When I ask pastors and lay leaders, "What is a disciple?" they often don’t have a ready answer. In fact, one time I was part of a panel talking about discipleship and someone from the audience asked, "Exactly what do you mean when you say ‘disciple’?" The panelists started shuffling their papers. Since I am a one trick pony and this is my trick, I fielded the question. Here’s what I said:
We all know that the Greek word, mathetes, means a "learner" or "pupil." When applied to the early Christians, the term "disciple" came to mean someone who had declared a personal allegiance to the teachings and person of Jesus.
Here’s a good working definition:
A disciple is someone called to live in Christ, equipped to live like Christ, and sent to live for Christ.
First, a disciple is someone who is called to profess faith in Jesus Christ (this is the "evangelism" piece). Second, they are equipped in an ongoing process of spiritual growth and transformation (this is the "teaching" piece). Third, they are sent to abide in Christ, love, and serve (this is the "go" piece). So the disciple is in Christ, like Christ, and for Christ.
An outline of this is shown below:
- TEXT – CALL – EQUIP – SEND
- Mt 28:18-20 – Baptize in name of Father, Son, Spirit – Teach to obey – Go and make disciples
- Luke 6:47 – Comes to me – Hears my words – Puts them into practice
- 2 Ti 3:15-17 – Salvation through faith in Christ Jesus – Teach, rebuke, correct, train to thoroughly equip – For every good work
- Isaiah 6:7-8 – Guilt taken away and sin atoned for – Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?
- Acts 26:20 – Repent and turn to God – Prove repentance by deeds
- Eph 2:8-10 – Saved by grace through faith – To do good works
- Mat 13:37-38 – Love God with all heart, soul, mind – Love neighbor as yourself
- John 3:3 – Must be born again
- Mat 7:24 – Hear my words – Put into practice
- 2 Ti 2:2 – Truths you heard me teach – Teach to trustworthy people to teach others
- John 13:34-35 – All men know my disciples if you love one another (Rom 13:7) (Luke 7:12)
- John 8:31-31 – If abide in my teaching really my disciples
- John 15:9 – Bear much fruit showing self to be my disciples
- Luke 7:12 – Do to others what would want done to you. Sums up law and prophets.
- Gen 1:27-28 – Be fruitful, fill, subdue, and rule over Creation (Psa 8:6-8)
Calling, equipping, and sending are the "trinity" of making disciples. They form the learning process that forges men into passionate followers of Jesus. Isn’t that what we all want?
Discipleship is not merely having the right information–although that is important. It includes everything that moves men along toward spiritual maturity. That could be a sermon, an encouraging or inspiring word in the hall, getting a cup of coffee together, a Sunday school lesson, a home Bible study, a small group experience, teaching Sunday school, volunteering to work in the homeless shelter, leading someone to Christ, or setting up chairs for the mission conference. Anything that calls, equips, or sends.
On the other hand, if what you are doing doesn’t call, equip, or send someone is it really even worth the effort?
Yours for changed lives,
Patrick Morley, Ph.D.
Man in the Mirror