Discipleship Triad

By Marc Engelhardt

Allow me to introduce myself since I am new to the blog and I am going to write like I know what I’m talking about. My name is Marc. I am a pastor, and I have been in the field for 9 years (10 if you count the deferred vicarage). I have served both a very large church community and an itsy-bitsy church community (like 7 millennials in worship small). I currently serve a wonderful church community in SoCal. Those palarmes only take into account my post-masters work and not the 10 years I was doing a lot of the same things before I hit the seminary. Put it all together and I have a little bit of experience in a lot of different situations. In those situations, I have been reading and trying out ways to do the very best I can in the discipline of discipleship. I’m a bit of a discipleship nut.

Admittedly, I haven’t read many books about the subject in the last few years, nor have I looked too deeply into the latest programs that can be bought and implemented in the local church. Why, you ask? Shouldn’t a discipleship nut be soaking in all the info possible to do things better? Well, I figured it out. I mean, I don’t have it all figured out, but over time I realized that all the “successful” discipleship books and trends were based on the same ideas, just using different terms. Some emphasized aspects differently than others, but in the end, they are all the same.

So, what’s the insight? What’s behind the discipleship curtain? It’s the triad. No, not Triad the Chinese gang. That’d be really weird. It’s the educational triad. Turns out, good discipleship is based on good, proven educational principles. It’s almost as if God designed the world to work in a certain way…

I encountered the term educational triad long ago. I don’t have the source anymore, but it looks like this: information leads to understanding leads to practice. As I said earlier, the terms aren’t always the same, but they fit into the triad. For example, information could be replaced by: data, facts, basis, foundation, observation, speculation, and so on. Then understanding could be: comprehension, absorption, assimilation, grasp, filter, and so on. Last, practice could be: application, exercise, use, operation, implementation, and so on. Hopefully you get the idea. It’s the same triad using interchangeable terms.

I’ll use the triad terms I use in my context from here on out, which are: Foundation, Worldview, and Practice. In discipleship, Foundation is the Word, Worldview can sort of be associated with theology, and Practice is doing. It really is that simple. I find that the simplicity is what makes it difficult to implement. What you may also find is that different flavors of Christianity emphasize certain parts of the triad, and sometimes that happens at the loss of another part. For example, there is a fantastic saying that Lutherans can be theologically constipated—meaning, a lot of the Word (Foundation) and theology goes in, but nothing (Practice) comes out. We could spend a lot time observing what flavors of Christianity emphasize what aspects of the triad, but that often isn’t fruitful.

When you think about your setting, do you see an equal emphasis on all three parts of the triad? Are the parts connected? Does the Practice flow from an intentional Worldview that was set up by a clear Foundation? I’ve asked myself these questions, and I have tried to purposefully put the triad into as many parts of the congregation’s life as I can, but as I said, I haven’t gotten it all figured out. The best way I can think of having this click for you and think about how to adapt it is to give you an example of how we approach it in our setting. I will write some posts that will walk you through a section of our discipleship class “Christ in Common.” Before that, though, I will write a post about why I think this approach to discipleship should be brought into all youth discipleship, including confirmation.

6 thoughts on “Discipleship Triad

  1. Why does discipling have to be more than what Scripture says? Baptize and teach. Don’t we trust the Word and its explanation, along with the power of the Holy Spirit, to have effect toward discipleship? Is it not really true that speaking the Word from God always accomplishes God desired outcome? I have a lot of trouble with human technique being responsible, even in part, for saving people. I’m not even sure our definition for discipleship is the same as God’s own, which would appear more about believing (which causes fruit to come forth) and less about getting people to do stuff.


  2. Thanks for your comments, Don. It means you thought about the post.

    I originally replied a day ago but somehow it got lost in the ether. Probably better it did, might have had an unintentionally condescending tone to it. So here is a reply with no frilly language.

    It appears we agree on the triad for discpileship since you reference it twice: Word (Foundation), explanation (Worldview), effect (Practice) and then Word (I assume that is what we believe), believing, fruit.

    Since we agree on that could you please show me where I wrote that discipleship or the triad save us? That wasn’t my intention if that is how it was read.

    Please also let me know how Isaiah 55:11—especially within the context of chapter 55–apllies to that which I wrote.



  3. Why must some preachers complicate matters? The simple Gospel message of repentance and salvation through Christ alone seems what Jesus had in mind for leading the lost to Him. The rich verses of scripture and the teachings of Jesus need not be molded into some esoteric “Discipleship Triad” or systematic theological theories. Keep it simple please.


    1. Thanks for comment, John. I am bit confused though, as with the first comment by Don. At what point did I write that discipleship has anything to do with salvation?


      1. Sorry I left you hanging earlier. My point is that true discipleship rises from faith and salvation. Discipleship is sanctified living and can take many forms in Christian life, which are not up to us as teachers and baptizers. Anything else would, hopefully, be whatever advice we could offer from one living under the Gospel. Our activity in discipleship’s arrival is baptizing and teaching. The Holy Spirit preps the works that follow in discipleship. We got nothing but baptize and teach.

        I threw in Isaiah 55:11, because it’s hard to trust the Word to do what God intends for his disciples, and we’re always and forever trying to fix it. Compared to Christ crucified, we’re hopeless amateurs and can’t imagine what God has in store for any particular disciple.


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