When Disciple-Making Gets Messy

Several years ago, I tried using my husband’s skateboard—and managed to scrape my knee and land flat on my back. (I’m still trying to figure out the mechanics of that.) The scrape was brutal and cleared off a couple layers of skin, with gravel buried in the open wound.

In my head, I knew that cleaning out the wound was the best course of action. But even so, as my husband approached me to scrub (yes, scrub!) out the wound with an alcohol pad, I instinctively jerked away from him to cover the wound with my hand.

Wounded areas of the heart can be like this. We may know it’s good to clean out our wounds and expose them to the light of Christ, and yet we can reflexively shut down, jerk away, or fight to cover them up when we feel threatened.

When you begin discipling someone, you may find that no matter how much they desire the healing that vulnerability and accountability bring, their defenses quickly rise up to protect raw wounds in their hearts. Perhaps some crisis always comes up, or a recurring sin issue requires your time and attention—things you feel are getting in the way of your disciple-making plan for your times together. But it’s vital that you see these challenges not as a hindrance to disciple-making but as an opportunity God is inviting you both to enter into.

Discipling someone naturally involves vulnerability. This is why it’s critical to know the person you’re discipling and what is going on in their life. By meeting them where they are, you’ll be better able to discern what they need to establish their walk with Jesus and equip them for kingdom work. No plan, no matter how well thought through or well intended, will make an impact if someone isn’t ready to receive it. Only when they perceive that we hear them, see them, and receive them as they are can we earn the right to speak into their lives.

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” It is from the overflow of the heart that sin, shame, and brokenness reveal themselves in a person’s life—through their words, their actions, the choices they make, and the nature of their relationships. Life-to-life discipleship enables us to identify and speak truth into these issues of the heart to help others find freedom and transformation in Christ.


As you spend time with a disciple, ask yourself, In what ways does this person interact with the world? With others? With God? What are some of the things they say or believe about themselves, the world, and others? As you strive to learn about them, you’ll begin to pick up on themes in their lives. The patterns and rhythms that emerge often reflect issues of the heart.

As we share life-to-life with those we disciple, we’re privileged to step into some of the most sacred spaces of someone’s heart and experience. When someone risks being vulnerable in this way, fear or defensiveness can easily drive them back into hiding. We must approach these sacred spaces with gentleness and the truth and grace of Christ, or we may miss an opportunity for Jesus to heal and transform what has been broken.


So how do we dive even deeper in our disciple-making to address issues of the heart and the brokenness within as we establish a disciple in their walk with Jesus? We challenge the lies at the root of these issues.

Growing up in a mostly white area and experiencing a few significant incidents of racism as a child, I came to the conclusion that all white people were popular and too cool and didn’t want to hang out with dorky Asian kids like me. This belief became deeply ingrained in me and began to impact how I felt about myself. I was “less than” because I was Asian American. I hated my Asian-ness and wanted to hide it as much as possible.

What I believed and how I felt about my Asian American identity impacted how I acted around others—specifically white people—even well into adulthood. Because I believed white people simply didn’t like Asians, and because I felt less than, I avoided interactions with them. They didn’t want to be around me anyway, right? It wasn’t until my late twenties that I discovered that white people did actually enjoy my company and wanted to be friends with me. So weird! Who would’ve thunk?

But I had to hear this truth from my white friends. And, more importantly, I had to hear from God that I am beloved in all he created me to be. Now I’ve begun to challenge this lie when it pops up (and it still does from time to time). Old thought habits die hard!

From the moment we choose Jesus, we face an uphill battle. When we bear the weight of brokenness, often it’s because we’re believing lies—lies from the world, lies spoken over us, lies we tell ourselves, or lies about relationships. The first step to challenging the lies in someone’s life is to point them toward the truth in God’s Word. For someone wrestling with brokenness, there are several helpful topics to cover and directions to go in our discipleship conversations:

  • The authority, inspiration, and inerrancy of Scripture. God’s Word is the foundation for challenging negative beliefs or thoughts because “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Knowing that Scripture is from God and is true—no matter what we’re facing or how we’re feeling—gives us a solid anchor to cling to when we are tossed to and from by our brokenness.
  • The armor of God and the reality of spiritual warfare. Every believer is in a very real spiritual battle, whether we are aware of it or not. Ephesians 6:12 tells us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against . . . the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Everything in the world is pulling us toward our default, which is our sinful and broken nature. But God has equipped us to face our own brokenness and the enemy who wants to destroy us by giving us his armor (verses 13-17).
  • The promises of God. Numbers 23:19 (ESV) says, “God is not a man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” In our brokenness, we can forget God’s promises and be tempted to give in to despair. But his Word is filled with rich promises that renew our hope and remind us that he is faithful to do what he has said he will do—in his time.

As we challenge lies with the help of the Holy Spirit and replace them with the unwavering truth of God’s Word and the hope of his promises, the broken places within are slowly restored and lives are transformed.

Replacing lies with truth has to be a consistent commitment. That’s why memorizing Scripture is so valuable. When we hide God’s Word in our hearts, we have access to his truth wherever we go. The verses we memorize about our worth and God’s deep love for us can speak truth to our hearts and extinguish the lies of the enemy that crop up all too easily. As you disciple someone, I encourage you to memorize some key verses of Scripture together that can speak truth directly to the broken places in their experience (and yours).

Ditching the lies that keep us stuck isn’t easy. But when we challenge them with the steadfast truth of God’s Word about who he says he is, who he says we are, and what he says about the world around us, and when we let his truth sink deeply into our souls, we begin to experience the freedom Jesus desires for us—and our lives are transformed.


Some of the principles we’ve been talking about are from the counseling world. These principles, perspectives, and approaches can help inform your disciple-making, but a quick word of caution: Disciple-making is not the same as counseling and isn’t meant to replace it.

Excerpted from How to Save the World: Disciplemaking Made Simple by Alice Matagora. Copyright 2022. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers Inc.

Alice Matagora
Alice Matagora

Alice Matagora is the Leader Development Initiatives program coordinator for The Navigators and Navigators Collegiate staff at the University of California at Irvine. She lives in California with her husband and children. How to Save the World: Disciple-Making Made Simple releases from NavPress in August 2022.