Discipleship Defined

Discipling is the process of intentionally investing your life in the lives of others on God’s behalf. This definition specifically comes out of two key New Testament passages related to the term disciple, one spoken by Jesus and the other written by the apostle Paul. In Matthew 28:18–20, . . . Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

In 2 Timothy 2:1-3, the Apostle Paul articulates the mandate for discipleship in a clear, authoritative manner: “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”

There are several key issues every worship leader needs to know about these specific passages:

  • First, Jesus called people to follow him, to obey him, and to reproduce others who would do the same. In Matthew 10:1–2, Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to minister. Though thousands clamored after Jesus, he called only a chosen few to be his disciples. They did not volunteer. They were called.

  • Second, the disciples responded to the call by following Jesus. Matthew 4:19–20 says, “‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him.” Mark 1:16-18 says, As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting (nets) into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Jesus fully implied that a disciple was one that was called by him to follow.

  • Third, the dynamic process of obedience is a vital part of discipleship. Jesus intended that the disciples follow and obey. In Matthew 28:20 Jesus tells his disciples to mentor other disciples, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Jesus makes similar statements in John 14:15: “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” In John 15:10 he declares, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.”

  • Fourth, a disciple is a learner. In Matthew 28:20, the implication is that if the discipler is teaching, the disciple is learning. This involves learning how to apply daily lessons to life practices. The Apostle Paul suggests that discipleship involves a type of imitation: Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore, I urge you to imitate me. For this reason, I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Corinthians 4:15–17).

  • Fifth, discipleship is a process. A disciple is one who is called by the Lord, follows the Lord, obeys the Lord, and learns how to live a godly life from the Lord Jesus. That discipling process then involves two-fold responsibility:

The first responsibility identified with the process of discipleship involves the one discipling. The one doing the discipling is responsible to hold in clear focus the process of discipleship. Note Jesus’ intentionality in approaching the Father asking Him whom he should disciple, and therefore who he should choose to follow Him: “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles. ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name’” (John 15:16).

Jesus underscores the fact that God was intentionality involved in the discipleship process. Acts 6:5-6 points out the same dynamic later in the history of the Church. The believers in Jerusalem were intentional in their selection for servant leadership: They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

There are other biblical examples of intentionality on the part of a discipler to build into the lives of others who understood themselves to be disciples. Old Testament examples include Moses discipling Joshua (Numbers 27:15–20) and Elijah pouring into the life of Elisha (1 Kings 19:15–16, 19). New Testament examples include Peter pouring into the lives of ministry partners (Acts 11:12ff), Barnabas discipling Paul (Acts 13:1–2) and Paul mentoring Epaphroditus and Timothy (Philippians 2:19-29).


The process of intentionally investing your life in the lives of others on God’s behalf

The second responsibility identified with the process of discipleship involves the person being discipled. That person must be a willing learner, follower, and “doer of the Word.” While it is important for the person doing the discipling to invest in the lives of individuals, it is equally important for the one being discipled to be a willing receiver. A disciple must have a teachable spirit. Note that those chosen by Jesus willingly followed. They did what they were told to do—they obeyed. And they sat a Jesus’ feet to learn.

A closer look at Matthew 28:18–20 provides an even broader picture of discipleship that may be applied to worship leaders. Note the main verb: to make. This verb should be understood as “be making disciples”—a present, active imperative. It is a command. Many people incorrectly put the emphasis of this passage on the verb go. In the Greek language construction of this passage, the term go is one of the subsidiary actions; most clearly understood because it is not a command, but a participle. Therefore, another translation of the verse would be (Jesus speaking): “Therefore, as you are going, wherever you go, whenever you go, because I know you are going all sorts of places every day, . . . be making disciples . . .”

As a point of application, the Lord knows that everyone is going someplace every day, and His intent, by using a participle instead of a command verb, underscores the fact that in our daily lives, we should always be discipling. It is important to understand that the main command is a present, active command. It is best translated as “be making disciples continually.” The clear biblical priority of discipleship is something one does at every stage and turn in ministry.

Discipleship Defined

“Therefore, as you are going, wherever you go, whenever you go, because I know you are going all sorts of places every day, . . . be making disciples . . .”

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