A person who is a pupil or an adherent of the doctrines of another (Dictionary)
One who embraces and assists in spreading the teachings of another (Free Dictionary)
That's what the dictionary says, but what does Jesus say? Is discipleship simply a matter of following and spreading the teachings of Jesus?
My thoughts on discipleship
My simple definition of discipleship is— the transfer of our personal, experiential relationship with the Lord to others within a relational framework of one on one, or one to a few. It requires a mutual commitment of time, willingness, respect, patience and discipline.
Too often, discipleship can be reduced to a plan or program of training. But it is not something to be learned through lecture, study, and assignments. Nor can it be reduced to the idea of being caught rather than taught.
[bctt tweet="Discipleship is the transfer of our personal, experiential relationship with the Lord to others within a relational framework"]
This idea that it is caught can be a copout for a passive or lazy style of discipleship. This would put most of the responsibility onto the disciple, rather than the discipler. Is this what Jesus had in mind when He said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations...," (Matt 28:19)?
As we look at the most obvious example of the Lord Jesus, our supreme model for discipleship, we see His simple method. This is explored in some detail by Robert Coleman’s book, “The Master Plan of Evangelism,” as well as other books by the same author.
Many other books on discipleship provide plans or methods, but how can we really hope to improve upon the Lord’s example?
Intentional and relational
Discipleship—to be effective and to have a lasting impact—needs to be intentional and personal. It needs to be relational. Inherently, it requires mutual discipline and commitment.
It has no specific style nor format, and can be personalized and subjective. Although this may seem likely to produce doctrinal errors or biases, it appears to be the method of choice in the New Testament.
[bctt tweet="Discipleship needs to be intentional and relational, it requires mutual discipline and commitment."]
Paul says in 1 Cor 11:1, “imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” This is echoed in his exhortation to Timothy, his “true son in the faith,” in 2 Tim 2:2. Although there are other models, there are no ironclad, standardized patterns.
The obvious models are Jesus, Barnabas (who mentored Saul/Paul), Paul (and his instructions to Timothy and Titus), and others recorded in the book of Acts, including Peter and what he wrote in his epistles.
More recently, notable leaders of movements within the church have mentored others who, in turn, are discipling people. Are these perfect models? No. Are there idiosyncrasies of the mentor passed onto those discipled? Undoubtedly. Yet, it appears this was understood by the Lord.
The Jesus model of discipleship
The Lord’s confidence in this method of discipleship—His model—rests upon the indwelling guidance of the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:20, 27). A review of the Gospel of John (chapters 14 through 16 [1. John 14:26; 15:26-27; 16:7-15.]) makes this clear. So, why would we do it any differently?
Reluctance is more likely based on a lack of trust in the Holy Spirit, and our human tendency to put our own imprimatur on the process. Or perhaps, it's concern about error being passed on, or the disciple not grasping everything we think they should get.
[bctt tweet="The Lord’s method of discipleship rests upon the indwelling guidance of the Holy Spirit"]
Whatever the reason for this reluctance, one thing seems clear to me over the past couple decades. There is little intentional, relational discipleship taking place in the US. Sadly, because of our influence upon the rest of the world, it has not been common where western missionaries have been.
The good news is, Jesus is still the Head of His church and is quite capable of maintaining a remnant who disciple as He did. Discipleship has become a hot topic in the past decade or so in the US. Church planting movements driven by intentional, relational discipleship are alive and well globally (such as T4T).
The question is— Are you (and I) following Jesus so others will also follow Him?
The command of Jesus remains—
So go and make followers of all people in the world. Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach them to obey everything that I have told you to do. You can be sure that I will be with you always. I will continue with you until the end of time. (Matt 28:19-20 ERV)
For some more of my thoughts on discipleship, check out— Discipleship—How Did Jesus Do It?