Sometimes, it is easier to define something by what it is not rather than what the something actually is. This can be true of discipleship. It is often easier to define discipleship by what it is not than to explain to someone what it is.
If you grew up like I did, you grew up in a period of Christian culture that was based on activities and evangelism with a lack of discipleship. I grew up in a culture that was focused on bus ministries and lock-ins. There wasn’t much discipling going on in my teenage years. In fact, it wasn’t until I went to college that I really understood what discipleship truly was.
The sad reality is this problem is not exclusive to the Millennial generation. The worse reality is that most church members do not have the faintest idea of what true, biblical discipleship looks like in the local church.
Even though I just finished saying that it is easier at times to define something by what it isn’t, I did write a blog a few months ago defining what I believe discipleship is. But I do think it is helpful to understand both sides. Sometimes seeing what certain things are not will help us better understand what certain things actually are.
Here are some things discipleship is not:
Discipleship is Not A Curriculum.
We use curriculum all throughout our Sunday School ministry in our church. I have nothing against it. Curriculum is a great thing. It gives you added material on the topic/passage of study in which you are going to teach. It also gives you a new perspective. The downside to curriculum is that you don’t have a lot of wiggle room in your talks. You pretty much stay on topic with what the curriculum says. I fear we see discipleship this way. I fear we see discipleship as something we should talk about rather than do.
Discipleship is not a curriculum; it is a conversation. Discipleship revolves around sharing life with one another. The only “curriculum” in discipleship is the Word of God. But the Word of God is central to all of ministry, not exclusively discipleship. And even still, discipleship is not a curriculum that you teach to students, it’s more than that. Discipleship is the conversations you have daily with those of which you are discipling.
Discipleship is Not an “Activity.”
Although many would see discipleship as an activity, it is most definitely not. In its truest form, discipleship could be seen as an activity of the local church, simply by its characteristics and methodology. However, this is something that is far from true regarding discipleship. Because discipleship is (or should be) done outside the church, it makes perfect sense why someone would equate it with a church activity. The same is true of activities – they are also done outside the church. But where the difference lay is the characteristics of the two. Church activities are done for reason of fellowship or possibly outreach. Discipleship is done because Jesus commanded it. Discipleship is a necessary ministry of the church that has become forgotten in the past 50-60 years. It is not an activity, it is a ministry of the local church.
Discipleship is Not a Voluntary Ministry.
The Lord has recently revealed to me, through Bible study, that Jesus’ last words in the gospel accounts are also the first words of His recorded in Acts. Jesus said to the multitude watching Him ascend into Heaven,
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.”
Mathew 28:19-20, CSB (Emphasis mine)
Jesus’s last words to this group of people was not optional. In the grammar of this statement, there is an imperative verb being used. This is Jesus’s statement to His disciples and others saying, “I’ve taught you, now you go teach others.” But I love the comparison with the first chapter of Acts. Luke wrote,
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Acts 1:8, CSB (Emphasis mine)
Jesus’s last words are the beginning of the most vital and flourishing time for the Christian Church. His words in Acts 1 are what fueled the early church fathers to keep spreading the gospel even when persecution arose. The early church faced many persecutions, yet the book of Acts records that they continued to spread the gospel, even among the persecution. This is because they were “witnesses” of what Jesus had done (specifically His resurrection) and they were committed to telling others about it.
If we are going to take Jesus at His word, we must obey. Discipleship is an imperative. There is no volunteering one week per month for discipleship. You are either in or out. There is no in between. Discipleship is not a voluntary ministry; it is a necessary ministry.
Discipleship is best accomplished when those in the local church make intentional efforts to pass faith and belief down to the next generation. Of course, we know that true, biblical discipleship starts in the home (Duet. 6:4-9), but the home is not the end itself. Family discipleship is the beginning of a lifelong commitment to Jesus Christ and His final commandment to make disciples. A true disciple of Christ does not treat discipleship as curriculum, a church activity, or voluntarily. A true disciple of Christ treats discipleship obediently and with great courage and strength and intentionality. Why? Because we know that lasting faith will only sprout from intentionally influencing the next generation.