the weblog of Alan Knox

What is discipleship?

Posted by on Oct 3, 2008 in blog links, discipleship | 8 comments

Chris, at “LeakeSpeak“, wrote a very important blog post recently called “What discipleship is not?“. He gives us this list:

It is not a class.
It is not control.
It is not a 12-week program.
It is not an activity to be performed by an elite few.

I agree with Chris’ description of what discipleship is not, and could probably add a few. I think lists like this are very important because they help us to orient – or re-orient – our thinking. I also think that this is a good turning point. Let’s move from what discipleship is not, to what discipleship is.

I once sat through an intensive summer course in which the professor taught about the “ministry” of the pastor. He began by exhorting us to do everything according to or to based everything on Scripture. He then taught us how to marry someone, how to baptize someone, how to serve the Lord’s Supper, how to run a deacon’s meeting. Somehow Scripture rarely, if ever, came up in those lessons.

At the very end of the class, he asked the class what they thought was the pastor’s most important responsibility. Several people offered suggestions. He finally said that the most important responsibility of any pastor – and in fact the most important responsibility of any Christian – was to make disciples. Then, he stopped.

I have heard this throughout my seminary career. We are to make disciples. But very few people actually discuss what it means to make disciples.

What is discipleship? What role does God play in discipleship? What role does the disciple-maker play in discipleship? What role does the one being discipled play in discipleship? Can there be a blurring between the disciple-maker and the discipler? Is that type of blurring good or bad?

What is the goal of discipleship? Do certain activities lead to that goal? Are certain settings more conducive to reaching that goal? Is discipleship only one-on-one or can someone disciple a small group or a large group? What role does teaching play in discipleship? How is education related to discipleship? What about other spiritual gifts?

I’ve thought through many of these questions, and I’ve found that a person’s ecclesiology greatly affects his or her understanding of discipleship. I write about discipleship often on this blog, and if you browse through the posts with the label “discipleship”, you’ll find that many of the posts simply deal with sharing life with other believers. This is primarily how I make disciples.

Perhaps you agree or disagree with my understanding of discipleship. Either way, share your concept of discipleship with us. Then, answer this question – either in a comment or to yourself – regardless of your concept of discipleship, are you making disciples?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 10-3-2008

    I think at this point in my life I see discipleship as investment, with the goal of helping the other person become like Jesus. All of us are called to make disciples (not just the pastors or church “leaders”).

    I think the best kind of discipleship happens as part of real life. In this setting, one person helps another see how the truth of God’s word and the reality of His indwelling presence affects every area of their life. Probably one of the least effective ways to disciple is in a classroom, because it tends to make discipleship an academic subject, instead of a life to be lived.

    I would hope that at some point the line between discipler and disciplee would blur. (Is “disciplee” a word?) We can all learn from each other, even from someone who is younger in the faith. The student must become a teacher.

    I believe one-on-one or small groups are best. I doubt that the kind of intimacy that is required for true discipleship can be accomplished in a large group.

    Am I making disciples? I’m not right now. I needed time to recover after leaving “the ministry.” But I do feel the need to seek the Lord to see who He might be bringing my way…

  2. 10-3-2008

    I agree with you, that by sharing our lives we make disciples. Sharing our complete life. Having those God puts into your life to influence and in return to influence you, around you, letting them see you, all the time. It is not enough to just talk to them about your life. And you must know that they will always be in your life. This is the way to make disciples.

    If you try to any other way, I think that you may as well get out a piece of paper, turn it “landscape” wise, accordion fold it in an approximately 2.2″ wide folded strip, take out your pencil and scissors. Trace a full yet simple silhouet of yourself on the top strip, letting the hands and feet touch the folded edges, cut along the simple outline of yourself, cutting through all layers making sure not to cut where the hands and feet touch the edge. You have now just made five disciples.

    All kidding aside. You must invest yourself, be willing to and actually give up yourself, allowing yourself to be transformed first, by God, through that person.

    To answer your most important question, yes, and I continue with these young women and they greatly influence me.

    But I am most thankful for the man God put into my life who continues to disciple me. He has grown me greatly through the Christ-like patience, honesty and firmness he exercises, through his willingness to daily, gently, wash the word of God over me, in exhortation but most importantly example and deed. I thank God that He gave me my husband.

  3. 10-3-2008

    Here is my two cents, whatever it is worth Alan,

    I think today many have tried to mimic Jesus’ discipleship with the 12. If you follow this logically things fall apart. Jesus incarnate had all of the spritual gifts exhausitvely. Not only that, He always walked in the Fruit of the Spirit, never sinned, and fully divested Himself of all that was self-serving.

    If we are to make disciples as Christ did, then I think we may a hair behind that. However, in Ephesians 4 we see something unique. When Jesus ascendeing on high “He gave gifts to men”. So now what Jesus embodied in Himself the Chruch now emobdies corporately. So I am of the persuasion that discipleship is to be done within the context of the local body of beleivers, walking fully in their gifts, using them to serve others and build up the Church.

