Common Discipling Language

By Justin Rossow

How do you establish common vocabulary for a discipling culture? A pastor friend of mine asked me that recently. He is trying to use consistent language across different areas of ministry. In this case, he was asking for input on how to work common discipleship vocabulary into Sunday morning Bible class discussion.

I basically told him three things I learned over years of trying to cultivate a discipling culture. In summary, I told him:

  1. Always use your standard language.
  2. Regularly add alternatives to clarify your standard language.
  3. Occasionally give people time to pray your standard language.

Let me elaborate.


1. Always use your standard language.

You won’t establish a common way of talking if you don’t say the same thing, the same way, every time. You will get sick of it before anyone else does, but other people—especially leaders—will get sick of it, too. That’s OK. You still need to do it. Find the right language that supports the right kind of assumptions and actions and use it again and again and again.

And again.

In some ways, it doesn’t matter what the language is. It helps if you have a small handful of phrases you say the same way every time. And it helps if those phrases are image-rich, kind of catchy, and capture your core values. But repetition is the key.

Our core language at Next Step Press uses three Standard Following Questions and three Standard Following Prayers. The questions each come with a graphic to help them be memorable:

  • The Compass Question: Where am I right now?
  • The Carabiner Question: Who’s on my rope?
  • The Hiking Boot Question: What’s my next step?

To answer the Hiking Boot Question, you pray the three Standard Following Prayers (SFP) which are grounded in three key activities of God: Speaking, Forming, and Promising (SFP).

After trial and error, we have adopted a common form for those prayers:

  • Jesus, where are you speaking into my life?
  • Spirit, what response are you shaping in me?
  • Father, what promise covers my next step?

You don’t have to use that language. But if you want to cultivate a discipling culture, you will have to use some language with enough repetition that people can actually learn it and adopt it and use it on their own. And that will only happen if you and your leaders always use the same language the same way, every time.


2. Regularly add alternatives to clarify your standard language.

Of course, using the same language the same way every time can feel kind of repetitive or even dull. Get over yourself. Do it anyway. However, one particular way of talking might not resonate with everyone, so don’t only say it that one way. Just always say it that one way.

Always use your standard language, and, in addition to the way you always say it, regularly add some alternative language to expand and clarify the meaning of the standard phrases. There are lots of options; just remember to add alternative language to your common vocabulary rather than replacing the vocabulary altogether.

Under the umbrella of “Where is Jesus speaking into my life?” I could ask questions like, “What have you been reading in the Bible lately? Does anything jump out at you in those verses that seem particularly relevant? What stuck with you from worship last week?”

Along with asking, “What response is the Spirit forming in me?” I might add, “What is the Father shaping in you? What next step do you think Jesus is inviting you to take? What kind of fruit is the Spirit producing in you right now?”

I am using our standard language, but also adding options for people. If I were creating a Bible study handout, I would put the discipling language we always use in bold, and then have some alternative ways of asking those questions in parenthesis.

You might use synonyms for action verbs in your standard vocabulary: the Spirit shapes; and forms and guides and inspires and invites and equips. I might ask, “Who’s on my rope?” But I could also ask, “Who am I walking with? Who is going to partner with me in this? Who will cheer me on or ask me how it went?”

You can also vary the subject of the verbs in your discipling language. Jesus is speaking into my life, and the Spirit is calling something to mind, and I am hearing something from the Word. The Spirit is forming a response in me, and Jesus is inviting a response, and I am experimenting with a next step.

You could even change the form and function of your standard language, as long as you add to rather than replace your core vocabulary. Our standard following prayers are actually prayers; but I will also use them as personal reflection questions or group discussion questions at times.


3. Occasionally give people time to pray your standard language.

My last suggestion for my friend trying to establish a common discipling vocabulary in his Bible class was to actually give people time to pray your standard language. Not always. Not multiple times every week. But regularly.

Of course, our Next Step vocabulary actual uses prayers, so the opportunity to pray should be low hanging fruit. But we made the decision to embed prayers into our standard language on purpose. When you pray the question, you reflection is just different. When you ask Jesus what he is speaking into your life, you pay attention to the answer in new ways. Following Jesus becomes less of an item on my agenda and more something the Spirit is shaping in me.

We still modify our prayers to be reflection questions at times, but the prayers bring a different dynamic to the experience. Maybe you don’t have prayers hardwired into your core discipleship vocabulary; that’s OK. Always use the language you are trying to reinforce; but then regularly add variations to help clarify the language. At least occasionally turn one of those variations into a prayer.

And then give people time to pray. Right there in Bible class. Even right there in worship. You don’t have to do it every week, and you probably don’t want to do it multiple times in the same week, but occasionally stop what you are doing and give people both the words to pray and time for prayer. By taking precious time out of your limited Sunday schedule, you reinforce the value of the practice and make sure people actually have a chance to try it. Tell them to do it at home, and then never mention it again, and your chance of moving the needle is slim to none.

So how do you establish common vocabulary for a discipling culture?

You need to have intentional vocabulary first, and that may take some trial and error. But once you know how you want to talk about following Jesus, then:

  1. Always use your standard language.
  2. Regularly add alternatives to clarify your standard language.
  3. Occasionally give people time to pray your standard language.

The answer is probably more complex than that; but it’s not less complex. And these three practices are a good place to start!


Do you have an insight on cultivating a discipling culture? We’d love to hear from you! Email your insights to Innovation@findmynextstep.org.

Would you like some help cultivating a discipling culture? The next cohort of the Disciple Like You Mean It online training is getting ready to launch. The course is designed to start with a handful of staff and lay leaders and grow out from there—a great way to implement your own discipleship language and tools. Check it out today.

1 Comment

  1. I love how you put the discipling language we always use in bold, and then have some alternative ways of asking those questions in parenthesis. It sparks ideas and thoughts and possibilities of how we might respond! Thanks! I need that feed to prime the pump!

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