Jesus’ command in the Great Commission, Matthew 28:18-20, is to make disciples. His desire is that, “going, baptizing, and teaching,” we would be about the work of disciple multiplication. Therefore, if we claim to be obedient to Jesus, we must answer these basic evaluative questions: “Am I living as a disciple and are disciples being made through myself and our church?”
That’s where the challenge comes—in the definition of a “disciple.” Here are some common options.
1. The Religious Definition: A disciple is someone who attends church regularly, tries to be a good person, serves in the church occasionally, and gives financially at some level.
2. The Education Definition: A disciple is someone who has completed the membership/discipleship classes.
3. The Follower Definition: A disciple is someone who professes to follow Jesus, no matter how far behind him they happen to be following.
4. The Salvation Definition: A disciple is any person who claims a salvation experience sometime in their past.
5. The Optional Definition: A disciple is someone who goes deeper with Jesus by sharing in the optional small group/training/ministry opportunities while the majority feels free to maintain the “normal Christian” level of involvement.
Compare some of the above understandings of discipleship with these words from Jesus:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple…those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (Luke 14:26,33)
“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.” (John 8:31)
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)
“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:8)
My challenge to all of us is that we ask Jesus for courage and wisdom to allow Him to set our definition of a disciple, to evaluate our discipleship based on His definition, and to align our discipleship efforts to accomplish His desire.
Excellent article. Will use as a challenge to my Sunday School class.
Hey Jeff! So good. Thank you for laying this out plainly. So what do we do to make disciples? What does it look like?
From my perspective the church in the USA is definitely failing at making disciples (according to Jesus’ definition).
Thanks for your questions. In a nutshell, a disciple of Jesus is someone who is becoming more and more like Jesus (2 Corinthians 3.18, 1 John 2.6) and less and less like himself (Colossians 3.1-4, Galatians 2.20) by pursuing growing relationships (Mark 12.28-34–note the “relationship” language as opposed to “religious” language) with God, with fellow believers, and with those who do not yet know Him.
That process requires intentional relational transfer of critical skills in each of those three relationship areas:
We build our relationship with God through talking with Him (prayer), listening to Him (Bible reading through the guidance of the Holy Spirit), and loving Him through obedience (1 John 5.3).
We build our relationship with fellow believers through seeking intentional “Paul-Barnabas-Timothy” (mentor-fellow soldier–someone we are discipling) chains and practicing the “one anothers.”
We build our relationship with seekers through intentional relational engagement on their turf, sharing spiritual conversations, being prepared to share the good news, and then engaging them in an intentional discipling relationship once they make a commitment to Jesus.