9 People Development Principles

People development is an important task for any leader but especially so for leaders in the church. We are commissioned with the challenge to 'make' disciples by Jesus in the book of Matthew - it turns out this is harder than it sounds.....

The word "disciple" is derived from the Koine Greek word mathetes, which means a pupil (of a teacher) or an apprentice (to a master craftsman). The Latin discipulus meaning a learner while the more common English word is student. A disciple is one who learns from a teacher.

The term 'discipleship' designates the whole life response of Christians to Jesus Christ. Everything a Christian believes and does is an aspect of discipleship; the goal of discipleship is to grow ever more Christ-like in every aspect of life.

According to Scripture, being a Christian disciple involves personal growth characterised by the following:

  1. Putting Jesus first in all things (Mark 8:34-38)

  2. Following Jesus' teachings (John 8:31-32)

  3. Fruitfulness (John 15:5-8)

  4. Love for other disciples (John 13:34-35)

  5. Making disciples of others (Matthew 28:18-20)

Now that we know what a disciple looks like, the questions we are faced with as leaders is a difficult ones.....

How do we actually develop disciples?

What methods can we employ to gain the greatest results?

Although not a complete or perfected list, we are using these 9 principles in the church I lead (Home Church) to guide us as we help people grow in their faith, gifting and leadership. I believe they are applicable not only in the church environment but have value in all types of organisations concerned with people development.


1. Organic not linear.

Rather than ad­her­ing to a blan­ket model, we tai­lor cur­ricu­lum and growth opportunities to in­di­vid­ual ap­ti­tudes and in­ter­ests of people. This can be much more complex and time consuming, but we believe that the 'one size fits all' model has never worked and never will.

The cur­rent “in­dus­trial model” of ed­u­ca­tion de­rives from the false no­tion of a lin­ear path to suc­cess and en­forces stan­dard­ised, one-size-fits-all cur­ric­ula. This model fails to help learn­ers dis­cover their unique tal­ents and cre­ates a cul­ture where few peo­ple feel pas­sion­ate about their work. Ed­u­ca­tors must aban­don the par­a­digms of the in­dus­trial model and rec­og­nise that learn­ing “is not lin­ear, it’s or­ganic.” Rather than ad­her­ing to a blan­ket model, each school should tai­lor its cur­ricu­lum to the in­di­vid­ual ap­ti­tudes and in­ter­ests of its stu­dents. - "Bring on the Learning Revolution," Sir Ken Robinson.
Every stu­dent has a dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent learn­ing style. Teach­ers and train­ers should adapt their les­son plans to this cen­tral fact. - "Hold On, You Lost Me! Use Learning Styles to Create Training that Sticks," Jeanine O'Neill Blackwell and Bernice McCarthy


2. Failing forward.

Our culture is such that it's ok to make mistakes. We learn best when we have the courage to step out of the boat. It's ok to make a mistake. Better to try and fail than never to have tried at all.

The great­est course in the world will fail to pro­duce re­sults if the en­vi­ron­ment to which the learner re­turns is bar­ren or hos­tile. - "The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning," Calhoun Wick, Roy Pollock, Andrew Jefferson and Richard Flanagan Pfeiffer, 2006


3. Follow through.

We don't just teach and run. We follow through, we coach, we mentor and we stay in the picture to help the growth mature.

As I look closer at the people development process, I can see 5 Levels of Discipleship that warrant further discussion. To better understand the process, let's look at the definitions of the discipleship levels:

  1. Absence: Leaving the student to their own devices.

  2. Teaching: A systematic and logical sequence of thought delivered in such a way that the student can understand and practice the material taught.

  3. Apprenticeship: Learning through a set training process for a set period of time to master selective skills through an experienced tradesperson.

  4. Mentoring: Learning through an experienced and trusted advisor.

  5. Coaching: The ability to increase performance in people’s attitudes, skills and competence, by realising and releasing their potential.


The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out - Proverbs 20:5

Each level has impact but some more than others. Coaching requires time to 'draw out' potential and gifting from the disciple. Coaching helps the disciple search for the answer themselves without direct instruction. We read in Proverbs 20:5 that "The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out".

This is best observed in Mark 8:27-29 when Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” Jesus asked again....“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” In this coaching exchange, Jesus 'draws out' of Peter that which He already knew.

Jesus could have told His disciples who He was but instead He used inquiry versus telling. He chose instead to draw the answer from within His followers as he knew He was not always going to be with them to mentor them.

Mentorship takes a 'pouring in' approach and is commonly seen in the journey of Jesus with His disciples throughout the gospels as was apprenticing and teaching.

Sadly, in our time-poor society, the most common models for discipleship are at the least effective end of the spectrum. Overloading people with teaching without the investment in mentorship proves wasteful in the longterm.

Discipleship is a journey, not a destination.

Learn­ing is not an event, it is a process. - "The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning," Calhoun Wick, Roy Pollock, Andrew Jefferson and Richard Flanagan Pfeiffer, 2006


4. Power within.

The Holy Spirit lives within every believer and empowers us to do more than we could ever have imagined. We learn faster when we take courage and know we are not alone - the power is within.


5. Practitioners not theorists.

Teaching is the least impactful form of development. If not used, lessons simply become theory. We preference apprenticeship, mentoring and coaching. We provide opportunity for people to put into practice what they have learnt and to learn 'on the job'.

70:20:10 Principle suggests that the optimal sources of learning by successful managers are as follows; 10% Formal classroom instruction and online training. 20% Informal learning from other people; colleges , coaches and extended networks. 70% Doing the work - The 70:20:10 model was created in the 1980s by three researchers and authors working with the Center for Creative Leadership, a nonprofit educational institution in Greensboro, N.C. The three, Morgan McCall, Michael M. Lombardo and Robert A. Eichinger, were researching the key developmental experiences of successful managers.


6. Renewed mind.

The change we seek is done from the inside out, through the power of the Holy Spirit. It isn’t something we can conjure up on our own. We are not focused on behaviour modification but instead the goal is a renewed mind.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. - Romans 12:2


7. Better seen than heard.

Words are an indication of what's happening on the inside but maturity in the faith is far better seen in the day to day behaviours of the individual. We are not impressed with talk of the fruit, smell of the fruit or rumours of the fruit - we look for the actual fruit.

By their fruit you will recognise them. - Matthew 7:16


8. Emotionally healthy.

In his book 'The Emotionally Healthy Church', Peter Scazzero strongly believes that "emotional health and spiritual maturity are inseparable." He goes on to say "It is impossible to be spiritually mature when remaining emotionally immature." We agree.

Emotional health and spiritual maturity are inseparable. - Peter Scazzero


9. It's not automatic

Intentional growth beats accidental learning every day of the week. Oswald Sanders put it well when he said "Maturity requires sincere mortal effort as well as dependence on the Holy Spirit." We must 'do something' to spark the growing process and 'keep doing something' to keep growing.

Intentional growth beats accidental learning

Maturity requires sincere mortal effort as well as dependence on the Holy Spirit - Oswald Sanders