What Christians Get Wrong About Discipleship

Jesus called us to "make disciples of all nations," but what does that mean?

To those of us who follow Jesus, discipleship should be a central aspect of our faith. This is because Jesus commanded His followers—in what is commonly referred to as “The Great Commission”—to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20).

It’s not a suggestion that Jesus makes here. It’s a command, a charge.

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).

Put simply, discipleship means intentionally partnering with another Christian in order to help that person obey Jesus and grow in relationship with Him.

But how do we live out this command and actually do what we’ve been called to do? It can help, I think, to look at what we might be getting wrong about discipleship in order to understand how to get it right.

Discipleship Isn’t Easy.

Salvation is free, but discipleship will cost us our lives. Jesus put it bluntly:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke 9:23-25)

To be a disciple of Jesus means that we have given up our lives in order to follow Him wholeheartedly and unreservedly. It means that our lives are no longer our own—they are His.

Discipleship Isn’t “Just Me and Jesus.”

While discipleship is all about Jesus, it’s not a solitary endeavor. Discipleship is relational, and to fully respond to the Great Commission, we need to be disciples who are making disciples of Jesus. This means we need to spend consistent time with other believers.

Jesus and His disciples spent a lot of time together (Acts 1:21-22). They ate together, walked together, rode in boats together. They even fought together (Luke 9:46-48). The 12 disciples were in one another’s lives, constantly and intentionally.

While we are all called to become disciples of Jesus, we become disciples with one another, learning how to love God and each other as we go. We need to allow others to disciple us by letting them challenge us and encourage us in our walk with God. This is why church and honest relationships with other believers are so central to the Christian life—we need one another in this journey of becoming wholehearted disciples of Jesus.

Discipleship Isn’t Mentoring.

As we allow others into our lives and let them help us obey Jesus, we also need to reach out and disciple others. But that doesn’t mean we are mentoring others.

Mentoring has to do with what the mentor can offer to someone else through their own wisdom and experience; discipleship has to do with what Jesus can offer to someone else through His wisdom and presence.

You don’t need to have a slew of qualifications to disciple someone else, you just have to be following and obeying Jesus.

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This is why you don’t need to have a slew of qualifications to disciple someone else (The original 12 were just “ordinary, unschooled men,” remember?)—you just have to be following and obeying Jesus in your own life and be willing to help someone else do the same.

Discipleship Isn’t a Method.

To be a disciple of Jesus doesn’t require attending a certain church, participating in a certain Bible study or praying a certain way. But it does require doing the things of the Kingdom, just as the 12 disciples did. They were sent by Jesus to cast out demons, heal the sick, and proclaim the good news that the “The kingdom of God has come near to you” (Matthew 10:5-15, Luke 10:1-12).

The responsibility of the disciple hasn’t changed. We are still called to do these things—alongside of other believers—by sharing the Gospel in our communities as well as praying for the sick and hurting.

Top Comments

Jane Herrmann VanOsdol

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Jane Herrmann VanOsdol commented…

Another thing I would add is that we be real or authentic. Sharing our own mistakes or struggles and how we too are works in progress with Jesus can be helpful.

Ann Swindell

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Ann Swindell replied to Rsohngen's comment

I understand what you are saying and--yes--maturity is an important aspect in discipleship! What I was aiming to communicate is that we don't need an MDiv or special training in order to disciple someone else--if that were the case then very few of us would have the "credentials" to disciple another. In my personal experience, I have found that many people want to be discipled by a pastor, but there is often one pastor and hundreds--if not thousands--of people in the church. A handful of pastors cannot disciple an entire church--the people need to be discipling one another. And while it will not always be done perfectly or even maturely, it seems like a risk Jesus was willing to take by entrusting the church to his disciples--even knowing that not everyone would disciple/love/lead others well.

