“When I return to my hometown I often meet someone who says, “I’ll never forget your dad. He taught me to play baseball.” My father coached in the recreation league for nearly twenty years. Several of his players played professionally, including two of my brothers. (Watching one of them pitch a scoreless inning in the World Series is still one of the highlights of my life.) Ironically, “Pap” was never a star himself. Most of his short career was spent in the minor leagues during the Depression, struggling to find a place in the starting rotation. But he loved the game. He died several years ago but his legacy lives on, immortalized by a small plaque at one of the city parks and through the lives of countless boys who played on one of his teams.”
“He coached at a time when some fathers were unavailable, so he became a surrogate dad to my friends, instilling skills on the field and discipline in the dugout. But there was something else. After the games the team would sometimes show up at our house for a meal. He would move from player to player replaying the game as he rubbed heads and offered words of encouragement. My father never achieved what many would call success, working hard all his life with few tangible results. But when I bump into one of his former players, I’m amazed at the impact of his life.”
“Nearly everyone I know has had a similar experience. For some it was a teacher who influenced their lives, others followed the lead of a drama coach, for some a music instructor or close relative helped to shape their formative years. Many young people had a coach similar to my dad, someone who taught them more than game strategies and mechanics. These people who influence and strategically shape the lives of others can be called Life Coaches. The most successful instill more than training and discipline, they impart their very lives to others. Of course, the best Life Coach of all is a caring parent. Moses admonished the parents of Israel to teach the laws of God to their children as they went about the routines of life. It was in the course of ordinary activities that lives were changed.”
The WDA Life Coaching Manual:
“It’s uncertain exactly how the term “Life Coach” became part of the popular vernacular, but the concept describes a person who is able to provide guidance, insight, and experience to others who are striving to succeed at various endeavors. Used in the business world it refers to someone able to help others become profitable in commercial ventures. In athletics, it’s a person who prescribes workout routines to maximize physical strength and prowess. Used in a more general sense, it means anyone skilled at helping others remain focused and goal-driven. Sometimes a Life Coach can be someone the ‘disciple’ has never actually met face-to-face. In these cases, the insights are gleaned from books and tapes or by attending conferences.”
“But [the WDA Life Coaching Manual] is about a different kind of Life Coach. It’s about Christian leaders who are willing to invest their knowledge and experience and even their very lives so that others might deepen their spirituality and relationship with God. A spiritual Life Coach is a person who, in the midst of a caring relationship, imparts truth that changes the life (conduct/character) of another, gradually helping the disciple become more like Jesus Christ. In WDA, we often use the phrase, ‘meeting people where they are and helping them take the next step®’ to describe the life-coaching process. Those who are helped may not fully realize it until later, but they’re forever impacted by the life and example of these leaders. It was Jesus who said ‘but everyone [disciple], after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.'(NAS) Used in this way, there’s another term that can be substituted for ‘Life Coaching,’ ‘disciple building.'”
How have people invested in your life? Take some time to write a comment and share the ways God has used people to impact you.
Many people search a long time for a place or a group where they belong. Part of the challenge of following Christ is that He calls us to make Him the first priority in our lives. This can mean a loss of friendships or even conflict between others who do not understand or like our new found “Christianity.” Some of us have belonged to churches but have not found the type of close knit “community” we were hoping for. This discouragement can lead to us not seeking to belong to a fellowship of believers.
There are others who have found the most intimate relationships with believers as they gather in small groups. New groups called Gospel or Missional Communities provide a place for not just Life Coaching and Discipleship, but also situations that provide ministry experiences and opportunities to reach out to neighborhoods and communities. Some people have found great benefit to gatherings of large numbers, where worship celebrations give energy and encouragement and notable preaching and teaching happens to many people. Contrasting this large dynamic environment we see small community based churches provide close knit relational ministry where no one is a stranger.
There are different reasons for each organization and group, and each also have benefits and challenges. But whether you like big, small, city, country, monolithic or transcultural, God has no other plan than using the church to build disciples.
Why does God choose to use the “church”? Just how does Jesus continue His ministry through what seems to be such a disorganized and fractured institution?
Jesus knew that we would be here today! He prayed for us as well as His disciples in his last meal with them before He went to the cross.
