How I Make Disciples: Invitation & Challenge

by Ben Sternke on June 11, 2012

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This is the fifth part in a series of blog posts that outlines my philosophy and practice of discipleship, a distillation and condensation of the stuff I’ve learned over the past few years from 3DM and others, a (somewhat) coherent “manifesto” on discipleship, if you will. Here are links to the first four posts in the series.

In this post I discuss the second BOTH/AND lens I use to create the environment of discipleship: calibrating both invitation and challenge.

We know that discipleship is the process of becoming like Jesus in both character and competency, and that this occurs in a relational and directive context, where the discipler offers his or her life as a embodied example to imitate. We’ve discussed who to invite into this kind of relationship, but how do you actually do it? I use two BOTH/AND lenses to help me create an environment of discipleship. The first is a structured and spontaneous relationship. The second is an environment that is both highly invitational and highly challenging.

Invitation and Challenge

Invitation refers to an attitude that says, “I’m glad you are here, I’m committed to you and will welcome you no matter what.” Challenge refers to an attitude that says, “I want you to grow, I’m committed to holding you accountable to change for the better.”

People are used to experiencing cultures that are either highly invitational or highly challenging, but typically they don’t ever experience them together. Left to our own devices as leaders, we tend to either create cultures that are “high invitation/low challenge” (cozy, consumer) or “high challenge/low invitation” (stressed/discouraged), or perhaps we swing between the two, unsure of how to actually bring both at the same time.

The matrix below helps to illustrate the different cultures that we can create by calibrating invitation and challenge.

Just like the structured/spontaneous reality, all of us have a tendency toward invitation or challenge. Either we are more comfortable offering an invitation to covenant relationship, or we are more comfortable bringing a challenge to kingdom fruitfulness. If you want to make disciples, you’ll have to learn to do intentionally that which you’re not good at naturally.

Those who are natural “inviters” need to learn to bring challenge. They’ll need to learn to push harder than they’re comfortable with. They’ll need to learn to hold others accountable for taking action in the kingdom.

Those who are natural “challengers” need to learn to be inviting and warm. They’ll need to learn to have meetings with no clear agenda, just enjoying the company of others. They’ll need to learn to affirm and encourage those they’re discipling.

In both cases there’s axiom that seems to hold true: when you feel like you are leaning into that which you’re not comfortable with way too much, you’re probably almost there. “Challengers” will feel like they are being overly-mushy and sentimental when they’re actually calibrating an almost-appropriate amount of invitation. “Inviters” will feel like they are being harsh task-masters when they’re actually calibrating an almost-appropriate amount of challenge.

Next post: Training disciples to reproduce.

Back to series index


Also, in the In/Out/Up, the discipling seems to be part of the In. Aren't Christ's words contextually more "Outer?" Maybe its a small point not to get hung up on, but it seems like people could apply this method more on a mutual edification basis. For example, I have a couple friends who are strong believers but also realize they are ones God is laying on my heart to invest more in. I am tempted to consider them my discipling relationships and not "be intentional" in my uncomfortable zone,(people who really aren't yet part of the Body of Christ). Are the members of your huddles all....Christian...or at least...churchy-fied? Perhaps this is hard to translate from Breen's stuff since its written toward pastors/strategists and I'm thinking like an average Joe Schmoe.


Question: Where does converstion play into making disciplese? By conversion I mean reception of the Spirit, repentance, baptism (in no particular order). Would this be part of "invitation?" You describe invitation as environment almost at first and then describe "an invitation to covenant relationship." I realize conversion is probably an antiquated term and has lots of wierd baggage around it but I'm wondreing if there is still any room for "decisions" or "doing 180's" etc in your paradigm?

Ben Sternke
Ben Sternke

I wouldn't categorize discipleship as "IN." I would say discipleship is growing in all three (UP, IN and OUT).One thing to keep in mind is that Huddle takes place in a context - it's not a "thing" that exists out there all by itself. It takes place in a mission context where people can imitate me as I live UP, IN, and OUT and train them to do likewise. Huddle doesn't work if it's all you've got. You need an UP, IN, OUT life for others to imitate for it to work like it should.

Ben Sternke
Ben Sternke

Great question Dan!Sure there is room for "conversion" as you're putting it here. I actually think that discipleship is far more intimately related to "salvation" than we typically realize (check out my post here for more on that <a href="http://:<br />Ultimately the invitation to covenant relationship has to involve repentance, not just as a one-time thing, but a daily thing. Discipleship is essentially learning to live in God's kingdom by trusting Jesus and acting on that trust. That's how we "work out our salvation," and it can't really start unless there is some sense of receiving new life, etc.Make sense?


  1. […] He does this by calling out to others and extending himself and his life unto them. My friend Ben Sternke describes it this way: “Invitation refers to an attitude that says, ‘I’m glad you are […]

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