What Is Discipleship?

What does that say? It’s pronounced “di-shipe-uhl-shmip.” I REALLY wanted to make that the name of this entire blog site, but everyone I pitched it to shot me down. I need more humorous friends. They just don’t get it. (If you’re my friend and you’re reading this, I’m NOT talking about you, just everybody else. You have a great sense of humor. I like you. We hate them.)

I think we have a discipleship problem in America, so I’ve decided to dub what we do “dischpleshmip.” At some points we’re close to true discipleship, and at other points, we’re a million miles away.

As an editor of Sunday school curricula, I’ve had a bear of a time trying to get a unified definition of discipleship to our readers.

What is discipleship?

I ask this question, and receive 100 different responses. Some think it’s what you do with new believers for 6-8 weeks. Some think it’s a 12 week study you can buy from any bookstore. Some think it’s a one-on-one mentoring relationship. Some think it’s what you do when trying to raise a duck-billed platypus. And still others think it involves nothing more than learning to quote the books of the Bible in proper order. (Consider me un-discipled. To this day I still can’t locate the book of Hezekiah. And don’t even think about using the table of contents.)

le platypus de duckbill

It’s a maze of uncertainty (the discipleship, AND the platypus). I’ve been working on boiling it all down (the definition, not the platypus). It’s a work in progress, but here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

Discipleship is the lifelong process of following, and maturing in, Christ.

And if I had to apply a tagline, it might look something like this:

Learn. Live. Repeat.

Learn the Bible. Learn the ways of Christ. Learn to hear His voice. Learn to follow His leading. Learn to find His will. Then, once you know, LIVE what you know. Knowledge is useless until it’s put into practice. Jesus commands us in the Great Commission: “Teaching them to obey…” (NIV). Obedience follows learning. And then, once you complete the process, start all over again. Learn more. Live more. Then, repeat it again. Just like the shampoo bottle that keeps me in the shower way longer than I need to be—Learn. Live. Repeat. It’s an endless cycle of discipleship, and it will help you draw closer to, and become more like, Jesus.

It might also help me raise the platypus I’ve always wanted, but that’s still tbd.

And in honor of the shampoo bottle–remember this?

So how would you define discipleship? How would you improve my definition?

For more thoughts on discipleship, try these posts:
When Faith Gets Messy
How Important Are Relationships? a tale of two funerals
I Must Confess
Engage Your Faith

5 Replies to “What Is Discipleship?”

  1. Great post.
    Whenever there is ambiguity in defining discipleship, the chance for misunderstanding is likely. If discipleship is viewed as a 6 week course or a 12 week study, we reduce it to a program and not a process. I have met with some groups for a year and others for 2.
    One thing to remember is: You Can’t Microwave Disciples.
    It takes time.
    It took Jesus 3 years.
    How long should it take us?

    I think your definition of discipleship is spot on. I would add one aspect to it:
    Discipleship is the lifelong process of following, and maturing in, Christ……in order to equip believers to do the same (Ephesians 4:11-12).

    Keep Making Disciples who Make Disciples.

    • This is definitely a good addition. Thanks for the input. Your ideas are spot on. I think this idea of recreating or multiplying disciples has been a major emphasis recently, and I think your ministry has done an excellent job with promoting discipleship.

      My heart for discipleship involves narrowing, or at least biblically identifying, what discipleship actually is so we can understand what disciples should be. The idea of recreating disciples is gaining traction, thanks to ministries like yours certainly. I’m trying to take just one step back in hopes of understanding biblically what we’re supposed to be recreating–what discipleship actually entails. Because while the need for discipleship is being seen, everyone seems to have a different idea of what it means. This is my vision, my heart, for discipleship anyway.

      Thanks for the great work you are doing! We have the same passion for the Kingdom, I believe.

      • Likewise, It’s good to see how God using you as well. I have read many of your posts and am thankful for your desire to make disciples.
        I am looking forward to reading your new book.
        Many Blessings!!

  2. Good Post! Interestingly enough, Jesus discipled his 12 for three years, but then He left them the Holy Spirit to continue the training for the rest of their lives.

    Discipleship is life-long. But grows in stages.

    The thing that always compels me is what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1 “Follow my example as I follow Christ’s example.” Inwardly, we are to be determined live a life of following Christ that outwardly demonstrates for others what it means to be a Christian. And to invest in training them so that they can follow our example.

    A discipler says ‘Come and do life with me and I will show you/train you – with my own life- to follow Christ wholeheartedly.’

    Thanks for sharing with us.

    • Absolutely! I’ve always been convinced that discipleship MUST occur in relationships more than classrooms, churches, and pews.

      I try to put myself in the Disciples’ shoes as Jesus spoke the Great Commission to them. When He said, “Go and make disciples,” what would they have envisioned?

      I think the obvious answer is the only thing they could have envisioned–they would disciple others in the same Jesus had discipled them–through personal relationships. This is most clearly laid out in Jesus’ call, “Follow me.”

      He didn’t ask them to meet him once a week to discuss Scripture. He didn’t ask them to follow his 12-week course. He brought them into His life. Discipleship doesn’t just happen THROUGH relationship; discipleship IS relationship.

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