Brandon Guindon: Walk With Me

This article is from the September/October issue of Outreach magazine. Subscribe today!

Brandon Guindon has made biblical discipleship part of his life mission. Wherever he’s served, it’s been with the goal of making disciples of Jesus Christ while creating a culture of discipleship in which others will be empowered to do the same. 

As executive pastor, he helped lead Real Life Ministries in Post Falls, Idaho, under Senior Pastor Jim Putman, before relocating to Houston. There, Real Life helped plant Real Life Ministries Texas, where Guindon serves as lead pastor. He also sits on the board of directors of the Relational Discipleship Network. 

Guindon’s latest book, Intentional: Living Out the Eight Principles of Disciple Making (Zondervan), draws both on Jesus’ methodologies for discipling his followers and Guindon’s decades of disciple-making experiences to help readers make discipleship a natural part of their everyday lives.

He spoke with Outreach about what it means to make disciples, and how the American church could be strengthened by embracing the same simplified form of relational, everyday disciple making that Jesus modeled—one that naturally flows into every area of our lives.

What did your personal experience of being discipled look like?

Discipleship was a really big part of my early Christian walk, because I did not grow up in church. I came to Christ in college and was discipled by my future in-laws when Amber and I were dating. Shortly after she and I married, we moved to northern Idaho. Real Life Ministries was planted, and Jim Putman and a couple other guys discipled me. Some other men in the church saw a calling in my life to full-time ministry. I had no real ministry background, no Bible college degree, but an older man in the church named Dan Lynch was a mentor to me, and he invested a ton of time into my life and discipled me.

And, in turn, what has your discipleship of others looked like?

As I studied the life of Christ, I was constantly asking, What do we see Jesus doing? What did he model, what did he live out? And so, for me, it’s understanding that being a disciple of Jesus is not something you do—it’s who you are. It’s a lifestyle, and it should permeate everything you do. And so very early on, that became a principle of my life. When I’m discipling my children, my neighbor, my wife, it’s a lifestyle I live. 

Jesus doesn’t separate raising up his disciples from anything else. It’s what he lives out, it’s what Paul lived out, it’s what we see in the first-century church. It’s a lifestyle of being a disciple of Jesus. I was learning that from Scripture, but also early on at Real Life, where it was our lifestyle. 

What you commonly see at church in America is that discipleship is a class, it’s education, it’s a program. And education is part of being a disciple, but it’s not the entirety of it. It’s a life you live, not just head knowledge you have. 

What does it take to make disciple making second nature? 

That’s a critical part of it. It’s called the principle of unconscious competence. What that means is when you practice or do something enough, it becomes who you are. And not just repetition, but repetition of a specific process. It becomes very difficult to be intentional with something if you’re constantly changing the process. So that is something I have held to: We’re going to stick to Jesus’ methodology for disciple making, and not a whole bunch of different programmatic things that would define discipleship differently.

It requires living it as a lifestyle, it requires a relational environment, it requires that you’re raising up and releasing somebody. It’s the repetition and the commitment to that process over time that eventually makes it second nature. 

People will ask me about discipleship. Sometimes they’ve never really seen it, so their definition is how much Bible knowledge I have, or it’s me teaching a class or whatever. But I say, “Bible knowledge is fine, and we’re going to learn that in the journey, but we’re going to learn a lot of other things, too, like what it looks like to be like Jesus.” 

That process is to show them and model for them over a long period of time. It’s letting them practice, letting them do it, letting them see your successes and failures. It’s how you start to transfer this process intentionally to someone else. 

Part of modeling it is demonstrating the value of listening during the course of a discipling relationship. Simply staying quiet and just hearing someone’s story powerfully impacts people and builds rapport and trust. 

In our culture right now, people generally listen with an intent to respond. But when we’re discipling someone, I want to listen to know them—to know who they are, why they do what they do, what makes them tick. To understand their story. Because one of our greatest human needs is to be known.