17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
20 I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:16-21)ESV
Ministries such as WDA serve the church worldwide to build Christlike character and teach those men and women to do the same, following a process and plan we see Jesus doing in His ministry.
“Jesus had a plan for building mature leaders. He equipped them, addressed the obstacles that hindered their growth, and commissioned them to do the same for others. But we need to remember that these leaders fulfilled His commission by planting churches. Disciple building that produces maturity takes place in the church. The Church is God’s Plan A. There is no Plan B.
This doesn’t mean that parachurch organizations such as WDA aren’t strategic in disciple building efforts. Seminaries, Bible schools, and denominational and interdenominational missions are of vital importance. Most scholars believe these are part of the Church as ex- tensions of local churches or coalitions of churches, and we agree. But we also believe maturity occurs best in spiritual community, overseen by skilled leaders. For this reason, local churches must be mobilized and equipped to help people grow to maturity.” [Maturity Matters by Bob Dukes, p118.]
Read more about how God uses the church in building Christlike maturity in believers.
“Most current approaches for helping Christians grow to maturity aren’t working. Many church leaders realize something is wrong but don’t know how to correct the problem. A shift may have started, but old traditions persist. Alister McGrath recognizes that we need a better strategy.
Evangelicals have done a superb job of evangelizing people, bringing them to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, but they are failing to provide believers with approaches to living that keep them going and growing in spiritual relationship with Him… Many start the life of faith with great enthusiasm, only to discover themselves in difficulty shortly afterward. Their high hopes and good intentions seem to fade away. People need support to keep them going when enthusiasm fades. 
I’m convinced that most church leaders are sincere, zealous followers of Christ, committed to helping people grow in Him. They’ve given their lives to Christ and His agenda. The problem doesn’t lie with their passion for God. Instead, it comes from their failure to have a strategic plan that produces maturity and has a practical use in their church.
We need a new approach, a new perspective. Any new approach requires a new way of thinking. And that’s a challenge in itself. It also requires biblical balance because the growth process involves both mystery and method. God’s in charge, but He expects us to do our part.” [From Maturity Matters]
Jesus Christ was the ultimate Life Coach. In the Gospel of John, He offers this promise: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (NAS) The Great Commission given to His disciples in Matthew 28:18-20 is both a command and invitation to join Him on one of the greatest adventures in life: building disciples. Spiritual Life Coaching involves “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.”(NAS) There are two implications to this command that often escape our notice.
Teaching should be comprehensive.
The first is that the teaching should be comprehensive. We are to teach everything, not just the familiar principles or the introductory concepts. Spiritual Life Coaches must ask the question: “Is my coaching part of a larger, comprehensive plan to teach the whole curriculum of Christ?”
“We should help the people we are teaching to actually obey the truth.”
The second implication is that we should help the people we are teaching to actually obey the truth. I like to call this doing truth versus just knowing truth. There is a clear biblical priority to evangelize the nations and plant churches, but we must not forget that the Great Commission includes helping Christ’s followers become “conformed to the likeness of His Son [Christ].” Our spiritual Life Coaching must be intensive and intentional enough to transform lives.
But any parent can tell you this is easier said than done. Teaching others to ‘do’ truth is a complex process that involves the changing of motives, values, and worldview. It also hopes to develop a walk of faith, teaching people how to trust God. This type of training cannot be accomplished in a classroom alone. It must be worked out in the context of real life experiences. Some of the concepts, such as how to develop and demonstrate mature love, are not simple. This is why spiritual Life Coaches are critical to the process. It’s only in the context of a close relationship (where there is encouragement, accountability, prayer, and teaching) that this type of transformation can effectively occur.
The importance of the example and teaching of a spiritual Life Coach cannot be overstated. Paul admonished Timothy to follow him as he followed Christ. In another place the instruction was for Timothy to follow the “pattern of sound teaching” that Paul had taught. Timothy learned these truths from Paul in the context of close relationships. II Timothy 2:2 states, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (NAS) Jesus, after washing His disciples feet as a model of Christian love and leadership, urged them, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (emphasis mine).
