Whenever we talk about discipleship, it is helpful to start with defining what we are talking about.
Ann Swindoll defines it this way: “What is discipleship? Put simply, discipleship means intentionally partnering with another Christian in order to help that person obey Jesus and grow in relationship with Him—so that he or she can then help others do the same. Jesus taught His disciples to follow Him and obey His commands so that they could lead others to do the same after His death, resurrection, and ascension. The Apostle Paul continues the pattern with Timothy and encourages him to keep the cycle going: “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).”
I love the reminder that one of my primary duties as a pastor is to equip the saints for service to God and his kingdom. But this service, to be precise, is not some new way for us to earn favor with God because good deeds do not save us. Discipleship is not some new code word or term for Salvation through adding new requirements on the backs of believers. Discipleship is a response to God’s love shown to us through the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Foundational facts about discipleship
- Christian discipleship addresses every dimension of life. It is concerned not only with doing the right thing in every circumstance but also doing the right thing for the right reason.
“Most important, live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel. Do this, whether I come and see you or I’m absent and hear about you. Do this so that you stand firm, united in one spirit and mind as you struggle together, to remain faithful to the gospel.” Phil. 1:27
- Christian discipleship is a work of grace. It is the Holy Spirit who transforms life, not someone who tries to be good. The term, disciplined grace describes this process. While God transforms, a believer’s spiritual practice creates the transforming environment in which the Holy Spirit works
“But stay away from the godless myths that are passed down from the older women. Train yourself for a holy life! 8 While physical training has some value, training in holy living is useful for everything. It has the promise for this life now and the life to come.” 1 Tim. 4: 7-8.
- Christian discipleship requires more than preaching alone can achieve. I love the analogy that preaching to make disciples is like going into a nursery and spraying the milk on the newborn babies. Preaching is powerful, it has behind it the full power and might of the Holy Spirit. But notice Jesus did not just preach at the disciples, he lived a mission with them. You need to be on a journey with the people you are called to equip for service.
- Christian discipleship should involve a ton of celebrations. This may sound odd to you, but here is why celebrations are essential. What you celebrate from the pulpit and in your general assemblies expresses to your members what you value. If you value equipping people for ministry, are those the announcements you get excited about and lift up before your people? Season vigorously in your sermons what God is doing in discipleship in the lives of your people.
- Christians want to grow in discipleship, but they usually just need direction. You may have heard it said, “Do as I say, don’t do as I do.” Unfortunately, that does not work as a plan to develop disciples. We must emulate the behavior we are expecting from our people. Jesus didn’t just write a book of rules and regulations. He wrote a book, the Bible, that describes in great detail how dearly loved we are by God and his Son Jesus Christ. Then Jesus goes the extra mile and models the life he would have us lead. He said to follow this example.
This is the foundation that I will build on over the next four blogs. I welcome your thoughts and discussion on this. May God bless you and our country as we see every day the need for us to be prepared to witness in a hurting and broken world. Our responsibility as pastors is to prepare a people ready to face these days ahead grounded in the Word of God and strengthened for the journey ahead.