A New Book on Discipleship: Interview


I’m jazzed about Monday’s upcoming post. I’ll be unveiling an exciting new event this summer for authors and/or bloggers.

But today, I interview Robby Gallaty on his new discipleship book. It’s called Growing Up.



Robby, instead of asking, “What is your book about?” I’m going to ask the question that’s behind that question: “How are readers going to benefit from reading your book?” 

I thought I had hit rock bottom when I stole $15,000 from my parents. I was a twenty-five-year-old drug dealer, hopelessly addicted to prescription medications. The police were on my trail, and my prosperous life suddenly fell apart. Let me go back where it began.

On November 22, 1999, my life would never be the same.

This was the day an eighteen-wheeler traveling sixty-five miles per hour swerved across two lanes of traffic and slammed my car into a guardrail.

Doctors determined that I had two herniated discs in my neck, one herniated disc in my back, and one bulging disc in my lower back. All I knew was that I was in horrific pain. Their solution: a combination of OxyContin, Valium, Soma, and Percocet.

Having never taken drugs before, I began by precisely following the dosage instructions. But in three months, I found myself addicted to prescription pain-killers. When my thirty-day supply ran low as a result of abusing the drugs, I desperately turned to dubious means of feeding my insatiable craving for more.

Two shady acquaintances introduced me to the lucrative world of dealing drugs. With my business training and experience, I quickly became successful at importing and selling illegal drugs. Trafficking heroin, cocaine, GHB, marijuana, and other dangerous substances into New Orleans enabled me to enjoy a lifestyle that most only dream about.

Downward Spiral 

But in January of 2000, my world began to unravel. Rick, a former business partner and close friend, overdosed on heroin and died with the needle still in his arm. Between 2000 and 2003, I lost eight friends to alcohol or drugs, while six others ended up in prison. Additionally, the police were starting to suspect me of drug-dealing and began monitoring our group.

Everything changed overnight. Suddenly, we couldn’t pay the bills. The gas, water, and electricity to our house were shut off. The bill collectors continued to call until the phone was disconnected as well. To make matters even worse, I had a $180-a-day drug addiction that growled to be fed.

During that period, I stole $15,000 from my father by using his credit card to buy items online that I later pawned or sold for drug money. When my parents learned what I had done, they were totally crushed. They were well-justified in ordering me to never return to their house. Unfazed by the confrontation, I wasted the rest of my bank account on street drugs. This three-month drug binge ended with me on my parents’ living room floor, penniless and begging for their help.

My next stop was a rehab program in Tijuana, Mexico, of all places. I spent ten days in an intensive recovery program involving the injection of amino acids to realign the serotonin and dopamine levels in my body. After completing the program, I moved to Mobile, Alabama, to live with my sister, and things began to improve. I even got a job as a sales manager at a gym, where I began training five days a week. One day, while foolishly attempting to squat press over 500 pounds, I felt a familiar pain shoot through my back.

After traveling back to New Orleans for treatment, I learned that I had damaged the same disc in my back, and that I needed immediate surgery. Following the surgery, I went home with the same four pain medications that were prescribed for me after my car accident. For the next six months, I allowed these medications—substances that had caused so much hurt and heartache for my family—back into my life. Things quickly crashed for the second time. Knowing I had now reached rock bottom, I abruptly stopped taking all the drugs and voluntarily re-entered rehab two weeks later. 

24-Hour Experience 

I began treatment again on November 12, 2002. On the first night, I remembered Jeremy Brown, who had told me that no matter what I had done, Christ loves me and is waiting for me to call out to Him in repentance and faith. It didn’t happen in a church service, under a revival tent, or in a crusade. Jesus introduced Himself to me that night in my room. I surrendered myself to Him, confessing my sins and asking the Lord to save me from the mess I had made of my life. After dumping everything at the foot of the cross, God’s forgiveness rushed over me like a mighty, cleansing wave. Overwhelmed by a purity and freedom I had never known, I made two promises to the Lord that night: first, I would completely devote my life to Him, and second, I would travel the world sharing my testimony with others.

I spent the next twenty-four hours in my room with nobody but Jesus Christ. This glorious experience birthed uncontainable excitement in my soul. The very next day, I told my dad that I intended to become a preacher. A lifelong Catholic, my father was concerned about my plans for marriage. Naturally, he assumed that I wanted to become a priest. I carefully explained that I was leaving my focus on rituals and works behind, and I was devoting my life to sharing the gospel with others.

Fast-forward eleven years. Today, I have a godly wife and two sons, and I am privileged to serve as pastor of a thriving congregation. In fact, at the time of this writing, I am in my fifth year as pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, having been called as pastor in 2008.

Here is the million-dollar question: how can a thieving, drug-dealing pill addict undergo such a radical transformation in so little time—a mere eleven years? What could produce this drastic change?

The answer to this question is, first and foremost, the power and grace of God. This change has come about because of God’s marvelous, miraculous working in my life. But there is something else, a human factor:

I have been powerfully impacted by godly men who were willing to sacrifice their time to hold me accountable and personally disciple me in the Christian life. 

Growing Up is the outflow of a decade of being discipled and discipling others. The book takes the guesswork out of experiencing a fulfilled, abundant life in Christ. Readers will see results immediately after implementing the principles in the book.

How can I be so confident about the results of Growing Up? Well, I think I’m like your readers; there was a time in my life when I wanted to grow in my faith but just didn’t know how.

