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Are You A Disciple?

In the simplest terms, a disciple is defined as one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrine or teaching of another. A disciple is a follower or a convinced adherent of another. Specific to Christianity, a disciple of Jesus is one who accepts, obeys, and teaches the doctrine or commands of Jesus (Mt. 28:20, John 14:15, John 14:21).

Biblical discipleship contradicts the systematic assimilation programs utilized by many churches that move someone from the parking lot to church membership with minimal effort and commitment. Based on the emphasis many leaders place on church attendance and giving numbers, pastors and church leaders appear satisfied with program-driven ministry that produces church members and increased attendance rather than disciples that make disciples.

Perhaps this is best evidenced by the emphasis placed on measuring effectiveness by the number of people participating in church programming rather than discipleship and disciple making. For example, Willow Creek Community Church made this sobering observation when in 2004 they surveyed their 15,000 plus members and discovered that many of those surveyed were spiritually dissatisfied despite their participation in Willow Creek’s ministry programming.[1] The Willow Creek leadership concluded that their years-long effort to build the church through heavy spiritual programming resulted in less spiritually mature believers. Simply put, large ministry gatherings, church services, and ministry events do not produce obedient followers of Jesus.

Missionaries Steve Smith and Ying Kai observe that making disciples is in stark contrast to making church members. Smith and Kai state, “What did Jesus invite His followers to become? Disciples. Not simply church members. A disciple must learn everything that his teacher teaches him. Then he needs to follow and to teach other people.”[2]

Dallas Willard agrees: “A disciple is a learner, a student, an apprentice—a practitioner, …disciples of Jesus are people who do not just profess certain views as their own but apply their growing understanding of life in the Kingdom of the Heavens to every aspect of their life on earth.”[3] In addition to being a learner and practitioner, Willard adds that disciples should multiply themselves “He told us, as disciples, to make disciples. Not converts to Christianity, nor to some particular ‘faith and practice.’”[4]

Michael Wilkens adds that “discipleship was not simply a program through which Jesus ran the disciples. Discipleship was life. That life began in relationship with the Master and moved into all areas of life.”[5]

Brad Young states, “the word for ‘disciple’ in Hebrew is talmid (plural: talmidim). It means ‘learner,’ one who is open to change and is actively seeking to learn how to live life to its fullest potential in the kingdom of heaven.”[6]

Wilkens, Young, Willard, and others define a disciple as a learner or a student that is actively seeking to change. A disciple is one who is dedicated to following their teacher or master in hopes of becoming like them. As Young emphasizes, a disciple desires to change and learn to live as their master desires. It is important to note that the expectation for the disciples of Jesus involved more than learning but also becoming.

Disciples are expected to represent the Kingdom as ambassadors who speak and work on behalf of Jesus in their daily lives. Disciples, however, are not expected to sit idly as members of an organized religious club or an elite organization; rather, they are expected to become a representative or ambassador of the Kingdom of God (2 Cor. 5:20, Ephesians 6:20).

Followers of Jesus are expected to become like Jesus. The process or path to become like Jesus is called Discipleship. Discipleship is the method by which a disciple is taught, shaped, or trained. If the problem facing the Western church is discipleship, then the answer is to discover the most effective method and process to disciple men, women, and children.

Based on the statistical trends mentioned earlier, Biblical discipleship, although discussed and explored frequently, is missing in the 21st century church. We are on a mission to help followers of Jesus to rediscover disciple-making and church planting through simple, reproducible tools.

[1] Greg L. Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2011), 17.

[2] Steve Smith and Ying Kai, T4T: A Discipleship Re-Revolution: The Story Behind the World’s Fastest Growing Church Planting Movement and How It Can Happen in Your Community!, 1st edition (Monument, CO: WIGTake Resources, 2011), 40.

[3] Dallas Willard, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings on Discipleship, 1st ed (San Francisco, Calif.: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006), Kindle pg. 116.

[4] Willard, Kindle pg. 126.

[5] Michael Wilkins, Following the Master, 124. [6] Brad H. Young, Meet the Rabbis: Rabbinic Thought and the Teachings of Jesus, Illustrated edition (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2007).


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