What is Discipleship?

CGGC Executive Director Lance Finley

I was in a meeting with some other leaders recently when someone asked the following question: “Can someone define discipleship for me?”

There was a mix of different reactions in the room. For some, it was a silly question. I mean, we all know that Jesus calls us to make disciples, right? What do you mean you need a definition of discipleship? For others, it tempted us to start long lists of “dos” and “don’ts” and other requirements or attributes. Suffice to say, I don’t think there was a consensus on the matter.

I thought it was a great and helpful question. I think it’s a necessary question. How do you know whether you’re accomplishing the goal if you haven’t defined what you’re really going after? How does the Bible define discipleship?

Over the years I’ve noticed that most churches know that they’re supposed to make disciples and so when asked “are you making disciples?” the answer is almost universally, YES! We know we’re supposed to do it and we want to be obedient, so yes, we are making disciples.

How do you know whether you’re making disciples? It probably depends on how you define discipleship. Thus, the importance of the question my dear brother asked: “can someone define discipleship for me?”

How do you define discipleship?

Let me give you some help and offer some things that are not good definitions of discipleship.

Discipleship is not church attendance. It’s tempting to equate discipleship to getting people into the church building. If people are showing up when the church doors are open, we can know that we’re making disciples! I don’t think it’s that easy.

Discipleship is not just the acquiring of Biblical knowledge or information. Again, most of us typically think about Bible Studies, small groups, Sunday school classes and other efforts designed to impart as much information as possible about the Bible and the Christian life. Those certainly aren’t bad things, but I’m not sure they define discipleship.

Discipleship is not just the training acquired for jobs in the church. When new people come in, we train them to be an usher or a greeter or a teacher or some other role in the church body. Again, these aren’t bad things, but I’m not sure they describe discipleship.

Discipleship is not just getting folks to give intellectual assent to important Christian tenets or beliefs. We’ve got a list of Christian doctrine for you to go over and see if you can pass the test. I think it’s possible to agree to a long list of Christian beliefs and yet never really implement any of those beliefs in your own life or behavior.

So, what is discipleship?

How do you define it? How do you know when you’re making disciples?

I think it’s an important question that we ought to be asking more often if we want to do the work that Jesus called us to do.

I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on this.

Christ’s Peace,

CGGC eNews—Vol. 14, No. 10

One thought on “What is Discipleship?

  1. Lance,

    This is a relevant and crucial question. I hope that you will follow it up and, in time, provoke a lively conversation which will produce fruit.

    In the interim, I have three thoughts.

    1. Jesus Himself provides some startling warnings about who CANNOT be His disciple. These warnings provide a baseline. Jesus says that a person who doesn’t hate their father and mother, wife and children, and brothers and sisters, even their own life cannot be His disciple. Jesus adds that anyone who does carry his own cross and follow Him cannot be His disciple. And, that anyone who does not give up everything he has can’t be His disciple. (Lk. 14:26f)

    2. In a more big picture way, I believe that, using the language of the Kingdom, a disciple is someone who makes Jesus their Lord. That is, a disciple is someone who literally and intentionally sets aside their own rights to give Jesus absolute authority over all they DO, so that the teachings and commands of Jesus become the law of their life, above everyone and everything else. To speak of Kingdom means to live with under the stark Lordship of Jesus.

    3. For us in the CGGC, I think that its helpful to understand that, in our early days, there was a common understanding of what it meant to follow Jesus for the people who were members of the Church of God. John Winebrenner created a 27 point list of the faith and teachings of the Church of God. In our community, in those first years, this was our standard. It defined both doctrine and the living out of our beliefs. Certainly, times have changed. Much of what is contained in those 27 points no longer applies. However, in those days, people inside and outside the Church of God could agree that those points were not “aspirational.” They described the real-world, day to day truth about who we were and what we did. Biblical people often faced the challenges of the present, and the future, by taking stock of the faith and the lives of the men and women of God in the past. I believe that we could…SHOULD…do the same.

    Thank you, Lance, for asking the very important question. I truly hope that our body will follow and enter into the conversation you propose.

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