  • I owned a Bible, but didn’t understand it.
  • I heard others pray, but didn’t know how to communicate with God.
  • I wanted to share my faith with others, but didn’t know where to start.
  • I had friends at Church, but lacked deep relationships with anyone.
  • I wanted to hide God’s word in my heart, but lacked a plan for memorization.
  • I read the Scriptures, but didn’t know how to apply them.

How is your book different from the many other books on the same subject?

Growing Up was written from experience of discipleship and a comprehensive knowledge of the subject. Two men took the time to invest in my life (David Platt—author of Radical and Follow Me, as well as the Foreword of Growing Up—and Tim Lafleur, our church’s Disciple-making Pastor). Additionally, I have obtained two advanced degrees over the past eight years from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Since then, I have read nearly every book on discipleship, searching for answers to my questions.

I have found a number of adequate books that describe the philosophy and theory of making disciples, but I was often left wondering after reading: “Now What? What Next?” Growing Up attempts to answer these questions in a clear, concise manner, using tried and tested methods. These discipleship techniques have been employed by hundreds of believers in multivalent contexts, both locally and globally over a decade. Everyone from new believers to seasoned professional ministers should find numerous principles to implement in their ever-evolving discipleship systems.

Give us two or three insights from the Growing Up that you feel are “new” to the field of discipleship.

First, I have created a proven method for HEARing from God. Many people don’t consistently read the bible because they don’t have a plan for reading. But if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. I created the HEAR method to eliminate guesswork when it comes to reading, studying, and applying the Word of God.

Second, I teach the reader how to develop a simple church-based discipleship ministry without adding a dedicated discipleship program. At the church I pastor, we have seen exponential growth in our people by incorporating the discipleship principles in the book. When I first arrived, there were a mere handful of people meeting in disciple-making groups. In January 2014, we expect 800 to 1,000 people to meet in reproducible, accountable discipleship groups of 3 to 5 (a concept I explain in Growing Up). Keep in mind, 800 to 1,000 is in addition to Sunday Bible studies and small groups meeting on church grounds. I’m not throwing around numbers to impress you; rather, I’m trying to impress upon you that we have tried certain discipleship methods that have clear, positive results. But their have also been some techniques that certainly were not beneficial to discipleship. Both the positive and negative results of our work has been recorded in Growing Up.

What is the most controversial part of your book and why?

Perhaps the most controversial part of the book is the suggestion that a D-Group should consist of three-to-five people, as opposed to two people establishing a one-on-one relationship. Sadly, many people think of a one-on-one discipleship relationship as the only means for effective growth. Although one-on-one discipling has it purposes, there are restrictions to this method.

Here are five reasons to meet in a group of three-to-five instead of privately with one.

1. You Avoid the Ping-Pong Match

First, a group of two can be like a ping-pong match: you, the leader, are responsible to keep the ball in play. “Mike, how was your day?” “Good,” responds Mike. The leader probes deeper by asking, “Any insights from your Scripture reading this week?” “I enjoyed it,” Mike briefly replies. The conversation progresses only as the mentor engages the mentee. The pressure to lead is lessened when others in the group join in on the spiritual journey.

2. One-on-One Models Can Be Challenging to Reproduce

Second, a one-on-one model can be challenging to reproduce because the person in whom you are investing has a tendency to look at you in the same manner that Timothy looked at the Apostle Paul. Mentees, after a year or two in a personal discipling relationship, have said to me, “I could never do with another person what you did with me.” Yet a group takes a journey together. Therefore, the individual disciple has more encouragement to replicate the process.

It is worth noting that group members usually don’t feel ready to begin their own groups. Neither did the Twelve. But Jesus left them with no choice. Remember, the discipling relationship is not complete until the mentee becomes a mentor.

3. A Group of Two Tends to Become a Counseling Session

Third, a group of two tends to become a counseling session, where you spend the majority of your time solving personal problems. Biblical wisdom for personal issues is certainly a part of the discipling relationship, but therapeutic advice every week must not define the group.

4. Jesus Discipled in Groups

Fourth, as mentioned earlier, Jesus utilized the group model. While he spent time investing in the Twelve, he used teachable moments to shape three men specifically—Peter, James and John—in a unique way. With the exception of Judas, the Twelve faithfully followed the Lord, even to the point of death. But Peter, James and John were the key leaders in the early Church.

Solomon, a financial genius, the Warren Buffett of his day, advocated the diversification of assets twenty-five hundred years before Wall Street existed (Eccl. 11:1-2). Wise people invest in a variety of stocks, bonds, and commodities. Jesus, too, believed in diversified investing and modeled it in his discipleship example. Joel Rosenberg and T.E. Koshy pose a thought-provoking question:

What if for three years Jesus had discipled only Judas? Despite his best efforts, Jesus would have wound up with no one to carry on his legacy and his message when he returned to the Father. Jesus didn’t invest in just one man. He invested in a group of men from a wide range of backgrounds, including fishermen, a tax collector, and a Zealot (a political revolutionary).

Jesus poured himself into twelve men, and taught us the importance of group disciple-making. Yes, there are times when a one-on-one mentoring relationships are beneficial. But in the New Testament, particularly in the Gospels, it is not the norm.

5. Built-in Accountability

Finally, a group of three-to-five provides a built-in accountability and encouragement system. This benefit is missed in a group of two.

Click here to order Growing Up on discount

Articles that challenge the contemporary model of discipleship 

9 Reasons Why Discipleship Isn’t Working Today




  1. says

    Really nice interview! Good questions and powerful answers that made me want to pick up this book and get reading! I ordered over the holidays and got bogged down and haven’t gotten it read, but this post kicked me back into action! Thanks!

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