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).
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.
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.