sphere deals with the relationship of the family and how we can minister to our own families. Paul addresses this in Ephesians 5 and 6. Paul discusses how the husband is to lead his wife and love her, how a wife should respect her husband, how parents are to raise their children, and how children are to obey their parents.[9]

The last sphere is Relationships with the World. As Putman et al. suggests, Paul addresses how believers are to act in the world. We are to interact with unbelievers in love by living our lives like Christ. We are to be missionaries within our own towns and cities. Putman et al wrote, “He teaches disciples to be ethical and consistent and to live in such a way that even if someone does accuse them of doing wrong, the unbelievers will see their good deeds and glorify God.”[10]

What Stage of Discipleship am I in?

The stage of discipleship that I am currently in is a hybrid between a Young Adult and a Parent. I feel a call of God that I just cannot shake. I go to bed thinking about the Lord and I wake up thinking about the Lord. As Putman, et al. had mentioned John 2:13-14, I feel that I have overcome the Evil One and the Word of God does abide in me. I have seen real change in my life, my heart, and my speech. I am involved in ministering to others and have a zeal, energy, and joy as I serve Jesus through my ministry. I also believe that I am in the Parent Stage. I seek to make disciples and mentor those who are in process of growing in Christ.

Sphere Relating to the Centrality of Christ

The main sphere relating to the centrality of Christ would be the first sphere, The Centrality of a Relationship with God. This is the hinge pin that holds all the spheres together. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s call to the cross suggests that disciples will recognize their cross in communion with Christ when they begin to follow the suffering Lord.[11]  Bonhoeffer wrote, “Thus, suffering becomes the identifying mark of a follower of Christ. The disciple is not above the teacher. Discipleship is passio passive (passive suffering), having to suffer. That is why Luther could count suffering among the marks of the true church.”[12] Bonhoeffer mentions the Augsburg Confession. He wrote, “Those who do not want to take up their cross, who do not want to give their lives in suffering and being rejected by people, lose their community with Christ. They are not disciples. But those who lose their lives in discipleship, in bearing the cross, will find life again in following the community of the cross with Christ. The opposite of discipleship is being ashamed of Christ, being ashamed of the cross, being scandalized by the cross.”[13] Without Christ in the center, there is no discipleship.

What Does It Mean to be in Submission to Christ?

A Christian who is in full submission to Christ is a person who loves God will all their heart, soul, and mind. Bonhoeffer wrote, “Everyone enters discipleship alone, but no one remains alone in discipleship. … The promise for those who follow Christ is that they will become members of the community of the cross, they will be people of the mediator, people under the cross.”[14] By submitting to Christ, one is accepting the fact that he or she must bear their own cross alone, and yet in community with other followers of Christ. He or she is responsible for their own salvation and walk with Christ. No one can do it for you.

According to Rod Dempsey, “The church exists to spread the gospel and develop the believer to the point where they become missionaries of the movement.”[15] What is the goal of a missionary? According to Dave Earley, “It is to help people be saved. Yes, they may serve them, feed them, clothe them, doctor them, and/or teach them; but it all is with greater purpose of helping them be saved.”[16] Being in submission to Christ is going all in for him. Not only are we to love God with all our hearts, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves as in Matt. 22:36-40. We are then to apply the Great Commission as in Matt. 28:16-20. When we place other’s needs above our own and can also share our faith, then that is what it means to be a disciple of Christ. That is when we are in submission to Christ. Don Howell wrote that disciples are leaders in training. Howell wrote, “Greatness in God’s kingdom consists in imitating the Son of man who came not to be served, but to serve.”[17] That is what we all should strive to do.


In conclusion, the five stages and four spheres of discipleship were described and discussed. The centrality of Christ was discussed using Bonhoeffer’s call to the cross. I discovered I am a hybrid of Young Adult and Parent in the Discipleship process. I have shown what it takes to be in submission to Christ. It is my hope that I will be able to help new converts who come to Christ to become strong in their walk with the Lord through mentoring and setting an example of my own life to them. This study has moved me and I have come to realize my full potential in making disciples who make disciples.


Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 4. Minneapolis, MN: First Fortress Press, 2003.

Earley, Dave, and David Wheeler. Evangelism Is…: How to Share Jesus with Passion and Confidence. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2010.

Earley, Dave, and Rod Dempsey. Disciple Making Is… How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2013.

Howell, Jr., Don N. Servants of the Servant: A Biblical Theology of Leadership. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2003.

Putman, Jim, Bobby Harrington, and Robert E Coleman. Disciple Shift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013.

Sproul, R C. The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version. Edited by R C Sproul. Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2015.


[1] Jim Putman, Bobby Harrington, and Robert E. Coleman, DiscipleShift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013) 61.

[2] Putman, DiscipleShift, 61.

[3] Putman, DiscipleShift, 63.

[4] Putman, DiscipleShift, 64.

[5] Putman, DiscipleShift, 65.

[6] Putman, DiscipleShift, 67.

[7] Putman, DiscipleShift, 69.

[8] Putman, DiscipleShift, 87.

[9] Putman, DiscipleShift, 87.

[10] Putman, DiscipleShift, 89.

[11] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 4 (Minneapolis: First Fortress Press, 2003) 89.

[12] Bonhoeffer,  Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, 89.

[13] Bonhoeffer,  Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, 89.

[14] Bonhoeffer,  Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, 99.

[15] Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey, Disciple Making Is…: How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2013) 42.

[16] Dave Earley and David Wheeler, Evangelism Is…: How to Share Jesus with Passion and Confidence (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010), 102.

[17] Don N. Howell, Jr., Servants of the Servant: A Biblical Theology of Leadership (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2003), 189.

Submitted to Dr. Morris Baker In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the completion of DSMN500-D03 Discipleship Ministries, Liberty University School of Divinity, April 15, 2018. This paper is the property of Joseph T.Lee and may not be copied or republished without permission. Copyright © April 16, 2018. The Lantern & Shield Times LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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