Editors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what discipleship is and how to embrace the Cross of Christ in all of life.

Discipleship-greenWhen I was in seminary, I was all about academia, theology, and the Word of God; admittedly, three of my favorite things, still. But when asking the pastor about having a discipleship class, he looked at me and said, “I don’t think you understand what discipleship means.” He was right; I was clueless.

Let me rewind. During this period of my life, I was of the mindset that a Bible study or some type of class was discipleship (as I stated)—that if I studied under someone, that they could teach me to be more like Jesus. Unfortunately, that is just not true; only the Holy Spirit can transform someone. Likewise, Jesus never pulled out the scroll of Jeremiah or the Torah and parsed the meanings of words to His disciples. From the beginning, discipleship looks more like on-the-job training than any classroom that I have ever seen. So, what happened for me was a transformation in understanding what discipleship was, and what it was not.

What It Was Not

I’m in the process of co-authoring another book and it happens that discipleship is a chapter focus, so this is a researched topic for me. I believe it’s something drastically missed within evangelicalism and a spiritual discipline so misunderstood. I believe the ecclesiastical church, as a whole, has mistaken discipleship for catechism, since the time of Constantine. Once the attractional method of the missio Dei came into play, the church seemed to disregard the day-to-day discipleship, which was the evident DNA within a scattered and persecuted church. Nothing can compare to discipleship inside the trenches. And so it seems that complacency is not good for true spiritual edification.

If we look at discipleship from the beginning, we take note that not only did Jesus present His disciples with new paradigms of thinking, but He also offered them visualizations of what He taught. For instance, when the disciples were discussing who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus provided an answer by taking a small child, placing him on His lap, and then discussing the attributes of a child (Matt 18:1-6). He didn’t sit them down and exegete Isaiah. Jesus gave visual and tactile teaching (seeing and touching) about something that was evident. We are people who indeed learn better by example. Everyone has been a child, so the disciples knew how children think, and act—their innocence, so to speak. So, from the beginning, discipleship was not about attending a lecture, while lectures may have been a miniscule aspect of discipleship, it was much, much more.

What It Was

Discipleship had a lot to do with contextualization and walking with a person in the everyday framework of life. Jesus, from the beginning of His earthly ministry, walked, ate, and slept with His disciples. He knew them and they experienced His relationship with the Father—a three-year process. They witnessed as He went to pray alone with the Father, heard how He openly spoke with the Father, and what He declared about the Father. The disciples witnessed how Jesus handled criticism, fraud, neglect, discernment, love, empathy, compassion, and even more importantly, the aspects of humanity: money, housing, hunger, sickness, and death. I don’t think we disciple people anymore, I think we speak at them.

I recently heard a good friend, Peyton Jones; say that a disciple must accept permission to be mentored because there is an air of superiority (albeit in Christ-like humility) within true discipleship. The one being mentored must resign to the understanding that the mentor has experienced and knows the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, intimately. The disciples were able to disciple others because they walked, talked, slept, and broke bread with Christ—they all had an intimate knowledge of the Son, and upon receiving the Holy Spirit, power from and understanding of the Father.

This means that discipleship from the beginning was neither birthed nor matured in a classroom, but in life. As well, there is no accountability from a classroom. I can’t possibly become intimate with ten to twenty people in the same forty-five to sixty minute group discussion, no matter how deep I care to go. Allow me to validate, I had a younger man approach me and ask to be discipled. I asked if he understood what he was asking. He looked as confused as I had when I approached my pastor some years ago. I knew he didn’t, so I began to explain that discipleship was about the missio Dei intersecting the gospel of life. This meant, I emphasized, “That we will have coffee with each other, lunch, go fishing, and everything in between. I want to know your fears, anxieties, depressed thoughts, and struggles.” I knew that he was searching for a Bible study, but the Bible comes to life through our daily grind. This doesn’t mean that Bible studies are bad; to the contrary, they are much needed and should be a part of every believer’s discipline, much like prayer.

Discipleship From The Beginning

When Jesus elected His disciples, calling them out of the world, He stated, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt 4:19 ESV). This means that the mentor has a responsibility, a great one. He must be prepared, as the disciple is to follow, to pour out his knowledge, time, and emotions. But a person cannot be a mentor, who has never been mentored, for he will never understand the mentor-disciple relationship. It is a deep interpersonal aspect of brotherhood, or sisterhood, for the believer. Discipleship goes beyond the spiritual, even though the spiritual is interwoven into everything; it goes beyond the natural, even though the natural is interwoven into everything. Discipleship is Trinitarian; it’s the incarnated flesh and Holy Spirit of God that comes to dwell with man. Discipleship is a slow transformation from perceiving worldly to a renewed thinking and reacting in godliness (Rom 12:2). Discipleship from the beginning is a new creative process of the Holy Spirit, a sanctification of the flesh, mind, and heart. Discipleship is about people walking with people, to be more like Christ.