What is Discipleship and How Do We Do It?

What is Discipleship and How Do We Do It?

What does discipleship look like? And how can you disciple others and be discipled for Christ?

Defining Discipleship

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

“And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.’”

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.

Be discipled

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

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.”

Disciple others

“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”

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

“Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. And Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Please stay here, for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.’ But Elisha said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So they went down to Bethel.”

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

“‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’”

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

“You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me.”

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.

Meet consistently

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.

Want more ways to live out your faith?

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