DIY Discipleship?

I have to confess that I’m a diehard Do-it-Yourselfer. Because of this, I have a difficult time tackling anything new in the company of others. I love to figure things out for myself (sometimes with a little help from YouTube).

Like any self-respecting DIYer, if I can find a shortcut that will save me time—and especially money—then I’ll take it.

Replace the fuel pump on my pickup rather than paying a mechanic to do it? Check. Repair the stove rather than calling an appliance repair person? You bet. Craft favors for a little girl’s birthday party? Right on. Bee-keeping? So cool. Learning to road bike? No problem.

I love to learn. But honestly, I prefer to do the learning on my own.


We Americans are a nation of Do-It-Yourselfers. The sheer amount of DIY opportunities is mind-boggling, as the internet has become a treasure trove of DIY videos, primers, and hacks. A quick YouTube search reveals instructional snippets for anything from making kids’ crafts to sewing your own clothing to building yourself a tiny house. Take your pick, and you can find a way to Do-It-Yourself.

There’s never been a better time to DIY, and for anyone with a little bit of time, savvy, and initiative, it’s a great way to save money and learn new things. Doing-It-Yourself can bring an intense amount of pride and accomplishment, even helping to bolster life and job skills. Many YouTubers have built careers on creating DIY videos, garnering followers in the millions. DIY has become a prolific and profitable cottage industry.

Even formal education is bending towards a DIY model: virtual classrooms and online degrees make learning more accessible to nearly everyone. Granted, courses still have to be created, taught, and planned by educators. But the trend is clearly bending toward a larger separation between student and teacher.

In a culture where isolation, loneliness, and disconnection are becoming the norm, this trend may not be as good or healthy as it ought to be. As I talk with young people thinking about their futures, I’ve even noticed a trend away from any kind of formal education in exchange for a DIY education.


Although positive in many ways, living in a DIY world can create an idea of education that is self-centered, isolated, unguided, and instant. And because discipleship is, as C.S. Lewis wrote, “an education in itself,” these values are quickly infiltrating the church and our practice of discipleship.

DIY Discipleship is self-centered. Education is becoming focused intensely on individual interests and desires, no matter how quirky or unmarketable they might be. One cannot be truly fulfilled in life unless their path is fully desirable and meets their own needs. Our discipleship takes on the same flavor when it revolves around the fulfillment of an individual’s plans and desires.

DIY Discipleship is isolated. All that’s needed to achieve our dreams and become who we want to be is a smartphone, a wireless connection, and our favorite YouTube personalities. There’s an aversion to learning from others in the context of personal, proximate relationships.

DIY Discipleship is unguided. We want to create our own path, divorced from the guidance of an expert—what the ancients called a sage. Rather than seek counsel on the correct way to go, we have become unwilling to ask for help. Discipleship, then, becomes unstructured. We’ll “figure it out” as we go.

DIY Discipleship is instant. We want it done, we want it done now, and we want it done cheap. We want the quickest hack, the shortest instructional video, and next-day (preferably free) shipping. Why shouldn’t this be true for discipleship? Need to learn how to study the Bible? Just a click away. Want to be inspired by a sermon while doing more important things? Download a podcast. Need a quick answer to a thorny theological dilemma? Google it. The “tools” of discipleship are all in the palm of our hands in an instant.

Though pragmatically appealing, a DIY approach to discipleship is anemic at best and toxic at worst. It’s neither the way God designed us nor intended discipleship to happen.


The true vision for discipleship became clear to me in a fresh way as my friend was teaching me how to draft on a road bike.

Cycling seemed like an enjoyable activity that would work to bolster my fitness (self-centered), so I tackled my entire first season of cycling completely solo (isolated). I thought my busy life only allowed so much margin so the most efficient way to learn something new was to DIY (instant). Sure, I had limited conversations with cycling friends to get a few quick answers, but for the most part, I relied on my limited knowledge and common sense (unguided).

