Who is your disciple?
It’s a valid question. If you’re a Christian in the 21st century, you’ve heard a lot about discipleship. You’ve probably been to a discipleship small group, heard sermons on the Great Commission, gone to a discipleship youth camp, and/or supported missionaries who are making disciples in distant lands.
Those are all great things.
But when it comes to regular, daily, American church discipleship, I never knew what people were talking about. Who disciples me? Who is my disciple? Should it be a totally organic process, or should it be officially organized? Is being a disciple the next level of Christianity? How does the Great Commission apply to me if I’m not a missionary?
For years, I wanted someone to give me a clear, step-by-step guide to the process of discipleship and how I could do it. I’ve found that many people don’t go into the nitty-gritty details of discipleship because they either assume it happens organically without any premeditated plans or that having youth attend a program or study led by older Christians is all the discipleship they need.
But discipleship is more than that, and everyone is a part of it.
Everyone is a disciple.
Mark Dever, in his book Discipling (which you can find here), defines discipleship as “helping others follow Jesus,” or, more specifically, “deliberately doing spiritual good to someone so that he or she will be more like Christ.” A quick Google search shows that it can also be defined as any follower, pupil, or student.
When we just look at the word “follower,” we see that every single person – man or woman, young or old, believer or unbeliever – is a disciple of some kind because every single person is a follower of someone or something. Maybe you’re a follower of a certain news source, or author, or celebrity, or theologian. Whatever it may be, and whether you recognize it or not, you are following something.
Christ’s followers are His disciples – this is the reality of anyone in Christ Jesus.
“Being a disciple of Christ does not begin with something we do,” Dever said in his book. “It begins with something Christ did.” So, we know being a disciple does not mean a second-stage Christian. But all true disciples embark on a lifelong journey and process of discipleship the moment they turn and follow their Savior.
Matthew 28:19-20, often referred to as the Great Commission, says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
John Piper, influential pastor, speaker, and author, commented on these verses saying, “That is a very long process...get them converted. Baptize them. And then spend a lifetime teaching them to obey all that Jesus said. That is what the verb “disciple” in the New Testament would include.”
Often in our churches, we overlook the last part of this verse that Piper touches on, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Some think that one discipleship-themed Bible study checks that off the list. Teaching others to observe what Jesus has commanded can show up in countless different ways, but it is not short term. This is a process that will last for every believer’s entire life.
Some believers are discipled by a more-or-less permanent mentor; they meet on a regular basis and discuss life, struggles, temptations, lessons, Bible reading, or to go through a book together. This kind of relationship within a church – or as Dever puts it, biblical discipleship “through the fellowship of the local church both gathered and scattered” – can be incredibly helpful and impactful. More than just sitting in church on Sundays next to other Christians or meeting with an older Christian for a few months and then being done with it, a valuable discipling relationship is one-on-one, continual mentoring. This is one way to grow in that ongoing process of discipleship.
Everyone has a disciple. Additionally, whether you are an official mentor to a younger believer or not, you have people looking at your life and following you. We have friends, coworkers, neighbors, siblings, children, people all around us who are watching how we follow Jesus.
And they’re trying to learn how to follow Him, too. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a super-awesome-flawless-expert Christian, someone is looking.
You have influence. Use it carefully.
If you don’t like the idea of a one-on-one disciple/mentor relationship, then you can at least pour into younger believers in groups or over a meal or coffee. And you don’t have to be perfect to be a discipler – it is the work of one beggar pointing another beggar to bread. It’s often through our weaknesses that we are able to help others.
Remember two things when it comes to discipleship. One, you need others to help you follow Jesus better. And two, others need you to help them follow Jesus better. Hebrews 3:13 says, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
Mark Dever adds this, “Christianity is not for loners or individualists. It is for a people traveling together down the narrow path that leads to life. You must follow and you must lead. You must be loved and you must love. And we love others best by helping them to follow Jesus down the pathway to life.”