24 Comments

David Thorne

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David Thorne commented…

I appreciate how you define the discipling relationship. I really feel like what you're talking about is the million dollar question for Christians today. How do we make disciples? It would have been a lot easier if Jesus gave us a 3 step process, though I love that it's more adventure than rule. I was thinking a lot about this same thing recently. http://refuelblog.com/2014/07/22/discipleship-is-_________________/ and http://refuelblog.com/2014/07/08/3-things-jesus-calls-us-to/ and http://refuelblog.com/2014/06/22/10-simple-discipleship-questions/

lynda t

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lynda t commented…

I love that this article, it really explained and gave details to help Christians get involved in discipleship. An extra 'perk' about discipleship, is that there is accountability. It keeps all those involved accountable for their life choices, and can often help a young christian start on the right path and not have to deal with getting out of sinful habits later. It also gets everyone searching the scriptures and looking to strengthen their belief and trust in The Lord and His Word.

Robert Sharpe

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Robert Sharpe commented…

Very good article and I don't believe it was speaking on discipling unbelievers. In the definition at the beginning of the article it says partnering with another Christian. Also, on the remark of mature Christians discipling. It all depends on the mark we use as mature. It's a level thing. We are all on different parts of our walk. If someone is a Christian then they would be more mature then someone whom isn't. Just like someone years into their walk would presumably be much more mature (not always the case). So, telling someone they shouldn't be discipling seems to be a little of base

Dennis Clough

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Dennis Clough commented…

I am researching teachings regarding discipleship on the web. I've heard many sermons in the past on the subject and read many articles, such as this one, on the subject.

They all have a couple of common conceptions, naturally. It's not really a difficult subject.

Yet no article (so far)mentions the fact that the Gospel itself is missing from the so-called "great commission". Baptism is mentioned first and foremost, but I trust evangelical's have not gone so far afield we think that rite means anything, without being born-again.

Also missing is any reference to the Apostle Paul who clearly states we Christians are to "follow him as he follows Christ". Paul explains the inner life of the victorious believer and our purpose and role in the local church. He reveals the "secret hidden in God" (the church) and all the other "secrets" found under that umbrella (Christ in you, the hope of Glory, for one.) Indeed, his title of "Chief of sinners" is probably better seen not as a humble confession but as identifying the lead example in demonstrating how to let the life of Christ flow through us to the glory of God.

Another factor to consider is this great commission command was given to the Apostles BEFORE the church had come into existence. They had previously been told they (the 12) would be seated on the thrones of the 12 tribes of Israel in the Millennial kingdom.

When that Kingdom with Christ ruling for 1000 years begins, everyone in it will be spiritually alive, whether the New Israel of the New Covenant or the Gentile sheep deemed worthy to enter that period because of their faith in Jesus.

I believe it is these saved Gentiles who are really the object of the command (great commission) given to the Apostles. The Apostles can now carry out this commission because they are alive forever. And the Gentiles are candidates for baptism because they are saved. This baptism has nothing to do with the church since the church was previously completed at the Rapture. The baptism of the great commission has to do with assimilating the huge number of Gentiles into Israel. This was a rite in the OT also, for Gentile proselytes joining Israel.

The other part of the commandment is "teaching them everything I taught you". These teachings of Christ were largely concerned with how to live in the kingdom of God on earth. Many of the things Jesus taught in the Gospels cannot (without stretching and twisting) be honestly applied to the spiritual organism known as the church, the bod of Christ.. They fit beautifully with the prophetic picture of His Kingdom given in Psalm 2.

Last thought: Zachariah 8 gives a prophetic picture of the Great Commission being fulfilled in the Millennial Kingdom. This is in keeping with Christ's declaration in John 4: "Salvation is of the Jews." God chose Israel to be a "light to the nations" and the great commission will at last be correctly applied to the willing, born-again hearts of Gentile believers.

20 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Many peoples and the inhabitants of many cities will yet come, 21 and the inhabitants of one city will go to another and say, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the Lord and seek the Lord Almighty. I myself am going.’

22 And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord Almighty and to entreat him.”

23 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’” Perhaps all the Jews, under the supervision of the Apostles will have a part in bringing these new Gentile converts up to speed in the Kingdom.

I hope some find this helpful.

Segun Atere

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Segun Atere commented…

Am so bless with these article. The problem churches are facing today is lack of discipleship. my reasons are not far fetched as little is done to keep the command christ left for us . Most preachers today are seen as mentors. little is done to tell people more about discipleship. Don't be marvelled that some christians do not about disicpleship , if they do its only the dictionary meaning and not an insight.

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