The Christian term discipleship is often thrown around more loosely than it ought to be. With all the talk of discipleship it would seem to be easily understood what is expected, what it looks like, yet if you were to ask what a modern day disciple is, very few would be able to give a great description. There has been some recent development to get back to the roots of discipleship in recent years, and so there is starting to be a better understanding of discipleship but it still has much mystery. We know discipleship comes directly from Christ and the command to make disciples of all nations is the final command He leaves with the church. But more than just coming from Christ, we know discipleship In order to fulfill Christ’s final command, it is important to discuss the role of Christ and what discipleship looks like.
Coming from a Christian background, it is important to recognize the role Christ plays in discipleship. Namely everything. Christ is the singular most important aspect of Christianity and even more specifically discipleship. Without Christ’s death on the cross, there is no forgiveness of sins. Without Christ’s death on the cross, there is no Christianity for it is from being Christ followers that Christians got their name. It is Christ we are to be imitators of, it is Christ we are to follow, and we need to explore the impact this makes in our lives. Truly, Christ should be at the center of the life of every Christian as Jesus is to be our Lord.
Having Christ at the center of our lives is crucial in the discipleship process specifically. It is only by knowing Christ, what He taught, and what He requires now that we can have a full understanding of what we are to do on this earth, much less what the Church, of whom Christ is the head, should look like. Dave Earley really gets into this topic of obeying Jesus when he asks a very simple question, “what if Jesus Meant the stuff He said?” Even the final message to the disciples concludes with a command to teach the disciples they make to obey what Jesus taught them. The obedience to Jesus and what Jesus taught was and still is crucial in the church.
Often churches teach people to listen to the commands of Jesus but fail to emphasize obedience and submitting to those commands. To illustrate this point, lets look at the example of a husband and wife. If a wife asks the husband not to spend money on clothes so they can go out to dinner for their anniversary and he simply says “ok” as acknowledgement but then goes ahead and buys the new clothes anyways, she may say “why don’t you listen to me?” and feel unloved. In the same manner, if we agree the Bible is what Jesus taught, and he gave commands to us, but choose to not obey them, can we honestly say we listen to Jesus much less love Jesus?
Deitreich Bonhoeffer describes discipleship as “a commitment solely to the person of Jesus Christ, a breaking of all legalisms by the grace of him who calls…discipleship is commitment to Christ. Because Christ exists, he must be followed.” While more can be said, this simple explanation sums up all that discipleship entails. With obedience to Christ, we gain freedom, we are free from sin and free to obey Christ in all we do, in all we are.
Some people will claim they aren’t capable of obeying all of the commands given to the disciples. Some will claim the disciples were extraordinarily gifted in some manner or that for any number of reasons, they as an individual can’t do what is commanded. But it is important to remember the disciples “were not spiritual giants; they were just regular guys with the same selfish, sinful struggles we all have.”
Dave Early and Rod Dempsey introduce 3 stages of discipleship that can be traced for the most part in the life of the Christian. First there is Declaration, then development and then deployment. It is important to discuss each of these categories on their own despite how intrinsically they work in with one another. Ultimately, not one of the 3 stages is independent of the others, nor can one skip a stage since it is a progression towards being made more like Christ.
The first step in the discipleship process is simply to be declared and declare yourself a disciple of Christ. This is where most churches stop. Most times people simply become converts which is the first step of declaration to be a disciple, but is only a beginning where they leave out the rest of the discipleship process. This stage of discipleship may not happen all at once, and in most cases seems to take longer than one conversation. This process culminates in conversion but is not limited simply to conversion since it does also include everything from being made aware of God to finally deciding to act up on the gospel proclamation such that more people would be won to Christ.
Development in the life of a disciple centers around growth as the title would suggest. This second step in the discipleship process is all about connecting the believer with the church, with the body of Christ, and developing them to be someone who can confidently say “imitate me as I imitate Christ.” Earley and Dempsey focus this area onto being changed to be like Jesus in the manner of a deeper relationship with Christ, immersion into the church, immersion into the words of Jesus, and immersion into ministry for Christ. By incorporating these things, a disciple will know what Jesus wants, what Jesus said, what the church is like, and what ministry is like for it is only be experience these things can be learned to their fullest.
Deployment is the last stage in the discipleship process they create and is truly focused on making more disciples. This is not about making disciples, nor being the next Billy Graham, rather it is about sharing Christ with everyone in our lives. It is about taking what we know about Christ and sharing the gospel and the news of Jesus with everyone we come into contact with, not always through words, but always by living the way Jesus lived.
When we live how Jesus lived, we will naturally tell others about Jesus, and we will obey what Jesus has commanded including his commission to make more disciples. Dave Earley, talking about the Great Commission he says “no one can call himself a follower of Jesus who is refusing to obey His orders. Since the order to evangelize the world was clearly and repeatedly given, it must be obeyed.” This is the overall consensus of Christians who take the word of God seriously and seek to be a disciple.
Discipleship needs to be thought of more in the context of the modern church and while there have been some great strides in recent years, getting back to where Jesus would have the church is going to take time. But as more Christians get back to living like Jesus, caring for the lost, seeking to help them, seeking to create more disciples, the church will look more and more like the original church who got their name from looking so much like their master. The modern church can once again deserve the title Christian, if we seek to be true disciples of Christ, obeying everything Jesus taught and living for Jesus instead of ourselves.
Boenhoffer, Deitrich, Discipleship, Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2003.
Earley, Dave & David Wheeler, Discipleship Making is…:How Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence, Nashville: B&H Publishing 2010.
Earley, Dave & David Wheeler, Evangelism is…:How to Share Jesus with Passion and Confidence, Nashville: B&H Publishing 2010.
Putnam, Jim et al, Discipleshift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Dsiciples, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.
 Earley, Dave and Rod Dempsey, Disciple Making Is…: How to Live the Great Comission with Passion and Confidence, Nashville: B&H Academic, 2013, 47.
 Boenhoffer, Deitrich, Discipleship, Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2003, 59.
 Putnam, Jim et al, Discipleshift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Dsiciples, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013, 48.
 Earley, Dave & David Wheeler, Evangelism is…:How to Share Jesus with Passion and Confidence, Nashville: B&H Publishing 2010, 59.
 Earley, Dave & David Wheeler, Evangelism is…:How to Share Jesus with Passion and Confidence, Nashville: B&H Publishing 2010, 21.