What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?
A disciple worships and imitates Jesus in all areas of life. Three words come to mind when we think of discipleship: worshiper, apprentice and follower.
It’s not enough simply to imitate Jesus—we must find ourselves, like the disciple Thomas, falling to our knees and exclaiming, “My Lord and My God!” And yet worship from the Bible’s point of view is always a whole-life event—expressed in and through every aspect of our lives: vocations, relationships, art, citizenship, etc.
Like an apprentice is shaped by his master, a disciple is being renewed with the mind and life of Christ in every way. Christ’s agenda becomes our agenda. This call to worship and imitate Jesus is a call to lay down our lives, yet the reward is beyond measure.
These two aspects join in the idea of being a follower of Jesus. Jesus asks us “to come follow him,” to walk in his footsteps. A follower acknowledges the leadership of Jesus and acknowledges the goodness of Jesus. Disciples grow to love the one that they follow and recognize that their own joy is tied to their delight in their master.
Where does Discipleship occur?
The current trend is for Christians to walk away from the church and focus on their private Christian life. Yet biblically, discipleship occurs in the Church. The Church is where disciples are made.
The church is God’s incarnation today. The church is Jesus’ body on earth. The church is the temple of the Spirit. The church is not a helpful thing for just an individual spiritual journey. The church is the journey. The church is not a collection of “soul-winners” all seeking to tell unbelievers “the Way” to God. The church is the way to God. To be part of the church is to be part of God—to be part of God’s Communion and to be part of God’s ministry. To belong to the people of God is to enjoy relationship with God and live out the purposes of God. The church is God’s present-day word and witness to an unbelieving world. And, most importantly, the church is the only true means to be transformed into the likeness of God. —Todd Bolsinger, It Takes a Church to Raise a Christian
The Church doesn’t have everything all perfect, just like none of us have everything all perfect. Yet Jesus placed priority on his Church and so we must. This is not to exclude our individual relationships with God—if neglected we will feel like an acquaintance of God, rather than a beloved son or daughter. But, as the Church is the Body and Temple of Christ, and discipleship entails being shaped by Him, we must be engaged in the Church to become like Him. This includes being engaged in the mission of the Church. A disciple participates in Jesus’ worldwide mission to gather people from every tongue, tribe and nation.
How does Discipleship occur?
Discipleship takes place with multiple persons in a variety of ways. For those who have grown up in the Church, or have been Christians for some time there may be certain models that come to mind—both formal and informal:
• Discipleship means a person [one primary mentor]…
• Discipleship means a program [book or curriculum]…
• Discipleship is just spending time together
All of these are legitimate models, yet none exclusively sufficient. If discipleship entails becoming a whole-life worshiper as well as an apprentice of Jesus, it needs to take place with multiple persons. The person who serves as a discipler/mentor for your marriage may not be the best one for your vocation. The person who brings you along theologically may not be the best one to show you God through the arts.
This releases the individual being discipled from looking to one person for everything and requires us to learn from everybody. It also frees the discipler from guilt for not being everything to everyone, as well as from an unhealthy desire for influence. No one—pastors, elders, lay leaders—can be expected to serve as the primary discipler. We look for God to use many people, understanding that Jesus himself, by way of the Holy Spirit, is the primary Discipler.
Discipleship also takes place in multiple contexts. At Grace Silicon Valley we imagine discipleship will occur in many venues: during worship services, alone with God, while discussing a film, while sharing a cup of coffee, while tutoring a child, in small groups or as we hone our talents at work. This relates to our belief that disciples are called not merely to personal worship and piety, but to engage every area of life—which only happens as we are being discipled in a whole-life manner. The multiple contexts and personalities involved in discipleship call us to be wide-eyed for God’s shaping influence.
Discipleship occurs through the “means of grace,” used corporately and individually. God tells us that there are certain means through which His powerful grace flows, by which the Spirit of Christ resides and rules in our lives: the Word which God inspired and inhabits, the Sacraments wherein Christ is present, Prayer by which we both experience and communicate with God. This is why weekly worship with the Church is so formative, for it is there that all these take place. And, as we learn to worship together publicly we’re also learning how to do it privately. These means pursued publicly and privately are used by the Spirit help us to become worshipers, apprentices and followers.
Other means of grace require relationships with people: fellowship, service and repentance. The messy community of the Church is where these are experienced. Together we spur one another to press on.
The Bible teaches us that transformation occurs by seeing the glory of God and because of the grace of God. Mechanically checking a list of chores leads nowhere. Coasting through life under the guise of ‘freedom’ leads nowhere. Discipleship is a reliance on God’s grace through diligently pursuing his means of grace. This takes discipline and intentionality. The Apostle Paul likened it to athletic or military training.