    I am not saying that we can’t take a young believer and have them walk this thing out together with us. I think we can indivdually teach people by life how to live for Jesus and by the Word how to live for Jesus, the only problem is that in and of myself I am wholly inadequate to reflect the glory of Jesus like the Church gathered can (I ain’t talking about Sunday Service). Collectively we should look more like Christ than we can individually.

    Next, I don’t know if you are asking this but just for convesation purposes. But Jesus is the only person who can make a disciple by the regeneration of the Spirit. All who have partook of the Spirit are Jesus’ disciples and we contribute to that process by the proclamation of the Gospel. There seems to be a false dichotomy today that says one can be a Christian and not a Disciple. I see no such two headed monster in scripture. All who are born from above are disciples, some may be more mature than others but all our disciples. I hate to hear “does anybody desire to be more than a convert and become a disciple”. That is a theological heresy to me.

    So all in all every believer is a disciple, but the maturation process can come in classes, life on life, 12 week programs (as long as they are not an end in themselves) and small groups. I don’t think those things are discple making though, I think they may or may not contribute to a disciples growth however.

  4. 10-3-2008

    I appreciate you sharing some of your thoughts related to my post, Alan. You asked some great questions.

    I’ve become a big fan of life-on-life discipleship (though other modes exist), and I think that one important type of discipleship relationship is that of a believer helping a less mature believer grow in obedience to Christ. I also like the thought about blurring the lines between discipler and disciplee, though.

    Something I have been thinking about lately I’ve been calling the “round table of discipleship” for lack of a better term. I serve with a team of missionaries, several of whom are older than me. One man, the oldest, has probably the most life experience and overall spiritual maturity. He can teach the rest of us a lot. The leader of our team, much younger than this man, can learn from him but can also teach him some things about effective cross-cultural mission work. Everyone around me, younger or older, can teach me things in various areas, and in certain areas I can help even those who have more experience than me with a thing or two. So there is a lot of give and take, not a clear-cut hierarchy.

    I’ve heard some people put forth that it’s not discipleship unless discipler and disciplee have a clear understanding of the relationship and a commitment to it. I haven’t decided if I agree or disagree. What do you all think? I’m discipling one guy right now who came to me and asked for that type of relationship, but I’m also having some effectiveness discipling others who do not have a formal relationship with me; I simply look for opportunities to speak into their lives.

    The past little more than a year is the first time in my life I have been discipled in an intentional way and have discipled others intentionally, and it’s been a tremendous experience so far. I’m growing like never before.

    Alan, what other points you would add to a list of what discipleship is not?

  5. 10-4-2008

    I’m reading a book called Recover Your Good Heart by Jim Robbins. In one section he is talking about how in Christ we have already become righteous, holy, perfected, etc, etc, and how it’s an established fact as people who have been born again into new life in Christ, and how at the same time we “develop” all of this as we live our daily lives in Christ. In other words, in Christ we are all those things and yet we “work it out” as we grow in maturity and in expressing all of what is already true about us.

    A brief quote from the section of the book I was reading:

    “Discipleship is the process by which I enjoy and continue to express an already-present holiness and wholeness within me.”

    This is essentially how I personally see discipleship. We’re not trying to better people or to become better at following the rules, but through the help of each other (really, it’s something we all do with each other as Richard talked about), by the work of the Holy Spirit, we all grow as a body. I think, too, that we all grow differently, so along with what others have said, there’s no set “program” that anyone can follow to grow in Christ.

  6. 12-30-2011

    Disciple means to follow and learn from Jesus. It’s pretty simple to testify to another what Jesus is leading you personally about in your heart and encourage them to let him do it personally for them. He says I’ll make you witnesses ( of him) and go and teach others what I have commanded you. Simply then, sharing life with others is not telling them what to do , but sharing what he leads you to do and if they so choose they can seek him to lead them.
    I once had a dream in which a young boy told me he met Jesus and wanted his friends to meet him too. He suddenly realized all he had to do was tell his friends he was still looking for Jesus and they could come look for him too. He ran off so excited to just continue playing seek and find Jesus with any friends that wanted to too. You have received the holy spirit who will teach you ( disciple you) and you don’t need man to. He has given us the witness in our spirit to know we hear from him.
    Too often we forget to just point to who we ourselves seek and find daily to rely on and instead make ourselves who others can rely on. Which one of us has found we are able to be so reliable as Jesus? None.
    I don’t believe we should ever think Jesus disciples us to be more like him. He disciples us that we may know him more and more fully for all glory power and honor and life are in him alone. I would rather live a life testifying of him then of myself or any man. We all fall short of the glory of god, but Jesus never has.

  7. 10-1-2012

    The more I know the less certain I am what discipleship is. I think I agree with you that it’s sharing life. I would expand it, however, I think in that it includes someone who isn’t “in” yet but someone who may not have given their life to Christ but who is a seeker and who is attracted to Christ through me and therefore willing to spend time and share life with me. In Scripture, I throw Cornelius and other god-fearers in this group. I also include children,especially adopted children in this group.

  8. 10-2-2012


    Are you limiting discipleship (i.e., making disciples) only for those who are not yet disciples? Could discipleship also include helping those who are already disciples to grow and mature?