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Spheres and Stages of Discipleship

The Five Stages of Discipleship

Putman has laid out five stages of discipleship to show the direction that a person moves as they progress from being an infant believer to a spiritual parent. However, this does not necessarily mean that a person will move through the five stages in a linear fashion. But, it does provide insight into what the transformation of a disciple should look like in each stage. As with all five stages, it is important to understand them and utilize that knowledge when evaluating our interlocutor, whether Christian or non-Christian. It will then assist us in the proper determination of where they are at spiritually so that we may work, and pray for them, accordingly (Putman 2013, 62). Another thing to keep in mind throughout the discipleship process is the need for relational vulnerability, keeping the centrality of the Word, and mutual accountability (Ogden 2007, 21). These elements need to be present in all stages between disciples.

            In Putman’s five stages, the first stage, which is known as the spiritually dead, we see that this may represent Christians and non-Christians alike. For Christians that fall into this stage it would be because of a lack of spiritual fruit in their lives. They may well confess to be Christians, but there is no outward evidence of it.

            The infant stage follows the spiritually dead stage. For the non-believer this marks the point where they have just passed over from spiritual death to life in Christ and are beginning their walk. A believer who had previously been in the spiritually dead stage will at this point be craving spiritual milk (I Peter 2:2-3).

            Once a believer has passed through the infant stage they have arrived at the child stage. At this stage they have acquired enough knowledge and Christen language to have meaningful dialog with fellow believers (Putman, 65). Also, they have been developing deeper relations with the local church body and with God. Similarly, they are applying God’s Word in their lives as they journey through discipleship with fellow disciples (Putman, 65).

            The second to last stage is the young adult. The believer, where once in earlier stages was more self-centered, has now at this point made a noticeable shift toward other-centeredness and god centeredness (Putman, 67). Previously, they where in a position of taking from the body of Christ during their earlier stages of development. Now, they are more equipped to give back to the body of Christ. They are seeking to minister and serve and apply all that they have learned (Putman, 67-68).

            The spiritual parent stage is the final one in the progression of discipleship. At this stage the believer has gone from being a spiritual infant to now a disciple maker. It is similar to the concept of the student becoming the teacher. While spiritual parents are not perfect, as no one is, they intentionally cultivate a personal ongoing relationship with Jesus (Putman, 70).

The Four Spheres of Discipleship

While the five stages of discipleship show the direction that a disciple moves in as they progress from being an infant to a spiritual parent, the four spheres show the areas of life that they need to grow. There should be growth and progress occurring at the same time in the stages and spheres of life. This would then be a reflection of the permutation in the individual. In each of the spheres the disciple understands the commands of the Lord and are submitting to His authority, is transformed by Jesus, and is joining Him in His mission (Putman, 78). The four spheres are comprised of (1) relationship to God, (2) relationship with fellow believers, (3) home life, (4) and relationship to the world (Putman, 78).

The first stage is the most important stage of all. It is the centrality of a relationship with God. Health in this sphere determines our health in the other spheres because it is the center that links all of the spheres together. In this sphere we need to be intentionally cultivating our relationship with God. Having a deeper walk with the Lord is not accidental. There must be times set aside to spend with Him. In practical terms this would be prayer, Scripture reading and memorization, fasting, meditation, and spiritual songs.

Relationships within the family of God, the church, is the next sphere. It is in fellowship with other believers that one is able to learn more about being a disciple as they witness others modeling a life pleasing to the Lord. This sphere also permits the opportunities to not only receive instruction and examples, but also to minister and practice the gifts that God has given them. This is especially true if the local church that the Christian is attending has a small group structure. It is within those small groups that each believer has more opportunities to have their gift identified and developed and minister to others, as they in turn are being ministered to, as well (Comiskey 2007, 111).

The next stage is relationships at home. I Timothy 3 shows the importance of this sphere. While this passage is in reference to the qualifications of leadership within the church, it is a reminder of the importance in every Christian’s life to ensure that their home life be made healthy and be maintained. The condition of the home life can either increase the reputation of the Lord or decrease it in the eyes of non-believers. Though, the maintaining of a healthy home life should be done, not for show, but for the right motivations. The motivations should be to please the Lord, out of love for Him, always. With this in mind, it is good to have some families within the church that would be good models for other Christians to look to for an example of what healthy home life looks like.

The last sphere is relationships to the world. Nowadays, modern Christians would understand this to mean the workplace, school, extra-curricular activities, and other public locales. Really, how one is in public is a reflection of how they are in private. Therefore, the way they are in public is only reflecting who they truly are. What is in their heart is coming through. Jesus states this in Matthew 15:18-19 when He says, “But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts-murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” It is not possible for one to keep up a façade for very long. A person is unable to live in an incongruent state for long periods of time. The mind needs things to be congruent.


Bonhoeffer, Deitrich. Discipleship. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

Comiskey, Joel. The Church that Multiplies: Growing a Healthy Cell Church in North America.         Moreno Valley: CCS Publishing, 2008.

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

Ogden, Greg. Discipleship Essentials: A Guide to Building Your Life in Christ. Downers Grove:         Intervarsity Press, 2007.

Putman, Jim and Bobby Harrington. Discipleshift: Five Steps that help your Church to Make           Disciples Who Make Disciples. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.

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