How NOT to Teach 4 Chair Discipling

Teaching opposites is a basic skill to learning words and building our vocabulary. We can often learn things by understanding what it is not. For example, take this children’s song sung to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star;

The opposite of left is right.
The opposite of day is night.
Now we come to short and long,
After that, right and wrong.

Lost and found, sick and well.
How many opposites can you tell?
Heavy and light are not the same.
Don’t you like our opposite game?

Next, I think of stop and go.
After that, high and low.
First and last, fast and slow.
How many opposites do you know?

Written by:  Mildred Hoffman, Tacoma, WA

I’d like to offer a few inverse insights when teaching or coaching leaders through 4 Chair Discipling. I first started training the 4 Chairs in 2014, a few years after I joined the Sonlife Team. I’ve learned a lot over the past seven years that I hope can provide best practices for you in applying 4 Chair Discipling.

To gain a better understanding of the 4 Chairs, please listen to the podcast with Sonlife staff member, Josh Edwards. But for now, here is what 4 Chair Discipling is NOT…

1_ 4 Chair Discipling is NOT a curriculum or a teaching series 

I think this is honestly the biggest challenge. CAN it be used as a teaching series? Absolutely, and I would encourage it to be taught. It is often a regular occurrence that I hear, “Oh yeah, I taught the 4 Chairs,… what else do you have?” Ministry leaders are consumers of content and curriculum which isn’t all bad. It is good to have materials to present and teach. The problem is when we believe that teaching alone will solve the disciple-making challenge in our ministry. The 4 Chairs are a simple word picture to show the methodology Jesus used to develop his followers into multiplying disciples. It is a powerful word picture but it needs to be more than a series. The 4 Chairs are meant to be a framework to undergird the disciple-making efforts of your church. It isn’t a one and done teaching series, but rather a process of transforming the culture and DNA of a ministry. Transformation takes time and needs more than curricula to do so.

2_ 4 Chair Discipling is NOT only for the elders or paid staff

It would suggest starting with staff and elders, but not stopping there. You need to model disciple-making from the top leadership in the church. The elders and staff need to have a healthy disciple-making framework in all they do. However, it is easy to fall into the trap of assuming that exposing elders or staff alone to 4 Chair Discipling will transform a whole ministry. That would be like saying, “only the elders and staff can lead someone to Christ.” We would agree that the task of evangelism is for all believers. Having gospel fluency and practical skills in sharing our faith is for all who claim to be in Christ. The same is true of knowing and applying the disciple-making principles from Jesus. Disciple-making isn’t just for the “professionals”. I would encourage you to find ways to make this accessible to everyone…beyond a sermon series. 

3_ 4 Chair Discipling is NOT fixed or static

The 4 Chairs, when poorly explained or taught, can come across as fixed steps. You graduate, check the box and high five Jesus. We love to put our spiritual progression on scales and measure some level of completeness. The chairs are intended to show maturity and disciple-making fruitfulness. However, we also know that there are seasons in life of dryness, unproductiveness, discouragement and doubt. The Christian journey has many peaks and valleys with a serendipitous route. This is also part of God’s journey to refine and grow us. 

Disciple-making is dynamic. Learn to be kind to yourself and the disciples following in your steps. I often put the chairs around a table and talk about the power of a shared community. The journey is both individual and corporate.

4_ 4 Chair Discipling is NOT about chairs

Don’t over think or focus on chairs and what type of chair or color of chair. The chair is a metaphor and with all metaphors, they may lose impact and stickiness. The big idea is to paint a picture to evaluate where you are at in the process of maturing as a follower of Jesus. The chairs help us quickly identify and also examine any challenges in the next step of obedience. I prefer to train with the ordinary chair that is in the room and everyone is sitting in. It isn’t about the chairs – don’t overthink it.

When preparing a sermon, what is the point? If you spend more time polishing your illustration and ignore delivering the Word of God, it would be a tragedy and missed opportunity. Keep the illustration simple and keep Jesus the main event.

5_ 4 Chair Discipling is NOT to shame or guilt

Confession…I’ve beat up a few sheep, not shepherding them well. It is really easy to let enthusiasm, conviction, and passion turn up the heat too hot and too fast. This is especially true for believers stuck in Chair Two. Christian complacency grieves my heart and at times it’s hard to be patient with stubborn sheep. My word of advice is to allow the Holy Spirit to convict and draw believers to maturity. Shame and guilt are not byproducts of the truth of the Holy Spirit. 

We are using four chairs to represent where a person might be at any particular time in their spiritual journey. When we know what chair people are in, we can invite them to the next chair of maturity.

Jesus was all about creating a movement of multiplication. His desired end product was always fruit, and fruit was always a metaphor for multiplication. The mature disciple is a fruit-bearing worker who can fully reproduce this process in other people, so proving to be His disciple (John 15:16).

I hope this helps you learn what not to do. The Sonlife team is always available for more conversations. You can find us on Instagram and Facebook. You can also check out our podcast, or simply drop us an email.

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