When discussing discipleship, many things may come to mind—a class, a program, a Bible study, family worship, one-on-one mentoring, a core set of doctrines, or an early developmental stage.
At Trinity, we believe discipleship is the work of the church. Jesus left his disciples with this command:
Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)
We think discipleship is not as difficult as the church has often made it to be, and there are no magic bullets to guarantee discipleship. Discipleship is neither a duty to perform nor a puzzle to solve. Before we can discuss how we make disciples, we have to define the process and the goal.
Here’s how we define it:
Discipleship is the life-giving, grace-filled process of being with Christ and becoming like him together.
First, discipleship will be life-giving if it is truly centered on Jesus Christ.
He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Our groups should primarily be marked by life and not stagnation, joy and not defeat, encouragement and not gossip. In other words, discipleship must be “gospel centered”—ministry rooted in Jesus and his gospel.
Second, discipleship is grace-filled.
We recognize that spiritual transformation comes through God’s grace, not simply our effort. God’s grace enables us to want to be with Christ and become like him (Titus 2:11-13). We will fail frequently, but his grace sustains us along the way.
Third, discipleship is a process.
It’s not a theory, a class, a program, or a time of the week. Similar to a worldview, a process—a new way of living, with new habits and routines—must be produced if we are to life like Christ and as his salt and light in the world.
Fourth, discipleship is a process of being with Christ.
It is not a primarily way of doing more for him or the church. The first invitation of discipleship is not to growth or change or even obedience; it is simply to come to Jesus. The words of Matthew 11:28-30 demonstrate our Lord’s heart for his disciples:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Fifth, discipleship is a way of becoming like him.
Once we have spent time in the presence of the King, we will gradually become more like him. Our growth in Christlikeness produces a real change, and our obedience becomes an internal desire rather than an external compulsion. We become what we behold, according to Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:18.
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Lastly, discipleship happens together.
Our being and becoming like Christ is not an individual pursuit. It is deeply personal, yet it does not happen primarily in a “Jesus and me” context. Instead, the best possible place of spiritual transformation is the local church—and most specifically, a small, regular, committed group of believers pursuing the same end.
If we want to find a blueprint for discipleship, we must begin where all true discipleship should begin, by looking at the earthly life and ministry of Jesus.
Stay tuned for Part Two!
This post is an excerpt from the forthcoming ebook, Life-Giving Groups, by Jeremy Linneman. It releases from Sojourn Network on October 25, 2017.