Jesus, the Apostles, and the writings of the New Testament tell us how to make disciples. It is important to note, in this regard, that teaching is at the heart of discipleship. Discipleship is not just example. Discipleship is not just service. Discipleship is not just relationships. Discipleship is not just sharing life. To be sure, if Jesus is our model, discipleship will include all of these things and more. But at heart, Jesus tells us that discipleship involves learning, the receiving of practical instruction that enables us to trust and follow Jesus.
In Matthew 28:18-20, the great commission tells us “to go” and “to make disciples.” In the Greek text, “making disciples” is an imperative command. The passage then tells us how we are to make disciples: by “baptizing them,” and “teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded” (these two statements are participial phrases – linguistically formed in the Greek to tell us how to make disciples).
In this sense, then, biblical discipleship always involves teaching, guidance, or instruction. At the same time, Jesus showed us, by his life, that discipleship must be grounded in love, service, and friendship. The environment for discipleship in the gospels was relationship. Yet it was goal oriented; Jesus was asking his disciples to trust and follow him. Without discipleship, acts of love and service are simply acts of love and service. These are good things and are often the basis upon which discipleship is built, but by themselves, they simply express the love of Christ without directly pointing people to Christ.
Sometimes, showing love – with no strings attached – is the best and only thing that we can do for another person. We just serve someone. Maybe like the good Samaritan, all we will ever be able to do for another person is take care of them in their need, for that time of difficulty (Luke 10:25ff). This is true love, and it honors God and reflects the fact that we are disciples. But by itself, it is not discipleship because discipleship involves directing and teaching people in the way of Jesus.
We believe that discipleship, modeled after Jesus, equals directed relationship. Discipleship is directed because it has a goal: to enable people to trust and follow Christ (Matthew 28:18-20; Colossians 1:28-29). Discipleship is relational in that it is always done person to person.
Here are ten questions that churches use to help them address how they make disciples:
1. How does our church define discipleship?
2. What does a disciple look like?
3. Do we have an intentional process of discipleship?
4. Does our church know this process?
5. How does this process relate to the purpose of the church?
6. Has our church prioritized distinct practices that relate to the discipleship process?
7. Does our church practice the principle of abandonment based on the idea that activity doesn’t always mean productivity?
8. How does our church measure maturity?
9. How does our community describe our church?
10. Do our church families spend more planned time in a week at church with each other or in the community with non-believers?
There is nothing new or striking about these questions. But they show that wise church leaders must be thoughtful about discipleship. Since discipleship involves careful training and guidance, we want to pursue it with wisdom.