4 Chair Discipling, A Review

by | May 31, 2015 | Book


Hey church leader, what is discipling and why?

Discipleship is one of those things that a lot of people talk about but they don’t really have an explanation of what it is. It is one of those words that we like to throw around in the church but so few of us actually have an understanding of what it looks like to disciple someone. Discipleship is probably one of the most important parts of the church. As some receives Christ and comes to have faith in him, they need people who will help guide them. Eventually, the hope is that they mature enough to be able to lead and guide others. In his book, 4 Chair Discipling, Dann Spader looks at what it means to disciple someone. He breaks discipleship down in to a four step process using the analogy of four chairs. According to Spader, every person is in one of the four chairs at any given time. In this book he describes what stage each chair represents and how we are to disciple people so that they move on to the next chair.

four chairs disciplingSpader begins by explaining where this analogy for discipleship came from. Back when he was in college he was led to Christ by a roommate. Spader in turn led several men in his fraternity to Christ. In order to disciple his friends he began to learn more about the Bible and what it meant to be a Christian. As he studied the gospel and ministry of Jesus he began to think that in order to really disciple people well perhaps we need to study the methods of Jesus as well as his message. Obviously, studying the message of Jesus is essential. But Spader says, “I would argue that if you completely understand the message of Christ but fail to understand his methods, you won’t truly know the Jesus of the Scriptures” (14). He emphasizes that it is just as important to studying the methods of Jesus as it is to study the words of Jesus. He makes the point that Jesus provides us with a method for discipling other people. If we really want to disciple people well we should turn to the method that Jesus lays out in his life. Spader reminds us that we are able to follow the method of Jesus because he was also human. He says that a lot of the time he hears people say that they cannot imitate what Jesus did because Jesus was God and we are only human. But Spader reminds the reader that, yes Jesus was God, but he was also human. When we remember his humanity it becomes easier to remember that we can follow his example.

Spader breaks down the discipling method of Jesus into an analogy of four chairs.

The first chair is the chair of the lost. This is the chair that everyone sits in before they put their faith in Christ. Spader also describes this chair as the “come and see” stage. The people in this chair don’t know Christ. They may be searching for something but they don’t know what. Spader explains what the people in this chair need. Many times we think that they just need to go to church. They just need to read be more religious. But this does not actually solve the problem, Spader says. What they need is the gospel, they need Jesus. Spader says that “the lost don’t need to be rehabilitated. They need to be resurrected” (54). They need to realize that they are dead in their sins and then to be resurrected with Christ. They need more than church, they need salvation. Spader then goes on to explain the process of discipling people in chair one. In order to reach these people and move them out of chair one, we need to be willing to go to them. He reminds us that God, in Jesus came to us on Earth. Spader says that, “Jesus left the comforts of His eternal home and, by adding humanity to His deity, came into our world” (55). Likewise, we need to be willing to leave our comfortable lives, homes, and churches and go to those who are lost. As we go to them, we also need to learn about the culture that these people are living in. We need to take the time to learn where people come from in order to disciple them well. We need to show people that we are generally interested in who they are and be available to them. Finally, we need to begin to show them that they are dead. As they begin to see the reality of their own sin we can tell them that there is hope and there is life in the gospel.

The second chair, according to Spader, “represents the new believer, the person who has just crossed the line, repented of his sin, put his faith in Christ and is now a ‘new creation in Christ’” (67). These new believers need to be nurtured. The need more mature Christians to help them grow in their new faith. They need someone around to help them figure out what it means to live the Christian life. As they begin this new life, they probably won’t have all the answers or know everything that they need to know. So, they need people to walk with them and help them learn. One thing that they need to learn is what their new identity is. Spader points out that for the new believer their whole identity has been radically changed. People in chair two need to be reminded that they belong to Christ and that changes a lot. People in chair two also “need to learn to walk on their own” (72). They need to see what it means to trust in God and to follow him. In order to do that well they need people in their lives that are able to show them. They also need to learn how to talk about the gospel. Finally, they need to learn how to deal with their sin. Spader reminds us that this is a process and that it doesn’t happen right away. It may take a lot of time to walk with someone through this chair. It takes a lot of patience to walk with someone through this stage but it is such an important part of discipling somebody else.

Chair three represents the worker. This is a person that has already gone through the process of learning about and putting his/her faith in Jesus. They have been disciple through chair two and are ready to begin working for Christ. They are excited about the gospel and sharing that message with others. They have matured in their relationship with Christ but, as Spader says, “they are not fully trained” (80). They begin to experience more and more of what it means to have faith in and walk with God. The more they experience, the more they want. The Christians in chair three need to have experiences that will help them mature. They need to try to step out on their own with sharing their faith. Spader uses an example of how he tried to share his faith with a man who was working on his PhD in the philosophy of religion. In this conversation Spader was shot down. He was, of course, disappointed and a bit discouraged. But later that day he came across another person who he was able to share the gospel with and that person accepted Christ. Spader uses this example to remind us that as we begin to take risks for God they may not always turn out the way we hope they will. But if we never take chances to talk to people we will never be able to move forward. Christians in chair three need these kinds of experiences to move them forward.

Finally, chair four represents the “disciple-maker.” This is the goal for everyone that becomes a Christian. As we walk down this road with Jesus the hope is that we will mature enough to be able to begin to make more disciples. As we disciple other people we hope that they will also be able to disciple others. In this chair, as Spader describes it, “a person has become a spiritual parent” (97). This person has a mature understanding of the gospel and the discipleship process. They are mature enough in their walk with Christ to begin to teach and disciple others. The goal of chair four is to multiply. There is a desire in this chair to go beyond just being involved in church. They want to go outside of the church walls and reach other people.

Spader finishes the book by recognizing some of the challenges that are presented within each chair. He realizes that there will be problems that arise in each stage of discipleship and things that could keep someone from moving from one chair to the next.

I think that Spader presents an interesting way to look at discipleship. He clearly explains each chair and how they relate to the process that Jesus models for us. He takes the time to explain each chair and reminding us that this is a process and that every person and every chair takes time. He takes the time to explain each chair and reminding us that this is a process and that every person and every chair takes time. Spader does an excellent job explaining his method of discipleship. He gives some interesting insight to a very complex topic. This is a much needed book as it helps to define an important part of church culture.

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