We who build disciples should be encouraged by the importance God places on the Life Coaching process. The Scriptures remind us that anyone who aspires to the office of overseer has an honorable, noble role in the Kingdom. But we should also be sobered by the responsible role God expects us to play. Paul warns the Corinthian church that “each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Paul goes on to explain that we can either build by using temporal materials or eternal materials, but there will be a Day when we must give an account for our work of building up others.
In order to be effective disciple builders, we must realize that God is the author and finisher of the process of sanctification. Paul states, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.” (NAS) In another place Paul asserts that “He who began a good work in you will perfect [complete] it until the Day of Christ Jesus.” (NAS) Spiritual Life Coaches can take heart that God will sovereignly oversee the process.
The role of spiritual Life Coaching is only one part of the disciple building process. For years there has been a debate in disciple building circles about what is the best forum for helping people grow spiritually. The advocates of small groups can list examples of people whose lives have been changed by the intimacy and accountability of this arrangement, while the proponents of one-to-one discipleship (Life Coaching) cite the advantages of this format. Others extol the merits of teaching and preaching, or the benefits of being well-read. Some point out the importance of putting disciples into ministry situations as the best way to facilitate growth and development. The spiritual disciplines such as fasting, solitude, or personal devotions are mentioned by many as being especially beneficial in spiritual formation.
All of these forms constitute healthy approaches to spiritual development. All should be included as part of a disciple building program. Each format has certain advantages and certain limitations. It is valuable to note that Jesus used all of these forms as part of His disciple building training. Because the local church has all of these structures (e.g. small groups, teaching, preaching, etc.), it is the best location for making and training disciples if the structures are utilized strategically. Within the church there is a unique role for a well-equipped Life Coach. This person is able to “meet people where they are, and help them take the next step®.”
If disciple building is the overall process in which more mature believers assist younger believers as they grow, then spiritual Life Coaching is the “one-to-one” part of the process. A Life Coach is able to help a disciple integrate and incorporate all the other growth processes into a unified whole. The Life Coach is responsible for tracking and overseeing the progress of the individual believers entrusted to his care. This individual encouragement and accountability is invaluable. As we will see later, this is best accomplished when the Life Coach works in concert with a team of others in a ministry context. One of the purposes of this manual is to offer assistance and coaching skills to help make the task of Life Coaching more manageable and successful.
Where have you seen a “one-on-one” or Life Coaching process have an impact on others? Have you ever considered learning how to be life coach?
WDA Life Coaching Manual will train leaders to coach others as Spiritual Life Coaches. If you are a Discipleship Professional or Leader, you can use the WDA Life Coaching Manual to train a team of Life Coaches for you church.
Not long ago, I had coffee with an old acquaintance. It had been years since we’d seen each other. We first met while our children were active in the same church youth group. We co-hosted sleepovers, car-pooled to retreats, and even co-vacuumed popcorn from the youth room carpet. As he sipped a latte, he reminisced, “Those were fun times, but now that the kids are grown, I’ve stopped going to church.”
Sensing my confusion, he went on to say that after decades of faithful attendance, he wasn’t leaving a particular church. Instead, he was leaving church altogether.
“I’m sure it’s great for some people, but it never worked for me. It seemed like all the church leaders wanted me to do was show up, pay up, and shut up.” He added, “I’m tired of playing that game.”
The sad truth? He’s not alone. Recent surveys reveal that most churches are either losing members or membership is not keeping pace with population growth.  As my friend put it, “Those church leaders never really cared about my family or me. They just wanted me to care about them, their programs, their agendas, their budgets, and their building campaigns. Now, many of those buildings are sitting empty.”
I understand his frustration and confusion, but I disagree with my friend’s conclusion. I meet often with church leaders from a variety of traditions. Most show deep concern for their flocks and agonize over the best ways to address needs. The current problems stem not from lack of concern or commitment. The underlying issue is about a lack of discipleship. According to one survey among reformed and evangelical pastors, eighty-one percent said there was “no regular discipleship program or effective effort of mentoring their people or teaching them to deepen their Christian formation at their church.” 
Today’s church leaders know how to teach the Scriptures, but they often don’t know how to help people like my friend grow to maturity. Unfortunately, immature people are self-centered. They can only see the world from their own narrow perspective. They fail to see the challenges and obstacles others face. And when things don’t go their way, they take their Bibles and go to another church—or, like my friend, stay home.
