What is a disciple? A disciple is a person who is passionate about becoming like Jesus Christ. Jesus said; "A disciple is not greater than his teacher, nor a slave greater than his master. It is enough for the disciple to become like his teacher, and the slave like his master.” (Matthew 10:24-25a; NET). The apostle John wrote; “The one who says he resides in God ought himself to walk just as Jesus walked” (1 John 2:6; NET). Being a disciple is not just about attending classes and learning the right doctrine, but it is about how we live. The disciple of Jesus Christ adjusts his/her life to be more like Jesus.
What is the role of a disciple in the church? Disciples are the core of the local church family. They provide the service, sacrifice, and leadership to make ministry happen. These people spend time praying for the church family and specific individuals. They show concern and compassion for fellow believers and look for opportunities to impact the lives of non-believers. Disciples provide the godly wisdom and leadership the church family needs as they try to be a positive influence in their community. Most importantly is that disciples provide examples for other people to follow. People can look at them and discover what it means to be a Christian. Healthy churches are built on mature and strong disciples.
What is discipleship? Discipleship is the intentional process of making disciples. Jesus left the church with this charge; “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a, NET). The church is to be intentional about making disciples, and while the process might look different from church family to church family, one thing is for certain: effective discipleship doesn’t happen by accident.
What role does discipleship play in the church? Discipleship is the most important ministry of the church family. It ensures the health of the church family going into the future as well as enables the church family to have influence in the community. While a few people are able to mature in faith based on their personal discipline, most of us need help, encouragement, and direction in order to continue to mature. Discipleship makes sure that the people who compose the church family have the opportunity to mature in faith and thus strengthen the ministry of the church family.
My Philosophy of discipleship: The Church is in the disciple-making business. It is what Jesus called us to do (Matthew 28:18-20). Discipleship must be a priority for every church family. How is discipleship accomplished? Looking at the ministry of Jesus I believe that we can discover three components that are essential to every discipleship program:
- Discipleship is founded on prayer. In his gospel, Luke tells us that Jesus prayed before He chose His twelve apostles (Luke 6:12, 13). We also read in John’s gospel that Jesus prayed for His disciples the night He was betrayed (John 17:1-26). Jesus demonstrates for us that prayer is essential for Christian discipleship.
- Discipleship happens through teaching. Jesus’ ministry was primarily a ministry of teaching (Matthew 4:23). Faith begins with knowledge. Knowledge is transferred through teaching. For people to become like Jesus they need to know how Jesus lived and how Jesus wants them to live. Personal and group study must be part of a disciple’s life. An effective discipleship program will provide opportunities for people to know God’s Word. For people to adjust their lives to God’s will, they first need to know what God’s will is.
- Discipleship results in ministry. There came a point in Jesus’ ministry when He sent out His disciples to do the work of ministry. In Luke 9:1-6 we read that Jesus sent the Twelve out to do mission work and then in Luke 10:1-16 we read how He sent out seventy-two chosen disciples to carry out His ministry. It is through participating in ministry that we are able to experience God at work in and through our lives. Effective discipleship programs provide opportunities for people to do ministry (inside and outside the church family). Ministry provides disciples the opportunity to do God’s will.
Discipleship programs can take on different forms based on a church family’s needs and resources, but prayer, teaching, and ministry must be present for discipleship to happen. To these three components I think there are two principles that must be added. These principles are faith and patience. We have to have faith that when we are committed to the discipleship program that the Holy Spirit will work in people’s lives. We also have to be patient and not get frustrated when things don’t change as fast as we would like. It took three years of ministry for Jesus to get His rag tag group of disciples ready to lead His church. We can't get discouraged because God isn't working on our time table. We have to be patient while we trust that He is at work in the church family maturing people into disciples.