We cannot be a Christian without being a disciple. Jesus taught and modeled a kind of faith that demands far more than just simply coming into agreement with religiosity. We must make a transformed commitment to follow Christ daily. Discipleship is defined as the process of following our Lord and our Savior, Christ Jesus; in other words, discipleship is the central core of the Christian experience, for Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1959) wrote, “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” The Christian faith and following Christ Jesus are irrefutably connected (Hull, 2006).
The following represents the characteristics and the competencies that reside within the type of individual the gospel produces.
Personal Characteristics of Disciples
- A disciple abides in Christ through the Word (John 15:7).
- A disciple abides in Christ through prayer (John 15:7).
- A disciple bear much fruit (John 15:8).
- A disciple responds to God’s love with obedience (John 15:9-10).
- A disciples possesses joy (John 15:11).
- A disciple loves as Christ loved (John 15:12-13).
9 “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. 11 “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. 12 This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends (John 15:7-13, NKJV).
Personal Competencies of Disciples
- A disciple submits to a teacher who teaches how to follow Christ.
- A disciple learns the words of Christ Jesus.
- A disciple learns Christ Jesus’ way of ministry.
- A disciple imitates Christ Jesus’ life.
- A disciple imitates Christ Jesus’ character.
- A disciple locates and teaches other disciples for Christ Jesus.
Discipleship is Not Just for Church Leaders
Throughout the history of Christianity, only a select few received spiritual training. In other words, prior to the Reformation only church leaders such as pastors, priests, bishops, elders, and monks received a program or system-based theological education. After the Reformation lay people eventually made their way into Christian training and preparation environments. To this day, perpetual differences still exist between Christian laity and leadership when it comes to the level and amount of available training.
There are pastors who continue to maintain a spiritual air, that all too commonly, push nonprofessionals to the way side – making them feel left out. Although this spiritual elitism may be unintentional, many lay people are driven into feeling inferior and spiritually irrelevant relative to the economy of God. Due to such circumstances and attitudes, lay people feel as though they are not in a position to compete with the “real” disciples – those who have decided upon full-time church service as a profession or vocation. Certainly, one can agree that most pastors are expected to know more about religious matters than that of lay people, but this should never be used as the measuring gauge when it comes to an individual’s level of spirituality.
According to Michael J. Wilkens (1992), any residual spiritual elitism can be defeated by some basic precepts regarding discipleship:
- All Christians are disciples who are born anew to spiritual life when they choose to follow Christ Jesus.
- Both the starting point and the goal of spiritual formation and discipleship is transformation to the image of Christ Jesus.
- Together discipleship and spiritual formation render a full New Testament perspective of the process of the growth of Christians.
- Spiritual formation and discipleship must be biblically and theologically grounded.
Hull, R. W. (2006). The complete book of discipleship. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.
Wilkins, M. J. (1992). Following the master: Discipleship in the steps of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.