What is discipleship & why does it matter?

If you've spent much time in churches, you're probably familiar with the concept of “discipleship.” But do you really know what discipleship is? How often do you consider the actual meaning of this Christian buzzword? If you’re a follower of Jesus are you automatically a disciple of Jesus? Are the terms “follower” and “disciple” interchangeable? 

Generally speaking, Christian “discipleship” is an intense, spiritual leader-follower relationship in which the person being discipled learns from the discipler, adopts the discipler’s values, and imitates the the discipler's lifestyle to the point where the person being discipled ultimately becomes more like Jesus.

Discipleship is often misunderstood as a transfer of Christian information, and while teaching is an important part of the discipleship process, it is only one part of it.

True discipleship is important because when Christians first come to trust Christ for salvation they are often unaware of how to best follow Jesus and become more like him—they don’t know what the Christian life really looks like. The novice Christian benefits from having a more experienced Christian not only teach cornerstone doctrines of the Christian faith, but demonstrate what it looks like to faithfully follow Jesus

Discipleship 101: Understanding biblical discipleship basics

To best understand Christian discipleship, one must investigate what the Bible has to say about it, and the first place to go when investigating what the Bible says about discipleship is Matthew 28:18-20:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (ESV)

This is the Great Commission, and in it we see Jesus instructing his disciples about how to make disciples themselves. According to Jesus’ words here, biblical discipleship involves: 

  1. Going out to the world
  2. Sharing the gospel
  3. Baptizing people who believe the gospel
  4. Teaching them in the ways of the gospel

Christian discipleship is, at its core, a deeper relationship that is always looking to engage some part or the entirety of the Great Commission.

Building strong foundations: The role of Christian discipleship

Why is Christian discipleship even important? Isn't it enough for someone to simply trust that Jesus saves them from their sins? Of course, with regard to being saved and spending eternity with God, simply trusting in Jesus Christ is enough. 

But as we just saw in the Great Commission, and as we see throughout the Bible, the Christian is called to more than simply having faith—the Christian is called to live out his or her Christian faith, and this happens through discipleship.

It is when the Christian is discipled, led by other Christians to become more like Jesus, that the Christian has the opportunity to experience abundant life and see fruit along their spiritual journey. Simple belief in Christ without any sort of discipleship process can lead a Christian to sort of “fizzle out” in the faith he or she first expressed at salvation. 

Discipleship relationships are crucial to helping a Christian become more like Christ and have a firmer grasp on their Christian faith.

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The path to spiritual growth: Embracing the discipleship process

You may be wondering, “What does the discipleship process actually look like?” This is a fair question because while we clear guidelines for discipleship in Matthew 28:18-20 (the Great Commission), how discipleship actually happens in everyday life is going to vary from culture to culture and from Christian to Christian.

Ultimately, the goal of discipleship is to lead a Christian toward being a more mature disciple. This often looks like an older person—or at least a more experienced Christian—investing in one or more Christians who are newer in their faith than the discipler is. It can look like one-on-one conversations about faith and living out one’s faith. It can look like a small group Bible study. It can look like accountability to avoid falling into sin. It can also include the discipler equipping his or her disciples to go out and begin discipling and leading others. 

At the core of all discipleship is intentional relationships that lead all participants toward looking more like Jesus. But whatever way you decide to disciple someone in your life, it is always good to have a discipleship plan of some kind. Without a discipleship plan, you may not be as effective as you can be in leading someone to be more like Jesus.

Discipleship without borders: Spreading the message globally

An important and often-overlooked aspect of discipleship is the global aspect of discipleship. We are called in the Great Commission to make disciples “of all nations.” For some Christians, this may result in a call to travel the world to share the gospel with unreached people groups or to plant churches in countries that have little Christian presence in them. 

For other Christians, it may look like supporting those missionaries and church planters with prayer, finances, and other resources. Abundant life in Christ is available for people around the world, and discipleship is how that happens.

Discipleship in the Modern Age: Adapting ancient wisdom to today’s world

New technology can be intimidating and even scary for Christians. We should always be evaluating how new technologies can help us become more like Jesus or how they may be making it more difficult to become more like Jesus. 

The internet itself can be a useful tool for discipleship as it can connect Christians to other Christians or to digital resources that can help in the discipleship process. At the same time, however, the internet can also distract disciples, so it's important to use technology that will keep their eyes focused on Jesus.

We must use discernment as we consider how various new technologies may support our spiritual lives, but it is possible to find tools that help us craft digital discipleship journeys

Discover powerful digital discipleship tools

Over 16,000 churches and organizations use the Subsplash Platform to share the gospel with millions of people around the world every week. By sharing their sermon video libraries, podcasts, in-app Bibles and customizable Bible reading plans, as well as world-class discipleship resources, churches can make stronger disciples by providing biblical content that is available anywhere at any time. 

To find out how your church can provide your people with the best discipleship content, [.blog-contact-cta]connect with us today![.blog-contact-cta]

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Chris Martin, Guest author

Chris Martin is author of several books including The Wolf in Their Pockets and Terms of Service: The Real Cost of Social Media. He serves as editor of BibletoLife.com and content marketing editor at Moody Publishers. Chris lives outside Nashville, TN with his wife and two children.

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