In the world today, it’s said the average person is to observe roughly 4,000 ads a day. The ways in which someone experiences advertisement is through television, radio, print (newspapers, magazines etc), online advertising, social media and through apps on a smartphone. With that volume of advertisement, Christians, those who claim to be followers of Christ, are predominantly being taught how to live life in this world by the world. However, being a disciple of Jesus Christ, is to live counter culture. Christians are gifted by the Lord with his Word, which shares the way in which he desires for believers to live. This can be summarized in one word: discipleship. Discipleship is a board term, often leading others to ask the question, what exactly is discipleship? By having a clear definition of discipleship along with the word, disciple, will help one to better understand why one would disciple, what it means to be shaped like Christ as well as understand their role in the process of discipleship. So let’s ask the question: What is discipleship?
This is a question that can be answered in numerous ways, depending on an individual’s past experiences and how their current church communicates the value and vision of discipleship. Scripture speaks to the importance of discipleship and gives examples in how an individual can engage in the process of discipleship. Bill Hull, author of “The Complete Book of Discipleship”, quotes Dallas Willard on his view of discipleship, “Willard both defines and describes discipleship: “discipleship is the relationship I stand into Jesus Christ in order that I might take on his character. As his disciple, I am learning from him how to live my life in the kingdom as he would if he were I. The natural outcome is that my behavior is transformed. Increasingly, I routinely and easily do the things he said and did” (pp. 16). Discipleship is becoming more like Christ in all realms of life. Discipleship is a follower of Christ admitting their need for Jesus, confessing their need for the power of the Spirit to help shape and transform them more and more into the image of Jesus.
Discipleship has many attributes, each person having their own understanding of discipleship. In the book, “Transformational Discipleship” by Eric Geiger, he lists several attributes of discipleship. He writes, “The eight attributes (bible engagement, obeying God and denying self, serving God and others, sharing Christ, exercising Faith, seeking God, building relationships, unashamed) are biblical factors that consistently show up in the life of a maturing believer”(pp. 51). All of these attributes come into play as an individual is growing more and more into the image of Christ.
To be a disciple of Christ is a commitment, a life change that results in glorifying God and making the name of Jesus known to all people. It is not a passive commitment, it’s an active one. It’s a choice to abide in Christ through prayer and God’s Word, to bear fruit through the power of the Spirit, actively responding to God’s love with obedience, possessing joy because of the salvation one has received and ultimately sacrificially loving others like Jesus has loved. This is something that is not to be done alone. Disciples are to come under the teaching of another, one who is faithfully pursuing Christ, in order to better understand and learn how to display the loving acts of Christ to the world. This often happens through the church.
In his book “Discipling” Mark Dever wrote, ”Discipling is really just a bunch of church members taking responsibility to prepare one another for glory” (pp. 43). The Lord has gifted every follower of Christ with giftings to help serve, support and care for those within the body of Christ, both in a local and global church context. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field ”(Matthew 9:38). Jesus knew that discipling would take discipline and intentionality so he told his disciples that he needed them to be the ones to go out into the harvest field, and to share the message of the Good News. If discipling is going out into the fields and helping one prepare for glory, the question is, does the body of Christ feel prepared for the task? Who is to equip the church for this task?
Within the walls of the church is where the body of Christ should be equipped to go out and disciple. Staff and key leaders are to create avenues and space to help equip those in the church to disciple so they in turn can disciple others. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians writes,
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13)
If those in the body of Christ are unfamiliar with how to disciple and/or come alongside someone in their faith walk, they are to seek out learning opportunities and ask those in leadership to help them develop as a leader. By doing this, they will feel equipped and able to go and disciple those in their care.
A practical example of a disciple model could be what. Eric Geiger calls a “Life → Truth → Life pattern. Your life should attract people to listen to you; your teaching should then work for their transformation; their transformed lives should illustrate what you taught, which in turn attracts people to listen to them” (pp. 85). Disciples are in a unique position to invite others into their lives and share with one another the ways in which the Lord is continuing to shape them and grow them.
By incorporating a Life → Truth → Life pattern, those who are learning from other believers will begin to understand the motivation and reason behind a person’s decision making. The life one lives as a follower of Christ should be attractive. Others should be drawn to the way in which a disciple is living their life. In the Gospel accounts, Jesus displayed this type of teaching. He invited twelve close followers to be part of his daily life. The twelve had the opportunity to learn the words of Jesus, learn the ways of his ministry, imitate the life and character of Christ, and move toward teaching others to follow Jesus. Within those twelve, he allowed three to be part of more intimate situations. Through the different experiences they shared with him, they were able to ask questions, see how he related to others, and better understand the Kingdom of God. Just as Jesus created this culture with his disciples, believers today have the chance to create a teachable space where questions can be asked so the disciple can begin to think through their pattern of life and ask others as well as the Lord to help transform it for his honor and glory.
Every person, whether a follower of Christ or not, is being discipled by something. The world, whether that be media, the books that are read, conversations that are had among one another, are guiding the thoughts and actions of people, whether they choose to admit it or not. Disciples of Jesus have a greater teacher, the one who is the source of all truth. Through the Words believers read in Scripture, one comes to understand the commands and way of Jesus and by the power of the Spirit is one able to walk in his ways and be conformed to Christ’s image. The church along with the body of Christ have a responsibility to one another, to teach and equip one another to go and make disciples for the glory and name of Jesus. The Lord has provided the resources believers need in order to display his kingdom here on Earth. As followers of Christ, abide in Jesus and the power of the Spirit, they are to invite others into their life, teaching them how to seek the resources of the Lord and the body of Christ so they can learn how to faithfully walk with him.