When we look at the life of Christ, Jesus asked an estimated 307 questions. He was asked 183, and he directly answered three. He typically answered a question with a question. I think he did that because he was modeling the importance of knowing somebody, of hearing them, of valuing them. 

It’s important to be able to build a relationship with somebody, because the process of making a disciple cannot happen outside of the context of relationship. That’s the law of Jesus’ methodology. How can I have relationship if I don’t know and understand those I’m with? I come to understand them by listening to them. I ask questions, and I’m curious about who they are. That part, to me, is so critical, because when I look at discipleship today, many people do not have that skill. It’s a very important part of learning to be intentional everywhere you go and genuinely caring enough about somebody to hear their story. 

You write about the importance of being attuned to the Holy Spirit’s prompting and timing. We’re tempted to share Jesus right away in a discipling relationship, but it pays to go slow and allow those things to come about naturally. Can you talk about that?

What happens is, people put a weight on quantity versus quality. I want to lead a person to Christ, and there can be wonderful motivation behind it, but it’s more about checking a box. That process may take years with somebody. So, am I interested in the task, or am I interested in the journey? Because at the end of the day, I can’t save them. That’s not my job. I think my job is to walk with them in their journey with Jesus. That requires intentionality; it isn’t going to happen by accident. 

What do we commonly misunderstand about discipleship?

I think people often think of discipleship as this big, complicated thing. But when you really look at it, you have to take that faithful step and just start with one person. I even run into this with people in full-time ministry—elders, pastors, leaders—where they focus on the big organization. It stays really macro. I think it will remain a problem unless we take personal ownership of those little steps until it becomes our lifestyle. Jesus didn’t just say go make disciples. He said to follow him, and he started showing the disciples little things, little steps, little truths about people, connecting dots from the Word of God, from the Old Testament, to what they were doing. 

But many people overshoot it. They turn it into something programmatic. They think, I can’t do this because I don’t have enough education, but that’s not true. You can start with one little step. You can have a spiritual conversation and ask some questions. You can invest in somebody near you: a child, a spouse, a neighbor, somebody in your church. 

Why is isolation and loneliness so common in churches, even among pastors? 

Pastors should be the least lonely people in the world. We should be in relationship with people around us. If we’re a pastor, we should be a spiritual parent who is making disciples. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God and love each other. If I’m not in relationship with those closest to me, then I am in a direct violation of what the gospel calls me to.

There’s a belief that the more Bible I know, or the higher I am in an organization, then the more independent I can be, while spiritual immaturity means dependence. Well, before I grow in my spiritual maturity, I need to realize how much more dependent I am on God and others. I may be a lot of things in my church, but I am not lonely. I’ve got people around me in relationships. It’s what we’re building.

Now, I’m not saying you can’t go have your alone time. But on the other side of it, I don’t ever travel alone. I don’t go places without guys around me. If I go to the hospital, I take somebody with me. The culture we build around us is really important. And that’s what Jesus modeled. He went away with the Father and prayed once in a while, but he was with his guys all the time. As the head goes, the body follows. 

If at a staff or a pastor level, we’re alone and we don’t have relationships, how can we expect the people in our church to have relationships? We’re not modeling something or leading in a way that is healthy. That has got to change in the culture of the church in America.

What would you say to pastors who are looking to deepen their church’s discipleship culture?

Part of my life mission is to inspire and motivate people to master the art of disciple making. That’s what everything I do is about. My advice? Even if you’re thinking, I’ve never done this before, and I don’t know how to get started, I would get started being intentional with one other person. Allow it to build from there, because the two of you could become four, and four becomes eight, and so on. 

It all starts with pastors. Allow it to change you first before you apply it to the organization. Allow it to change your home, how you parent, your staff, the people around you, before you try to change your entire church.

Jessica Hanewinckel
Jessica Hanewinckel

Jessica Hanewinckel is an Outreach magazine contributing writer.