We often use the word discipleship in two different senses. We refer to our personal spiritual growth as discipleship—the process of becoming more like Jesus. But we also use the word to refer to a person or church’s ministry of making disciples. So when we talk about discipleship as a purpose of the church, to which are we referring? Both.
For me, discipleship has always been and hopefully always be a challenging issue to understand. What I mean is that I don’t ever want to have it boiled down to such a simple concept that I see it as a short formula. There are different angles from which we have to view the concept. For example …
1. We need to be making disciples in the sense of telling people about Jesus who have never had the opportunity to hear about Him before. But discipleship is more than moving people to conversion—it includes moving them beyond it.
2. As we disciple others, we will naturally be teaching something from Scripture. But we have to be careful never to give the impression that discipleship actually happens through mere intellectual improvement. Real discipleship is somewhat experiential. It’s hands-on learning about being like Jesus.
3. Discipleship might mean taking someone “deeper” into the Word, but we must balance that idea with the concept of helping people to become self-feeders rather than having to rely on others entirely for their spiritual nourishment.
4. And discipleship certainly involves learning, but it also involves yielding, doing, telling, serving and going to find others who aren’t disciples yet.
5. Discipleship is incremental. It is always possible to go to a “next step” in our obedience to God. But we have to be careful not to judge too harshly those who may not have made as many steps as we have.
Discipleship isn’t simple. And that’s probably a good thing. It keeps us exploring, conversing and searching for its true meaning. What I do know is that every gospel-centric ministry needs to carry out the work of discipleship in at least two ways: by growing into Christ’s image and by going after other people.
When we forget the former, we strand baby believers without guidance to maturity. And when we neglect the latter, we generate stale, self-centered believers who struggle with pride. So discipleship is about growing. And it’s also about going. And we dare not attempt to do one without the other.