So when Gabe, who has been cycling for years, invited me to join him for a longer ride, I hesitantly agreed.

Right away, Gabe began teaching me how to draft. “It’s gonna feel weird, but what you wanna do is just tuck right in behind me. Get your front tire within a few inches of my rear tire. And just hold it there.”

Seriously? I asked myself. “Did you say a few inches?

“Yep. As close as you can get,” he said. “The closer the better. It’ll make it a ton easier for you.”

“Okay . . . ” I replied.

“But here’s the thing,” he yelled back to me, over his shoulder. “You have to trust me!”

I’ve known Gabe for over thirty years, and I can’t think of many people I trust more. So I inched my bike closer until our tires were about a foot apart. And wouldn’t you know, it did get easier! His body mass easily blocked most of the headwind, and I wasn’t pedaling anywhere near full intensity.

That ride was a beautiful picture of discipleship. Even though I could ride on my own, there were certain things I couldn’t do by myself. I needed to learn certain things that require another person, and other things I didn’t even know I needed to learn without a teacher instructing me.


This is exactly why discipleship cannot be a DIY project. It must be a Do-It-Together endeavor:

Discipleship requires loving others over self-centeredness. When we combine Jesus’ Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) and Great Commandments (Matt. 22:34-40), we see that we love God best by loving others. And we love people when we make disciples. Because discipleship is becoming like Christ (Rom. 8:29; 1 John 3:2) it requires that we learn to love like he did (John 13:34; 15:9, 12). In place of self-centeredness, the kind of love required by discipleship is a self-sacrificial laying down of our lives and preferences for the sake of others (Matt. 16:24-26).

Discipleship requires community over isolation. Just like I couldn’t learn how to draft without another rider present, we can’t learn to be like Jesus without other people. We cannot love others in isolation. It’s simply impossible. By its very definition, discipleship is a community project. It requires relationship. And it’s difficult to be in real relationship with your favorite YouTuber or podcasting preacher. Crucial aspects of discipleship—like observing the “one anothers” (e.g. Gal. 5:13; 6:2; Eph. 4:32; 5:21; 1 Thess. 3:12; 4:9, 18; 5:11, 15) and “confess(ing) your sins to one another” (James 5:16, emphasis added)—cannot happen in isolation. Community is a requirement and benefit of belonging to Jesus, and living in community is the essential context of discipleship.

Discipleship requires wise direction over a lack of guidance. There are many things best learned from experts. The word itself—“disciple”—simply means student, apprentice, or follower. A student requires a teacher; an apprentice requires a master; a follower requires a leader. Discipleship is an imitation game, as Paul realized: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1; see also 2 Thess. 3:7-9; Heb. 13:7). To imitate someone, you have to stick close to them: tuck in right behind them and get as close as you can, trusting their lead and following closely to get the maximum benefits. Discipleship requires wise mentors, sages who have gone before us on the path of discipleship, who are given to us to lead us to places we don’t even know we need to go.

Discipleship requires time over the demand for instant-gratification. We are impatient people, “but the fruit of the Spirit is . . . patience,” (Gal. 5:22). Giving up our need for instant-gratification recognizes that discipleship is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time, experience, and adversity for character to grow. We are commanded to “wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord” (Ps. 27:14)! We don’t grow to be like Jesus in an instant, but over a lifetime.


It takes courage and faith to step out of a Do-It-Yourself mindset and into the life-giving path of Do-It-Together discipleship.

If you find yourself in this boat, here’s a DIY challenge for you: Will you commit to asking someone—a real, flesh-and-blood person—to disciple you? Someone who’s been down the road ahead of you who can give you guidance in the ways of Jesus?

This is difficult, but it is the first step on the way to living in the community of mutual growth that God designed for us.

Mike Phay serves as Lead Pastor at FBC Prineville (Oregon) and as a Staff Writer at Gospel-Centered Discipleship. He is married to Keri and they have five amazing kids. He also blogs regularly.