What is Discipleship?

What is discipleship? Read 10 different books on the subject and you may get 10 different answers. Discipleship means many things in many contexts. When hearing the word many people think of the spiritual disciplines: prayer, Bible study, Scripture memorization. Others think of a class or course of study; a set of facts that once learned make the student a disciple.

At our church we often use a slogan to explain discipleship. I’m sure we didn’t invent it, so if you know it’s source feel free to offer it in the comments. Here it is:

Disciples don’t just know what their masters know. They do what their masters do.

That’s obviously a pithy saying, but every time I use it I have Ephesians 4 in the back of my mind. It’s one of Paul’s richest characterizations of the life of the Christian and the church. There’s nothing pithy about it:

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4.11-17

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Loads of passages in the Bible explain what discipleship is and how to do it. This one is my favorite because of those two lines I emphasized. At its most basic, discipleship can be described by these two poles: children who are tossed around by waves and maturing in every way to Christ. Discipleship is the process of moving from worldly immaturity and instability towards spiritual maturity and buoyancy found in Christ. I love that these two poles aren’t a method. They don’t offer a program. For myself, I find that a method can often be a shortcut. We find one spiritual discipline that ministers to us and make it the answer to all our problems. Paul offers no shortcuts here. He offers a gauge:

Am I being tossed around by waves? Then on some level I haven’t grown up into Christ.

This kind of personal analysis requires intense reflection combined with broad reading and application of Scripture. It focuses on the gospel of Christ as the solution instead of a method or practice.

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