And sadly, church leaders often give up hope of seeing parishioners grow to maturity. John Ortberg tells the story of a church member who exhibited immature behavior most of his adult life. “He was once a cranky young guy, and he grew up to be a cranky old man. But even more troubling than his lack of change was the fact that nobody was surprised by it. It was as if everyone simply expected that his soul would remain withered and sour year after year, decade after decade. No one seemed bothered by the condition. It was not an anomaly that caused head-scratching bewilderment. No church consultants were called in. No emergency meetings were held to probe the case of this person who followed the church’s general guidelines for spiritual life and yet was nontransformed.” 
As we mature, we are transformed. We develop the capacity to see others’ needs and display the courage and wisdom to help them—even if it means sacrifice and suffering. God demonstrated this type of love for us, and it’s also what He expects from us.
Jesus summed it up by saying, “This is My command: love each other” (John 15:17). And later, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Even among Christians, that sort of love is hard to find.
In his enduring passage on the superiority of love, the Apostle Paul links the capacity to love others to an adult (mature) perspective:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self- seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It al- ways protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres… When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man [mature], I put the ways of childhood behind me” (1 Corinthians 13:4- 7, 11).
The Scriptures clearly teach that believers need to be trained and equipped to grow up—to become more and more like Christ and able to love as He loved. Paul urged young Timothy and the other leaders in Ephesus to keep this in mind as they discipled their fellow believers:
“As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work— which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:3-5).
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-15, emphases added)
My friend’s been a Christian since high school, but he still needs to grow to maturity. If he does, he’ll develop a better understanding of how the kingdom of God functions. He’ll recognize his need to remain committed to and involved with a community of believers.
As we address the matter of immaturity in the church, more believers will grow in the faith and knowledge of God. And as the church becomes filled with mature Christ-followers, we’ll do a better job of addressing the issues in the surrounding culture. After all, Christians are “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14) and “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). But if we want all these things to occur, church leaders also need to make some changes.
Unless believers grow to maturity we tend to become more like the Pharisees than like Christ. Ortberg warns, “The great danger that arises when we don’t experience authentic transformation is that we settle for what might be called pseudo-transformation. We know that as Christians we are called to ‘come out and be separate,’ that our faith and spiritual commitment should make us different somehow. But if we are not marked by greater and greater amounts of love and joy, we will inevitably look for substitute ways of distinguishing our- selves from those who are not Christians. This deep pattern is almost inescapable for religious people: If we do not become changed from the inside-out – if we don’t morph – we will be tempted to find external methods to satisfy our need to feel that we’re different from those outside the faith.”  According to one survey this “pseudo- transformation” characterizes most Christians in America and explains the problem many non-believers have with the church. 
For decades, Worldwide Discipleship Association (WDA) focused on discipling college students. Our staff poured their lives into young men and women to help them apply biblical truth. We’re grateful most of our alumni are walking with Christ and providing spiritual leadership in their homes and churches. But after graduation, they share a common lament: “Our local church doesn’t seem to know how to help people grow to maturity. Can you help?”
After sensing the Lord’s prompting, we launched The 28/20® Project, an effort to help local church leaders teach people to put Christ’s commands into practice. Its name came from what the church calls The Great Commission, our Lord’s charge to discipleship in Matthew 28:20a, “And teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
As we began the project, we knew we’d heard from the Lord be- cause we experienced a sudden, dramatic increase in spiritual war- fare. In spite of the fierce opposition, we knew God had taught us many truths that will help local churches facilitate maturity. Our plan of action looked like this:
• We began with a maturity philosophy. We knew Jesus had a plan for building mature leaders. His Great Commission assumed this “pattern of sound teaching” (2 Tim. 1:13), and the early church employed it to help people grow in Christ-like- ness. Of course His plan would apply to the contemporary church, as well.
• Using Jesus’ approach as a template, we designed a process for producing maturity in the church that included a progressive, intentional architecture for growth.
• Building on this process, we developed practical programs to support maturity. These can be implemented in local churches through lay leaders.
