A disciple is by definition a student or apprentice (Dodson, 29). Jesus’ disciples followed him both spiritually and literally in hopes to learn and become more like him. Not only was Jesus the perfect teacher and atonement; he also demonstrated the perfect example of discipleship, which is why we should look to Him as a model for discipleship.
Discipleship is the gathering of two or more believers for the purpose of helping one another become like Christ (Chan, 31). Throughout the New Testament we see countless examples of how Christ pursued, challenged, corrected and encouraged his disciples. These examples can be simplified into four areas that help us to understand discipleship today. Jesus was intentional, relational, radical, and missional in the way he led his followers (Dodson, 29-31).
Intentionality was woven throughout everything Christ did. Matthew, chapters 8 and 9, give just a few of the many examples of Jesus making himself available to his followers in order that God would be glorified. Just as Christ was intentional to pursue people with commitment, so are we to be with one another. In discipleship, it can become too easy to fall into a routine of comfort and convenience. We must move towards each other with a commitment to make ourselves available, listen eagerly, seek to understand, and believe the best about one another.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we were created as relational beings. God desires for us to not only be in relationship with Him but also with His people. We are to build up (1 Thessalonians 5:11), encourage (Hebrews 3:12-13), bear burdens (Galatians 6:1-2), and challenge one another, just as Jesus did with his disciples. These things can only take place if we are willing to step into the mess of another’s life and to invite them into our own. Practical ways to be relational: study scripture together, pray with and for one another (Hebrews 4:16), live transparently (1 John 1:5-10), encourage with scripture and verbal communication, and celebrate successes and answered prayers.
Jesus lived and taught in a radical way, often calling out his followers for their rejection of truth. His intent in correction was not to shame or humiliate but rather to point them towards righteousness in worship to God. Discipleship is a key setting in which Christians can graciously call out wrong thinking, turn to God’s Word for truth, and apply this teaching through the power of the Holy Spirit (James 5:16, Colossians 3:16). In the study of scripture we should find that our hearts are continually stirred towards a realization and repentance of our sin and a renewal of our affections towards Christ. Freedom in Christ allows believers to openly confess and repent from sin without fear of rejection. In a lost and sinful world, people may reject us, but our Father in Heaven smiles down on us as we confess our sins and turn from them. He will not leave us nor forsake us, even in our confession and failure (Deuteronomy 31:8).
It has been argued that discipleship and evangelism are two completely separate things. I personally believe that evangelism is a key part of discipleship. Jesus clearly called all who follow him to be disciples, making and equipping disciples (Matthew 28:19-20) so that those who believe may be multiplied in number. In order to be “mission-minded” within discipleship we must encourage one another to be bold in the Spirit to start spiritual conversations and to practice the three D’s –Display, Demonstrate, and Declare. By inviting non-believers into our discipleship relationships, they should have the opportunity to see firsthand the love of Christ and respond in faith (John 13:35).
So, how does mentorship relate to discipleship? Mentorship is often considered a professional relationship in which one experienced individual leads/coaches a less experienced individual in specific areas while discipleship is concerned with all aspects of life. Mentorship can be a useful tool of growth in and out of the discipleship setting because it is focused on the self-actualization of the disciple in their walk with The Lord. The Word of God instructs believers to seek wisdom and understanding through the counsel and correction of elders (Proverbs 15:31-32, Proverbs 13:20, Proverbs 9:9, 1 Thes 5:12-15). Effective discipleship happens when the disciple demonstrates growth in understanding and application of scripture with the help of a more spiritually mature mentor.
It is important to remember that discipleship is not another box to check off of your “to do” list. It is a lifelong commitment to the building up of the body of Christ that no one can ever complete. “Making disciples requires not only sharing our faith, but also sharing our lives—failures, successes, disobedience, and obedience (Dodson, 15).”
Chan, Francis. Multiply. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2012. Print.
Dodson, Jonathan. Gospel Centered Discipleship. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012. Print.
Berg, Ryan. “Show & Tell: Extending the Gospel to Others.” Cru Press Green. n.p., n.d.. 14 Oct 2014.
Emily Els was raised in a small town in Ohio where she gave her life to Jesus at a young age. After graduating from the University of Cincinnati, Emily was presented with an opportunity to join Cru, the U.S. ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ, in full-time ministry. The past year, she has been interning with Cru on the college campuses in Cincinnati and is currently preparing to spend the upcoming year sharing the gospel with college students in Brisbane, Australia. Emily enjoys a good cup of coffee with quality conversation and is an avid lover of dogs and calligraphy.