What Really is Discipleship?

9 04 2014



In a recent discussion with pastors and men’s leaders the question came up, “Just what do we mean by
discipleship?” I heard a broad array of answers. For some, discipleship includes instruction in Christian doctrine
and disciplines, like learning to pray or study the Bible. For others it means learning how to become a better man
of God and leader in the church. Still for others it means getting out there and serving our neighbors. How is it
that we have become so diverse in our definitions?  We seem to have gotten lost in the forest of traditions, styles
and programs.

I don’t claim to be the best authority on this issue myself, just someone who has realized that much of what I thought was discipleship was really not serving to make true disciples of Jesus. Men were learning how to be religious, but were they really growing in their relationship with Christ? I couldn’t say.

I went back to looking at the life of Jesus, the master disciplemaker. How did He disciple men? What was His process, His objective? If you have studied His life and His interaction with His disciples you will notice some very basic features.

First of all, Jesus called men to “Come and See” who He really was (Jn.1:35). Discipleship starts with coming to a firm belief in just who Jesus was AND is. It’s not about doctrines, disciplines or denominations. Its simply about Jesus. Its coming to a personal awareness of the indwelling Christ in our lives. Its not just knowing about Him, but truly knowing Him in the same way you know your relative or friend. Lets make sure men really know Him and can vouch for who He is.

Secondly, Jesus invited men to “Follow Me”, a dramatic and life changing challenge (Mt.4:2). This act means that the disciple has to learn just what it means to “follow” someone. We are very good about training men to be Biblically literate and courageous men of God, but do we train them how to follow? By definition a disciple is simply a follower. Followers are people that have submitted to someone else’s leadership. They watch where their leader is going and listen for instructions. Are we training men how to “watch” for Jesus? Are we training men how to “hear” Him?

Thirdly, Jesus welcomed His followers to “Be with Me” or to become His companions in the Kingdom mission (Mk 3:14). He openly shared His life and demonstrated His authority over nature and spiritual forces. He illustrated the symbiotic relationship He had with the Father and prayed that the disciples would come to that same “oneness” (Jn.17:21). Are we training men how to live in sync with Jesus? Are they realizing that their lives are really Christ (Col. 3:3)? Have they learned to do the same things Jesus did because they live as one with Him?

Finally, Jesus encouraged His disciples to “Remain in Him” (Jn.15:4). The mystery of our faith is that as disciples of Jesus we can continue to interact with a living person. He doesn’t live in His own body on earth any longer, rather He inhabits our lives. Many people are disciples of dead people and can only speak of the teachings or the past life of their leaders. Our relationship with Jesus is a present reality. We can experience all that He is and live inside His life. How are we teaching men to remain in Jesus, to rest in His life and love?

I have used and even written a lot systematic studies that I thought would produce a disciple. I discovered however, that to disciple like Jesus I needed to do it like He did it. Lets keep discipleship about Jesus and help men come to a fresh experience of living in Him. Maybe then we can really impact the world as He intended.

Dennis Deardorff




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