What is Discipleship?
Jan 17, 2023 · Darrell Delaney
When I moved from Saginaw, MI to Grand Rapids, MI to study at Grand Rapids Community College, I met an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship Campus Minister named J.R. Pittman. He asked me what the cross I was wearing on my neck meant to me. I said it was a reminder of what my Savior did for me. He simply said, “Okay,” and walked away. I couldn’t leave the conversation there! So, I asked him who he was and what he did. He simply said, “Come and see.”
I have always loved movies like Rocky, The Matrix, and The Karate Kid (1984). They all share a common relationship theme: someone with more experience in the world guides someone else who is inexperienced through a process of training to achieve a goal. In each of these movies, there are no shortcuts. There’s just discipline, hard work, sacrifice, and drive to achieve the goal. There’s always that one person who has been down the road before, who corrects, rebukes, and trains the young protagonist, helping him or her succeed in a spirit of grace and truth. Sound familiar for anyone in your life? For me, that’s been J.R. Pittman. After more than 20 years of relationship with him, I can say that he has been a Mickey, Morpheus, and Mr. Miyagi to me.
Christian discipleship is all of this and more. When I think of a disciple, I think of someone committed to Christ, who wants to be more like him. This person has fallen in love with the Lord, and the ways of the Lord, and is eager to learn what it takes to not only become more like Christ, but show others how to do the same. A disciple knows that he or she cannot get there alone but needs someone who has been walking with the Lord longer to show the way.
What is Christian Discipleship?
So, discipleship is the process of learning to love and follow Jesus and becoming more like him in our attitudes and actions. It’s also seeking to make other disciples who want to do the same thing. Most often discipleship occurs in a relationship with a mentor. We see examples of these relationships throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament, for example, Moses raises up Joshua, and Elijah shepherds Elisha. The New Testament shows us the relationships of Jesus and his disciples, and of Paul and Timothy.
Discipleship is a commitment to a journey, a pedagogy where you will not end in the same place you began. For this journey, there is not always a clear-cut map, but God provides a compass, points a direction, and says, “Follow me.” The good news is that you have someone to guide you and help you when you make mistakes. The disciple-maker knows how to turn failures into teachable moments, mistakes into messages, and mishaps into milestones. It takes time to get from here to there, but both the disciple and the disciple-maker are committed to the process.
J.R. Pittman mentored and discipled me. He has equipped me and trained me to the point that now I am a campus minister at Grand Valley State University, doing the exact thing he was doing with me over 20 years ago. I often use some of the same methods as well, customized for the individual, but consistent in the basic principles. In a spirit of grace, truth, and the love of Jesus, I guide, lead, correct, and train my young trainees by example. My goal is to help them to love and follow Jesus and prepare them to show others how to do that, too.
Seek Discipleship Relationships
Discipleship is life on life. Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). I have been a recipient of this kind of discipling relationship, and I pray you also seek out a mentor who can do the same in your life. With at least one person coaching you and encouraging you and holding you accountable, you can go farther and achieve more than you ever thought you could by yourself. If you already have that person in your life, lean in. Get intentional. Ask them to help you. If you don’t, I encourage you to pray that God sends you someone. That person may already be closer than you think.
A disciple is one who is committed to live in a way that pleases God. Discipleship is the lifelong process of becoming that person who not only lives that way, but shows others how to do it also. That person must learn it, do it, and show it. That’s the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) in a nutshell; that we make disciples as we go, wherever we go, with whomever we come into contact. It is an exciting journey full of twists and turns, but definitely worth it!
Want to study discipleship in more depth? Check out our series Growth in Christian Discipleship.