What Is "Life-to-Life" Discipleship?

By David Lyons


Navigators are known for what we call “life-to-life” discipleship. This personal approach to helping people grow in Christ is not a program; rather, it involves long-term friendship—going through all of life together while keeping Jesus in the center. Even when tragedy strikes.

In Nigeria, a small group of Navigators had to withstand a wave of sudden family deaths. As Navigator leaders Jeremiah and Jenine discipled their close friends, Achi and Imara, Jenine’s mother died in a car crash. (The names in this story have been changed.)

Then, a week later, Achi’s father died.

A few months after that, Imara’s parents died in a car accident.

In the midst of this turmoil—as everyone struggled to understand, and as they mourned—Jeremiah and Jenine were able to bring comfort to Imara and Achi. They experienced what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

“My wife, having been through what she had been through [with the loss of her own mother], meant that there wasn’t a better person to comfort Imara,” Jeremiah says. “When Imara comes to the house, they talk, cry together and read scripture together. Because Jenine went through her mother’s death, she could help Imara go through her own pain. When Jenine says she understands what Imara is going through, she really does.”

In the same way, Jeremiah’s experience of losing his mother-in-law enabled him to comfort Achi when his dad died.

“Somehow, I was able to offer him comfort,” says Jeremiah. “It’s a tough, tough thing to do. . . . How we respond to what we go through informs how we can help people going through something similar.”

This is how Jeremiah sees discipleship. “It’s a relationship, but it’s also that I’m interested in you, not just interested in us having Bible studies. It’s you. And in the context of life, let’s seek Christ together.”

That is a great summary of life-to-life discipleship. It might not involve helping people through mourning and death, but it is always personal and transparent. I remember how my first mentor responded when I confessed my deepest sins to him. Despite my failures, he believed in me. He said, “David, God’s hand is on your life, and He has great things in mind for you.”

That touched me deeply. It taught me that influence happens when we love those we mentor. This may be Jesus’ most powerful leadership rule: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34).

Life-to-life leader development is tailored to the specific needs of each person. It’s not a one-size-fits-all program. Disciple-makers understand the Scriptures and know how to help people move toward Christlikeness, but they are part of the story. They lead without being an overlord. They teach without being academic. They share their lives, not just their knowledge.

Matt, who is mentoring me now, tells me to crawl inside the skin of my friends, to get to know what they need. Other mentors say to me, “It’s not what you prepared that matters. It’s what they need when you are there.” Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.”

Life-to-life leader development takes time. It’s costly. It’s not an efficient program. Sometimes it is hard to measure. But it’s powerful. It’s the way Jesus developed people.

My mentors chose to make a hand-crafted investment in me, and they’ve stuck with me despite my failures and flaws. I’m forever grateful. I want to pass that on. Don’t you?
David Lyons is an International Vice President of The Navigators. He serves our 5,000 staff in 115 countries by coaching leaders and leading change. David is author of Don’t Waste the Pain.