What is Discipleship?

For the past couple of years, I have been battling with what my philosophy of student ministry consisted of. I’ve never been one to take the side of pragmatics or what our current evangelicalism would call “entertainment driven” ministry.

Within these past couple of years, I’ve begun a personal relationship with discipleship. I started reading books like, Student Ministry and the Supremacy of Christ by Richard Ross, and becoming better acquainted with discipleship and its purpose. However, Ross’s book was not the only one with rich, theologically sound material on discipleship. There are several books that have impacted my philosophy of a gospel-based, Christ-centered, discipleship-focused student ministry. I will put their links in the conclusion for your benefit.

Regarding discipleship, I believe it boils down to three specific traits.

Discipleship is Spiritual Discipline.

I was recently in a discussion with some friends regarding a discipleship plan for your ministry. I’ve implemented structures of discipleship, with the help of some great resources, in our student ministry the past few years. But I’ve never really considered the implications and effects of that plan on our students to whom I was ministering and leading.

By having this conversation, I was forced to rethink everything about the discipleship structure in my current ministry. One of the questions I ask myself regularly is “What type of student do I want to build?” This question is not to imply that students are robots or a product of what we make them out to be. Rather, it is meant to be a goal-setter for our student ministry. If a student starts in 7th grade and is led all throughout middle school and high school, where would they be in their relationship with Christ? What would their life look like in regards to biblical knowledge? How highly would they view making other disciples? These questions are brought up often for me.

For this reason, I believe an imperative first step for students is spiritual discipline in their relationship with Christ. Let’s not beat around the bush, you cannot be a disciple by merely knowing about Jesus (James 2:19). The Bible is clear that disciples of Christ not only know Christ but obey Christ. If we  limit our spiritual disciplines to making sure we are on time for church or we are adequately successful with our daily Bible reading, we are fooling ourselves into thinking we are obeying Christ. So what do the disciplines really look like?

Here are four ways I believe we can be “Spiritually Disciplined”?

  • Having a daily time of Bible intake, reflection, meditation, and memorization (Ps. 1:2, Ps. 119:11)
  • Making Christ the supreme Lord of every area of our life (Col. 1:21)
  • Being committed to the local Church through attendance and service (Heb. 10:25)
  • Being intentional about making other disciples (Matt. 28:19, 2 Tim. 2:2)

Discipleship is Sharing Life.

Discipleship is never a one-man operation. It takes multiple people to accomplish the same goal. Why? Because discipleship is solely about investing in other people. I honestly believe this was the biggest misconception about discipleship I had before becoming more aware of what discipleship consisted.

Because sharing life is so important to discipleship, it is important to understand this: the one acting as a discipler is a disciple also. This means the discipler must be spiritually disciplined. If a person who is discipling others is not awakened to Christ’s Lordship over their life, neither will their disciples be. This is the most important facet of discipleship. Richard Ross says,

“Flocks follow the example of their shepherd.”

While all discipleship does not deal with pastors/student pastors doing the most discipling, it is imperative to have people in place in whom you have the utmost confidence that they are spiritually awakened to Christ and His supremacy over their life.

But sharing life is more than simply being “spiritual” with those who you are discipling. Sharing life is exactly what it sounds like: you live and allow those you disciple to see into your seasons of life. Show them how you handle tough times. Show them what to do when Satan tempts you. Teach them how to avoid temptation while at work. Help them on their own spiritual journey. The true discipler shares life with their disciples.

Jesus had twelve men who literally lived with him for 3 1/2 years (how would you like that?). And even out of those twelve, he favored three more than the others. They didn’t just occasionally meet Jesus for dinner or sit and study the Bible once a month together. They lived life with Him.

Discipleship is Imitation.

This point really flows with the previous. If discipleship is sharing life, then discipleship is essentially imitation. Let’s clarify what I mean by imitation. For the most part, I’ve seen imitation as a negative connotation. Most of the time when we think of imitation, we think of mocking or being a “copycat” in elementary school.

But imitation can be a good thing. What if imitation was directly related to obedience? What if imitation dealt with our inward and outward self, instead of only the latter? The process of discipleship is truly based on imitation. Paul wrote to the Corinthians,

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

In fact, on more than one occasion in the letter, Paul uses the word “imitate.” Also in the book of 2 Timothy, Paul writes to Timothy,

“…and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men…”

Often, Paul uses this idea of imitation or some type of “passing down” of the things one has learned from him to others. But Paul doesn’t have himself at the beginning of this process. He, too, had a person who he imitated and that person was Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

It may take you being the one to say similar things that Paul did in your church. You may be the one in whom people will imitate as you imitate Christ. If that is the case, what an honor! Whatever the case, the main objective of discipleship is three-fold: being spiritually disciplined, sharing life, and imitating Christ so others will do the same by way of your life.

There is a reason that Paul described the Christian faith as a high calling. Paul knew what discipleship was capable of and understood its necessity in the local church.

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

Recommended Resources (click title for link):

Growing Up – Robby Gallaty

Student Ministry and the Supremacy of Christ – Richard Ross

The Trellis and The Vine – Colin Marshall and Tony Payne

Discipleship: The Essence of Saving Faith – Robert Picirilli

Multiply – Francis Chan

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