Lately, I’ve realized the importance of discipleship in ministry. For the past two years or so, I’ve birthed an intense passion for discipleship. For the first few years of my ministry, I thought because I was not “entertainment-driven,” it meant that I was discipling efficiently and effectively.
But that was not the case.
That you aren’t “entertainment-driven” does not categorize you as effectively discipling your people (or students). I realized that I can be against using activities and events to present Jesus to students and still be dependent upon them for discipling them.
One of the more recent lessons the Lord has been teaching me is the difference between disciple-making and discipleship. It has truly been a joy to read books on discipleship and how I can apply these biblical concepts to the ministries at our church. These books fuel my thinking on how I can properly gauge effectiveness and efficiency in our ministry through both disciple-making and discipleship. However, I’ve come to understand that you cannot have one without the other. It’s important to understand the distinctions between these two words and how they affect your ministry.
The Great Commission is one of the most interesting passages in Scripture for a couple of reasons: 1) it is the only passage where Jesus actually gives us a command of how we should model our ministry, and 2) it defines for us the words discipleship and disciple-making. Let’s take a look at these two words in the order they are listed in Matthew 28:19-20:
“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 all that I have commanded you.”
Jesus gives us the command here to
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”
The verb for “go” here is indicative of not simply an act someone does but a life in which one lives. So we see that there is an imperative command from Christ: [you] go. In fact, this is a similar type of command where Jesus tells us that we must die to ourselves if we are to be his disciple (Luke 9:23). Not seeing the similarities? Let’s take a look.When we look at the language here, the verb for “go” literally means
“I depart this life, I die.”
Essentially what this means is our obedience to Christ – which is not exclusive to discipleship – is not only a lifelong process, but a self-denial of our wants, desires, and longings and the conforming our hearts and desires to that of Christ’s. The denial of one’s self in obedience to Christ is just the first step – or the “go.”
But Jesus also says to make disciples. In its most literal grammar, this simply means to be a learner who teaches or makes other learners. The command to make disciples also conveys the idea of taking a journey or a walk. If Christ is commanding us to die to self on a daily basis, we can also gather that He is communicating the idea of taking a journey of lifetime learning with Him.
So what are we doing in disciple-making efforts? i
In summation, the “go and make disciples” command from Christ is an imperative to die to self and teach others to do the same. It’s evangelism, I believe. The way we “go and make disciples” is by finding joy in dying to ourselves and living our lives in obedience to Christ and showing how Christ has given us new life and how someone else can experience this transformation.
Jesus continued by saying we should “teach them to observe all that I’ve commanded you.” This is what starts really the discipleship process. Although disciple-making does start with being a disciple yourself and making other disciples, so does discipleship. Discipleship cannot start until there are disciples on both ends of the relationship.
At the root of discipleship is relationships. Without the basis of relationships, you cannot have or [do] discipleship. There are two primary relationships that must be present in any discipleship endeavors. The first is your relationship with God. This seems a bit trivial, but in all reality is the most important relationship any Christian must have. It is not as if your relationship with God holds a magical formula or that Christians should hold some superstitious attitude toward a union with Christ, rather this is the most basic of the Christian life. Paul wrote to Timothy for him to
“be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”
2 Timothy 2:1, CSB
In this letter to Timothy, Paul was giving many commands on how Timothy should continue his ministry for another generation. In my opinion, the book of 2 Timothy is a great resource for discipleship. You can see all of Paul’s imperatives and see the overwhelming theme of passing down your faith to the next generation. But even with this theme of passing down your faith, Paul sees fit to command Timothy to always keep his union with Christ as the main priority in his life. You see, it is all too easy for us to let our priorities get out of whack. It is all too easy for us to focus our eyes on things that really don’t matter in life. It is all too easy for us to treat Jesus as Santa Clause or one whom we communicate with when we need something.
But for Timothy, Paul wanted him to understand the importance of his union with Christ and how much of a commitment it takes to be continually strong in His grace. It’s not as if there is a secret formula for staying strong in God’s grace. The only way to do this is to continually be in His Word by the grace that He gives us.
The second relationship is your relationships with other people. Once again, it may seem cliché but discipleship is all about relationships with people. For if you have no relationships with others, you cannot disciple them. It’s awfully difficult to disciple someone who does not trust you. In fact, I’d say it’s impossible. The only way to disciple someone is to first build a relationship with them.
At its core, discipleship is all about relationships. Of course, there are many other facets that we could list in regards to the definition of discipleship. But when it gets down to the nitty-gritty, everything in discipleship stems from these two things: your relationship with God and your relationship with others.
You may be asking why these two efforts of ministry are inseparable? It is because they work simultaneously with each other. It is clear Jesus’ design for ministry was for these two endeavors to be at the forefront of ministry. You do not have a ministry without disciple-making and you cannot have discipleship without disciples to teach. Therefore, it is impossible to separate disciple-making and discipleship without losing your entire framework of ministry.
Helpful Resources (Click for Links to Purchase)
“Growing Up” Series – Robby Gallaty
“Mentoring Like Jesus” – Regi Campbell
“No Silver Bullets” – Daniel Im
“Discipling” – Mark Dever
“Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out” – Alvin Reid
“Tactics” – Greg Koukl