By: Benjamin G. Campbell
Discipleship. It is a buzzword that has encompassed everything in the world of church life and ministry. Everyone tells you we need more discipleship in the church today and that discipleship is the answer to the church’s problems. It is the popular term or ministry to which churches should devote their efforts for ministry. It makes sense: invest the gospel in others. Not only do people convey this, but so does Jesus who tells us to “Go and make disciples” (Matt. 28:19).
Is it possible, however, for discipleship to go wrong? Is there such a thing as counterfeit discipleship? I am deeply persuaded that discipleship can be counterfeit and fraudulent at times. For example, it is possible to speak very highly of discipleship, then methodize it as if it is something to be sequenced and checked off. Other times, discipleship can be relegated to nothing more than classes of Bible study like Sunday school or midweek classes. The problem exists, however, when we ultimately try to define these things (albeit good things) as discipleship.
By a simple way of definition, discipleship is simply the act of encouraging others to follow Jesus as you follow him yourself. Many believers tend to define discipleship in ways where the definition becomes overcomplicated. The truth is: it does not have to be complicated. So, I think it is important to navigate discipleship through a simple definition.
First, discipleship means following Jesus yourself. If you are to be a Christian, you ought to devote your life to Jesus Christ. There are a couple of different words for disciple in the New Testament, but the most common one is mathetes (Gk – μαθετες) which means disciple or student. Often, Rabbis would be approached by younger Jewish men and asked if they would be willing to teach them the things of God, specifically contained in the Torah. Hence the meaning, student. Younger men would follow Rabbis for a period of time to learn from them.
Jesus, however, does this backward. Instead of letting his students come to him, he went to them. He called them out and they obeyed. They left their jobs, families, and ways of life to follow this Rabbi, and the same is true for us. We must leave all comforts of our lives to follow Christ obediently because that’s what true disciples do.
Second, discipleship involves pleading with others to follow Jesus. Ultimately, I believe this is the true test of a disciple of Jesus – do you invite others to join you in following Jesus? If following Jesus is as great and wondrous as we claim it is, we should be more deliberate in persuading others to follow Him. Not only is our Christian duty to make disciples, but it is also our duty to “compel [the lost] to come in” (Luke 14:23).
All in all, I believe the true ministry of discipleship is personally following Jesus and pleading with others to do the same.
People not Programs
In order to fight against the temptation to pragmatize your ministry, it is imperative to fight the urge to prioritize the method over the message. All over Scripture, the most popular analogy of the Christian life has been agricultural analogies. There is truly no better analogy for ministry than agriculture because there are so many similarities. When we think about growth, nourishment, and fruit, either ministry or agriculture can be mentioned in the discussion. Plants only grow with the correct amounts of nourishment like water, sunlight, and oxygen. Likewise, Christians do not grow unless the correct nourishment is implemented in their lives like Bible intake, prayer, meditation, evangelism, etc.
Thus, discipleship is the nourishing act of the Christian life. It is the act of feeding yourself on the word of God and feeding yourself through prayer and meditating on Scripture that nourishes your soul as a believer; this is what discipleship is – you’re own following of Jesus. If you consistently ignore the disciplines of the Christian life, you will never grow as a believer! The most important action of the Christian life is to abide in Christ through these disciplines (John 15:4).
So, when we speak of creating deep disciples, what do we mean? We mean creating disciples who are immersed in the Word of God so much that when they live, act, and breathe, Scripture comes forth from them. It means when life stinks badly for a deep disciple of Jesus, they don’t play the blame game or try to explain away their problems, but instead they fall on their knees and depend on their sovereign God to walk them through fire.
In the church today, creating deep disciples involves one thing and one thing only – the means of grace. The means of grace are the ways in which God has given the church to grow in grace and Christlikeness. It consists of the Word, prayer, and the ordinances. Because discipleship is like agriculture, it will take time to build deep disciples. However, when harvest season is imminent, you can guarantee that there will be plenty of fruit for your to reap. But it will not be because of your hard work or your different programs of your church. It will be because God gave the increase and worked on the hearts of your congregants through His Word, prayer, and the ordinances.