What is discipleship?
Discipleship is a life directed and devoted to following Jesus, individually and together as a church. The primary evidence of salvation is a life committed to growing in Christ-likeness in our character and conduct as disciples. Disciples situate their lives around the teachings and practices of Jesus. Jesus invites us to follow him; thus, being a disciple is about allowing Jesus to lead us on a daily basis.
“When Jesus walked among humankind there was a certain simplicity to being his disciple. Primarily, it meant to go with him, in an attitude of observation, study, obedience, and imitation.” – Dallas Willard (The Great Omission)
Daniel Im in No Silver Bullets notes that discipleship is a direction, not a destination and an ongoing process of being with Jesus, becoming like Jesus, and obeying Jesus.
What are some of the teachings and practices of Jesus?
In a disciple-driven life, there are three foundational elements to spiritual growth as individual believers and a corporate church: Scripture, Spirit-filled Practices, and Sharing Life with Others.
Scripture – Jesus possessed a very high view of Scripture, which for him is the entirety of the Old Testament. For us today, the life, ministry, instructions, and actions of Jesus are preserved and recorded in the sixty-six books that make up our Bibles. By Scripture, we know God, his character, his will, and his role in our lives. In Luke 24:27, Jesus tells his disillusioned followers that he is the interpretive key for the entire Scripture. It is of no little consequence that one of the first things Jesus does as the Resurrected King is to promote and proclaim the necessity for biblical literacy to his disheartened disciples.
Spirit-filled Practices – A defining mark of the life of Jesus is undoubtedly the abiding and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. Surveying the ministry of Jesus, we find several practices that are formative for disciples today. Some of these include prayer, solitude, silence, study, worship, evangelism, service, generosity, celebration, and confession. A Spirit-led life is one that is oriented towards devotional practices for the sake of intimacy with God and enablement for mission. Discipleship begins when we begin to act like disciples by seeking intimacy with God and transformation.
Sharing Life with Others – God in his very nature is communal (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and his creation reflects his relational identity. Jesus himself did not operate outside of the context of a community in which he invested his time, wisdom, and love. Discipleship is not a solo endeavor, but rather is most productive when practiced with others. The communal results of discipleship include hospitality, empathy, service, and wisdom.
The critical competent of discipleship is full surrender and obedience to Jesus in every area of life. A life of discipleship is the primary task of individual Christ followers and the church.
“Ultimately, each church will be evaluated by only one thing – its disciples. Your church is only as good as her disciples. It does not matter how good your praise, preaching, programs, or property are; if your disciples are passive, needy, consumeristic, and not radically obedient, your church is not good.” – Neil Cole (Transformational Discipleship)