When I became a Christian, I didn’t know what discipleship was, and in all honesty, years after giving my heart to the Lord, I still didn’t. After five years as a follower of Jesus, the senior pastor of my church took me under his wing. He was an example of a mature Christian in my life, and he was intentional about giving me time, allowing me to ask questions, and helping me make good decisions. This is an example of discipleship in our culture. But what is discipleship?
Understanding the concept of discipleship starts with knowing the definition of a disciple. A disciple is a follower, one who accepts the views and beliefs of another and assists in spreading them; in the Christian community, that means believing and communicating the gospel of Jesus Christ. Discipleship is a relationship in which one person passes beliefs on to another; Christian discipleship is believing the message of Christ, learning to be more like Christ, and teaching others to do the same.
The passage this is based on is usually called “The Great Commission”, and it’s the cornerstone verse regarding discipleship:
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, ESV).
This is what Jesus told his disciples: to spread his message to the whole world and teach everyone in the way he had instructed them. The message was for the people and to the people, and the way it would be spread was through them. Jesus trained them in the way he did ministry, the way he taught, and the way he followed his Father.
Ray Vander Laan, an expert in ancient Jewish culture, explains that children started biblical studies at a young age in Jesus’ day, studying and memorizing the Torah, or the first five books of the Bible. Some graduated and went on to memorize the Old Testament, all 39 books. Then a chosen few were selected to essentially train to be rabbis. The children that weren’t chosen would usually join the family business.
So when Jesus comes on the scene and goes to choose his disciples, they’re all already in the family business… which means they didn’t make the cut. In his choice of disciples he shows us a very important truth: he doesn’t care whether they’re haves or have-nots; his requirement is that they are willing to say “yes” and follow him.
Every following moment with the twelve disciples is simply Jesus teaching them to do what he did, how he did it, and how to reproduce it. He wanted the disciples to have a commitment to spreading the gospel in the same way he did, and he wanted them to know how to do it—how to teach it, demonstrate it, and show others how to live out a successful life as a believer. Today we still benefit from allowing others to teach us and show us how to walk out our faith.
If you think of a brick’s position in a wall, it’s a lot like discipleship. The brick is positioned with two bricks below it and two bricks above it. Like a brick in a wall, a disciple should always have people below them, sharing their strength and experience. Likewise, we should always be supporting other people and investing in their growth.
Jesus’ model was simple: disciple people who disciple people who disciple people. The apostle Paul followed his example and discipled Timothy, then placed him as pastor over a local church, reminding him of the structure that Jesus established for creating other disciples: In Ephesians 4, Paul writes to the church in Ephesus instructing them in discipleship.
As you grow in Christ, questions and challenges come up, and it’s helpful to have prayer and wise counsel. Being discipled begins with having a model who can show you what more mature Christianity looks like. When you trust someone to lead you, you gain access to ideas you’ve never considered, you find tools that transform your relationship with God, you go to places you’ve never been. As Christians, our job is to follow and obey Jesus, it’s also important to learn from other believers who have more knowledge, experience and wisdom in the Christian faith.
Trusting someone to disciple you doesn’t mean following them without question. We measure everything against the example of Scripture and discern through prayer. Pastor or not, anyone can give poor advice. People have found themselves in bad places by blindly and “obediently” following someone. A mentor isn’t someone that tells you what to do, but hopefully a person who shows you how to do things for yourself, how to think for yourself and ultimately how to make decisions independently of them. In much the same way, Jesus taught his disciples and then trusted them to continue his ministry.
My first mentor was one I sought out myself. My college roommate had a mentor that he was always able to go to when he needed help, or support, or advice in decision-making. I recognized my need for the same thing. My roommate’s mentor eventually became my mentor too.
At my first meeting with my mentor, I was nervous and uncertain. I grabbed a coffee and sat with this man for what can only be described as a spiritual surgery, splitting me open and going straight for the heart. Here was this man I didn’t know, asking me penetrating questions about my life, how my heart was in this area and that area. Trying to be transparent with someone that I didn’t know was terrifying.
But my mentor did something no one else was brave enough to do. He didn’t beat around the shallow-talk bush; instead he got real with me. As we continued with the discipling relationship, he showed me areas where I needed to grow, he held me accountable in my purity, and, when times were tough, he was there to speak the truths of God. Even now when times are tough or I need wisdom in decision-making, or someone to celebrate testimonies with me, that’s my guy. That’s my mentor. That’s my discipler.
Now, as an associate pastor, I disciple young men too. I make them a priority, meeting with them regularly and doing my best to make myself available when they need me. I’ve taught them how to ask questions and seek wisdom. My belief is that you’re ready to begin discipling someone else when you’re ready to be vulnerable, communicative, transparent, and willing to share your breakthroughs, successes and failures with others.As you grow in Christ, questions and challenges come up, and it’s helpful to have prayer and wise counsel. Click To Tweet
There’s no magic formula for finding a spiritual father or mother (aka “mentor” or “discipler”). Look for a man or woman of God who is where you hope to be some day or who has had breakthroughs in the areas you want to pursue, because, ultimately, those are the people who can help get you there. We have a saying in my church: If you want to be a giant killer, hang around giant killers. Seek those people out, ask for their help, and draw out the wisdom they carry. As you grow, you’ll realize that you have wisdom that other people want as well, gifts and experiences to share that no one else has.
The Lord always wants to help grow you, prosper you, and mature you in your walk. Everyone benefits from having someone speak into their life, whether they’re three or ninety-three. Are you willing to say yes?