What Is Discipleship​ Really About?

Similar to words such as weight management or ignorant, the word discipleship seems to have many different meanings among evangelicals. Weight management can refer to a diet plan or a plan to gain muscle mass and ignorant can refer to someone who is unaware of something or it can be a demeaning adjective toward someone. I’ve fleshed out the two distinct differences in discipling ministry. You can find that here.

Although there are some distinctions, a discipling ministry all has the same purpose: spiritual health. So what actually constitutes at spiritual health? Here are 2 pieces of evidence of spiritual health.

Intentionality in making disciples.

With all honesty and respect to anyone reading this, it is impossible for someone to claim they are a follower (disciple) of Christ and not be actively seeking to make disciples of Christ. This is the heartbeat of God. Jesus came to “seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).” The Old Testament and New Testament both testify to God’s desire of reconciliation for His creation back to Himself. But it wasn’t simply God’s mission, it is also the purpose of the Church – to be a part of God’s mission on this earth. Not only does the Church exist to actively be a sending agency for disciple-makers into the world, but it is also a place of discipling itself. Mark Dever writes,

“God wants you to be in churches not merely so that your needs are met, but so that you will be equipped and encouraged to care for others.”[1]

It is not enough to simply be a disciple of Christ and nothing more. In fact, the previous statement is an oxymoron. There is no such thing as a disciple of Jesus Christ who is not actively seeking to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Jesus was clear about this in the Great Commission. He was commanding those who were his followers to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19-20).

Of what does making disciples consist?

Sometimes, because of distinctive definitions (once again), it is easy to misunderstand something for the plethora of meanings of the certain word(s). Disciple-Making consists of the following:

  1. An intentional, intimate relationship with Christ. It is completely impossible to make disciples if you are not a disciple of Christ yourself. If discipling is to influence others to follow Jesus, then it is impossible to influence someone to do something that you are not bought into yourself.
  2. An intentional attitude of finding someone to disciple. One who is a disciple of Christ will not only have an intimate relationship with Christ but will also be adamant about finding someone else to help them follow Christ. This is exactly what Jesus commanded his disciples to do – to be disciple-makers (Matt. 28:19)
  3. An intentional plan of helping those whom you disciple to disciple others. It would lend itself unsuccessful if the discipling ministry ended with the ones you are discipling. Therefore, the discipling believer is to teach those he or she disciples to do the same with others.

Investing in people, not programs.

One of the traits missed in discipling ministries in the American church is focusing too much on the pragmatic approach to a discipling ministry. The discipling ministry in the Church should not be one of programs. Rather, it should be geared toward people and their spiritual health and obedience to Christ’s command.

When a church focuses on programs rather than people, they end up simply making their member’s lives busy. That is not discipleship. Discipleship is not a program that we place in our churches where slots are filled and boxes are checked off because we completed the task. No, discipleship is the purpose to which all believers are called. Bill Hull has a great paragraph in his book, The Complete Book of Discipleship, that I want to share with you. He simply says what I am wanting to communicate better than I could put into words. He writes,

“The principle behind discipleship does involve one person influencing another, which does result in a change in heart and mind. The success of discipleship doesn’t depend on soldiering forward in a mechanical strategy of reproduction and multiplication. And discipleship doesn’t involve developing a well-trained, elite sales force. Rather discipleship occurs when a transformed person radiates Christ to those around her. It happens when people so deeply experience God’s love that they can do nothing other than affect those around them.”[2]

The simple fact is that discipleship is not really about a structure or a strategy, although there is great wealth in those things. It’s about people. Without people, you have no discipling ministry.

Conclusion

Instead of over-using your members by having them fill slots the moment they join the church, why not try to train them to, as Hull wrote so well, radiate their love for Christ to those around them. What we miss is that the service will follow if their spiritual health is prioritized. The Scriptures tell us that it is those who are attached to Christ, the true vine, who bear fruit. True believers bear fruit by radiating Christ from the overflow of their relationship with Him. Which tells us that discipleship is about attaching ourselves to Christ and then influencing others to do the same.


[1] Mark Dever. Discipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 20.

[2] Bill Hull. The Complete Book of Discipleship: On Being and Making Followers of Christ (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2006), 28.

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