Discipleship is an age old practice. Since the beginning of time, men and women have learned from those who have gone before them. In the trades, you have masters and apprentices. In Judaism, you have rabbis and talmudi. In private education, you have tutors and pupils. In modern public schools, you have teachers and students.
The concept of learning from someone with more wisdom and experience than oneself is as old as time. Put simply, a disciple is someone who has chosen to learn from someone else who is willing to teach them. Or in other words, discipleship is relational learning.
When Jesus called the twelve to follow Him, He was giving them an invitation to discipleship. They would spend every waking minute with Him... watching, listening, and obeying Him, for a period of three straight years. Jesus could have simply handed them each a manual and impersonally said, “Read it. Apply it. Do it.” But that is not relational, and that is not discipleship.
Jesus chose to BE that manual, so to speak, and THAT is discipleship.
Discipleship is about knowing Jesus, and in so doing, becoming like Him.
“A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.” (Luke 6:40) Get that? A disciple seeks to become like his teacher. Well, who is our teacher?
Although He is not present physically right now, Jesus is still our teacher, and all who follow Him are His disciples. When we meet with Him in His Word, in prayer, in worship, in the fellowship of His sufferings, and in service to Him, we are following Him. Discipleship is a personal relationship of growth with Jesus our Lord and Saviour.
While we may be led by a brother or sister in Christ to a greater understanding of His character, His teachings, and His calling, each one of us is directly a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Jeremiah 31:34 says, “No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
If each of us can be discipled directly by Jesus, is it then wrong to be discipled by another brother or sister in Christ? Especially if that someone is, well, rather "normal"?
Paul didn't think so. In writing the Church at Corinth, he said, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) The fact is, God likes to use imperfect human vessels... like me, and like you. For instance, by watching my flawed example as a servant leader, others see that God can use them too, imperfect as they are. Imitate me by imitating Christ.
The key to discipling others is not in our vast experience or maturity, but in our humility and availability.
When I was in my teens, I wanted a godly role model... someone to look up to and become like. I didn't know quite what a Christian walk should look like, practically speaking, for a young woman in today's world. I saw many godly older adults around, but I was most drawn to those Christians in their early twenties who were just a few years ahead of me, although they obviously lacked the same depth and maturity of older saints.
Why? They seemed very relatable, and I could picture myself someday maturing into someone like them. I figured, if they can follow Jesus, so can I. Their faults only made my inspiration greater, as I learned from them what to do when I also blew it, as I did frequently. Their maturity was not out of reach, and as such it compelled me to push forward towards godliness.
Inspirational speaker John Maxwell aptly said, "Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them." Very, very true.
The awesome reality is that God can use each one of us, no matter where we are in our walk, to disciple others.
Whether you have been discipled or not, or even whether you want to be discipled or not, Jesus makes it very clear that discipleship is His plan for EVERY SINGLE CHRISTIAN. Did you know that?
It's true. Discipleship is God’s desire for every believer.
When Jesus met with the disciples after His resurrection, He gave them a specific calling, known as the "Great Commission'.
Matthew 28:18-20 says,
“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.”
Jesus did not commission His disciples to "Go therefore and make converts", or to "go forth and make Christians...", but to make disciples. The disciples were then to go make more disciples. You see, discipleship, by nature, is multi-generational.
"You cannot be a leader, and ask other people to follow you, unless you know how to follow, too."
— Sam Rayburn
As one last parting thought, read the following verse and count how many generations of disciples are represented in this one verse.
“And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2)
If you counted four, you are correct:
1. Paul discipled 2. Timothy who in turn was to disciple 3. others who would be able to disciple 4. others. What does this tell you about discipleship in relation to the Great Commission?
You may ask me, "But isn't that just for people in "the ministry"? Aren't some people "called" to disciple and others called to do other things?"
There is no spiritual “gift’ of “discipler.” We are all called to both BE DISCIPLES and to MAKE DISCIPLES. As you grow personally in your walk with Jesus, look for opportunities to help others grow in theirs. If you have been through a discipleship course, consider taking someone else through it. If someone has poured into you through relationship, or by example, ask God to use you in the same way for someone else.
Let us go on to perfection, as the writer of Hebrews says, and not fall into complacency in our walks with God and our part in the body of Christ:
Hebrews 5:12-6:3: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.”
Are you in a discipleship relationship with Jesus yet, or are you still letting others meet with Jesus for you? Sunday messages are valuable food, but Jesus also wants to meet with you personally, relationally, and lead you into all He has in store for you, His beloved.
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)