• Next, we produced a progressive curriculum that provides the content and training needed to support the programs.
• Finally, we built partnership prototypes in a few local churches that have implemented our process.
This book represents an explanation and overview of what we’ve learned so far. We’ve reached a critical intersection. Christians need to be trained to think, feel, and act like Jesus (Luke 6:40).
God commands this for the glory of His name. In addition, our culture has a desperate need for mature people.
This project is much larger than our small organization. It will require collaboration and cooperation among all believers, especially Christian leaders. The declining Western Church needs restoration. The Church in other nations needs to be better equipped. If we hope to achieve these goals and follow Christ’s commands, we must work together.
The maturation process may seem daunting and uninviting. After all, we don’t like it when someone says, “Grow up!” But living a mature life of service to others is essential. Remember the last time you encountered that rude driver or the over-zealous rival fan? What about the surly shopkeeper or the mud-slinging politician?
We know maturity is important. But we don’t always understand the best way to harness the processes that produce it.
We know maturity is important. But we don’t always understand the best way to harness the processes that produce it. If you’re a church leader who feels this way, you’re not alone. In this book, we’ll present practical, biblical approaches for producing maturity. As you read and study this material, we hope you’ll grow—and join a movement that urges others to do the same.
Everybody needs to grow and mature, but this book is aimed at Christians who realize something has gone terribly wrong in the Western societies that once embraced biblical Christianity. These believers sense, even suspect, that underlying issues exist within the church that connect to the cultural decay and the shift of worldviews.
And they’re right. God has placed the church—along with the family—at the center of the maturation process. By strengthening the church, we bolster the family and, in turn, our society.
Our enemy understands this. That’s why, in our postmodern culture, all these institutions find themselves under siege. We need mature leaders who will stand against the evil one and retake lost territory in our homes and churches.
I believe God is allowing time for Western cultures to repent, or at least time for His Church to prepare for hardship and increasing persecution. But since time is short and precious, we must act wisely.
Most Christian leaders lead busy lives. That’s why we designed this book to be read in a few hours, providing an overview of core concepts. The Epilogue shares an invitation to join an ongoing conversation about implementing the suggested programs. Information- packed Appendices will meet the needs of those who want still more information. If you want to learn even more, we hope you’ll contact us.
Today, many believers hope and pray for an outpouring of God’s grace and mercy to yield a worldwide spiritual awakening. I join them in asking God to bring into churches the kind of revival that spills into the surrounding culture.
But while we wait and pray, we can also act by installing processes and programs that produce maturity. And we don’t need to choose between prayer and action. As Scripture reminds us, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory rests with the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31; cf. 1 Corinthians 3:6).
The solution to the widespread immaturity found among believers today is achievable, but not simple. A clear display of God’s sovereign rule in the hearts and lives of His followers requires wisdom and knowledge, a realignment of priorities, and an application of Kingdom principles.
Leaders must understand, balance, and apply all the dynamics that contribute to progressive growth and sanctification. This requires both a strong faith and a new focus. As we fix our eyes on things un- seen, the outcome will be a deeper faith, drawn in part from church leaders who consistently equip believers. As we help them put truth into practice, faith grows. The rewards are both temporal and eternal.
Unfortunately, some church leaders don’t invest the necessary effort to “equip his people for works of service” (Ephesians 4:12). Others have their own leadership agenda, one that doesn’t include maturity.
When Christ returns, He will hold all leaders accountable for their stewardship. That will spell blessing for some and embarrassment (or worse) for others.
But many leaders have made a commitment to honor Christ by helping His people grow to maturity. These men and women have “ears to hear” (Mark 4:9). They’ll discover and implement maturation processes within their local churches that produce Christ-like followers. They’ll celebrate the traditions that support such growth and help change any that don’t.
To accomplish this maturity-minded goal, wise leaders are willing to embrace the challenge of intense spiritual warfare. I’m praying God will sound His trumpet of restoration in these dark days, calling people to “rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated” (Isaiah 61:4).
I hope you’re one of those He calls. May His grace and power rest upon you for the glory of His name.
Bob Dukes –
from the Introduction
Maturity Matters: The Priority and Process for Disciple Building in the Church