Goodberry’s mission is to help brothers and sisters be disciples and make disciples. We’re excited to introduce to you a brand new blog post series that will explore the concept of discipleship. To say we intend to make out of this a comprehensive guide to discipleship might be a stretch, but we present this project in the hope that it may be a starting spark or a handy lamp in your spiritual growth.
To kick-off, a good understanding about the concept of discipleship is due. What is discipleship? A state of being? A mentality? An identity? Let’s take a look at the definition. “Discipleship” is “the position of a disciple” and a “disciple” is
1. a. One who embraces and assists in spreading the teachings of another.
b. An active adherent, as of a movement or philosophy.
2. often Disciple One of the original followers of Jesus.
3. Disciple A member of the Disciples of Christ.
In general terms then discipleship seems to consist of a dual role: being a disciple and discipling.
Being a disciple
Taking this idea into a Christian context, being a disciple means to be a follower of Christ. The twelve disciples of Jesus immediately come into mind, and not without good reason. But what was it that which made them be called disciples?
When Jesus was teaching at the lake of Gennesaret and asked Simon to let down his nets into deep water, there were other fishermen aside from Simon, James, and John. However, what distinguished these three from the others was that when they saw the miracle they responded to Jesus’ call. Luke 5:11 reads that “They pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” They left everything. Everything meaning their jobs, their houses, their families, and their identities as fishermen of fish, husbands, and fathers, for the new identity of “disciple.”
This denial of self and the taking up of the cross is a foundational characteristic in a disciple. Greg Ogden explains in his book Discipleship Essentials that the denial of self does not imply a denial of self-worth, individuality, or one’s right to happiness, but a denial of “self-lordship.” In other words, the disciple freely abandons his current way of life in obedience to Christ, all in the wish to be molded into the person God wants him to be. The giving up of oneself to find oneself and true life has always been a complicated theological paradox to explain, but in a sense, it is just like the miracle Peter, James, and John experienced; it is extraordinary but very real.
Being a disciple does not end here. Responding to the call is just the first step. After Jesus chose his twelve disciples, he entrusted them with numerous activities. He wanted them to learn, and he gave them authority so they would drive out demons and cure illnesses. Above all, he entrusted them with the task of proclaiming the kingdom of God. As with the disciples in the Bible, discipleship proves to be more than a static identity but a way of life, which takes us to the second and yet more active part of discipleship: discipling.
Discipling, the act of making disciples, is born out of the desire to share one’s faith to others. Like a child with a treasure map who is driven to share it with his loved ones and friends, when one truly understands the joy enclosed in the good news of salvation, it is hard to contain. It must be shared or it will burst.
Experienced people will tell you that discipling is a tactful art. The good news must not be thrown onto people like stones but carefully seeded and cared for. An intimate, intentional, and constant relationship with one’s disciples is needed in order to encourage and challenge them to grow toward maturity in Christ.
In the children’s book The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, a boy realizes that what distinguishes his rose from the other roses in earth is the time and care he poured onto it. He also realizes that because of this bond, he was responsible for it. Jesus chose twelve disciples and poured himself into them; he did not mass produced them only to touch the surface of their hearts. The apostle Paul did not take in Timothy as his pupil nor did he plant churches to forget about them later; he constantly sent them letters, so many in fact that there are thirteen books of them in the New Testament.
Speaking of those who practiced discipling, the best example we have is indeed Jesus. Jesus was the expert. He was an impeccable model, who inspired his disciples to imitate him. He taught about God using his perfect knowledge of the Bible and parables, he trusted his disciples with many activities (which we mentioned before), and he prayed for them and listened when they reported their experiences. And finally, he sent them forth saying, “19 go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Discipleship is not easy. Jesus never promised his disciples a rosy journey full only of sunshine and smiles. Therefore, in order to keep growing spiritually and practice discipleship one must be disciplined and intentional about it. There are practices that will help you to grow. Practices that sometimes may seem small and insignificant, but which with time prove their importance and meaning in life. Let us then keep reading the Bible, persist on our devotionals, seek out for quiet times with God, pray ceaselessly, question constantly not for the sake of cynicism but discernment and wisdom, imitate Christ, and above all, love God, the selves God has given us, and our neighbors.
None of this must be done alone. Company is a blessing in the journey of discipleship. Churches can help you engage in different services and practices. They can connect you to Bible studies and small groups (triads/quads, one-on-ones, larger groups), conferences, retreats, opportunities to volunteer and evangelize, and a loving community.
We’re prepared to equip you.
We, Goodberry, want to support you as much as we can in this journey. We can provide you with array of tools and resources that could serve as a springboard or help create context in the process of discipleship. Discipleship is a big subject— more intricate and complex than what we often imagine. We have but grazed upon its definition; there are still many more caverns left to explore. As we go on with this series of discipleship, however, we want to cover as many related topics we can. We want to further explore with you how churches view discipleship, strategies and models of how to be a good disciple and how to disciple, pitfalls to watch out for, and more.
There are many things to learn and to do in this adventure called “discipleship.” So, Let us set off!