Discipleship is about following. A disciple is someone who follows, and making disciples means helping someone follow. Following is about doing the same things that someone else does.
Thus, a disciple of Jesus is someone who follows Jesus. Making disciples of Jesus means helping someone follow Jesus. Following Jesus is about doing the same things that Jesus does.
In my time at seminary, I have heard alot about discipleship. We have been told that our seminary is concerning with the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), in which Jesus tells his followers (disciples) to make disciples. Many professors have exhorted us in class to “be about the Great Commission” and to “make disciples”.
I remember one class in particular. The class was called “Pastoral Ministry”. The class was designed to help vocational pastors carry out their responsibilities. We talked about how to conduct a marriage ceremony, how to baptize, how to serve the Lord’s Supper, how to conduct a business meeting and a deacons’ meeting.
On the last day of the class, the professor asked, “What is your most important responsibility as a pastor?” The students gave many different answers. Finally, the professor said, “Your most important responsibility as a pastor – and as a Christian – is to make disciples.”
The professor then moved on to another topic. For the next several minutes, I contemplated what the professor said. Eventually, the professor asked if there were any questions. I raised my hand.
“You said earlier that our most important responsibility is to make disciples. Since I’ve been in seminary, I’ve heard that we should be making disciples. We’ve been told to carry out the Great Commission, which is to make disciples. But, what do you mean by ‘make disciples’? Do you mean that we should lead ‘discipleship classes’? Do you mean that we should go on mission trips around the world? Do you mean that we should have prayer meetings? What do you mean when you say ‘make disciples’?”
The professor stopped for a moment. Then, he gave the best advice that I’ve heard in a seminary classroom.
He said, “All of those things can be included in discipleship, but none of those things are discipleship. When I say that we should ‘make disciples’, I mean that we should spend time with other brothers and sisters in Christ and help them do the things that Jesus did. We help them serve others and teach others. While classes can be part of this, primarily discipleship happen when we live our lives among one another. It happens in our homes and at restaurants, in parks and stores. We disciples when we drive somewhere together, work together, eat together, anytime we spend time together. And, in order to make disciples, we must spend alot of time with the people that we discipling – and most of the time should be outside of the classroom.”
I asked him, sincerely, “If discipleship is so important, then why is this the first time I’ve heard anything like this from someone at the seminary?” Many of the students around me nodded in agreement. (I thought, but didn’t ask, “And, if this type of discipleship is our most important responsibility, why was it an after-thought – an answer to a question – in this class?”)
I’ve noticed that it is much, much easier to talk about discipleship than to actually do it. It is much easier to prepare a lecture about discipleship than to spend time with someone else. It is easier to give a sermon series on discipleship than to help someone serve others. It is much easier to write a book about discipleship than to invite someone into our lives.
There is alot of talk about discipleship and the importance of discipleship.