Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor, theologian, and author, penned the critically acclaimed book The Cost of Discipleship to encourage his fellow Christians during World War II. The book outlines the necessity of discipleship and has been accepted as a classic of Christian thought. Bonhoeffer enthusiast and author, Dr. Javier Garcia, wrote that, “The original German title is simply Discipleship, literally ‘following after’… Bonhoeffer’s conviction throughout is that Jesus himself calls us to follow him in the mundane and complex realities of our everyday life… as Bonhoeffer puts it, ‘Discipleship is joy.’”
When looking at both sides of this definition, we see the opportunity to follow Christ joyfully, even when life may be less than joyful.
Verses on Discipleship in Scripture
Discipleship is a biblical practice, and its instruction comes straight from the Word of God. We can find many commands regarding discipleship in Scripture. Let’s look at a few:
Be a disciple of Christ
Following Christ is a choice. In being a disciple of him, we need to choose to live for Jesus every single day. Giving up our own desires to live as Christ did is honoring to him and will be fulfilling for us.
Community is essential to growing in faith. This passage reminds us that in every Christian relationship, there are three members, the third being Christ. This community is made up of brothers and sisters in Christ with Christ himself helping us to be strong in our faith. Being discipled by a spiritual mentor creates a relationship which, as this verse says, is “not quickly broken.”
The Great Commission is a task set for every Christian. We are called to spread the Gospel by discipling others. Creating meaningful and lasting relationships is the best way to show someone the love of Christ.
Examples from the Bible
In the Bible, we also find many examples of the discipleship process:
Elijah and Elisha
Elisha stuck by Elijah’s side until the end. He learned from Elijah and even received a “double portion” of Elijah’s spirit once the elder prophet was taken up to heaven. Remaining steadfast in our love and commitment to our spiritual mentors or mentees reflects what Jesus calls his disciples to.
Jesus and the twelve disciples
This is what Jesus calls his disciples to. We should love each other so much that people wonder where all that love comes from. This is how we can point back to Christ. Jesus’s twelve disciples did not always do the best job at this, but as we read through John, we can see the expectations that Jesus held for them which we should work to live up to. But we also see his grace when they failed to show this love or to trust Jesus as their spiritual leader. Both of these aspects of discipleship are perfectly illustrated throughout the Gospels.
Paul and Timothy
Here Paul is affirming Timothy’s discipleship and reminding him of all that he has learned. Timothy faithfully followed Paul in admiration as well as intentional relationship. Paul is setting an example of affirmation while discipling.
Discipling and Being Discipled
While being followers of Christ should be our number one priority, it is also important to grow in community with others by being led in discipleship, and discipling others as well.
How to be discipled
Identify someone you look up to spiritually
This could be someone at your church or in your life with an active Christian faith. Try to choose someone older than you, or who has experienced more “life stages” than you – the idea is that you can learn from their experiences.
Ask them if they’d be interested
If you want to be discipled, sometimes you just have to ask! Tell your potential mentor that you respect their walk with Christ, and, if they’re willing, you’d like to learn from them.
Set up a consistent time to meet
If this person is willing to disciple you, make sure to set up a consistent time to meet. It doesn’t have to be every day, or even every week – set up something that works for the both of you but, again, be consistent with it!
How to disciple others
Involve yourself in the life of someone younger than you or newer in their Christian faith
Don’t force it or come on too strong. Simply show an interest in a person’s life and offer advice from your own life experience when appropriate. Usually, this can occur naturally if you are or become this person’s friend and spend time with them.
Once you’ve built the relationship, you can ask them about how they’re doing in their faith walk
This doesn’t have to be super formal and you don’t actually need to say, “Would you like to be discipled?” That might be intimidating for some. But deepen the relationship by talking about the thing that matters most: Jesus. If you have more experience than the person you’re looking to disciple, and if you’ve developed a good relationship, they may come to you with questions or for advice naturally.
Much like being discipled, you’ll want to meet consistently to check-in and catch up. No need to over-spiritualize during these meetings – if you meet up for coffee, you don’t need to present the coffee-making process as an allegory for the Christian faith. Simply enjoy each other’s company and talk about your shared faith naturally.
Following these steps and implementing these Biblical principles will hopefully help you successfully practice being a disciple of Christ, being discipled, and discipling in your own life.
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