What is Discipleship? More than Praying and the Reading the Bible

In an earlier post I noted that discipleship includes more than just telling people to read the Bible and pray, yet it seems that this is often the primary focus when it comes to discipling people (especially new Christians). That is, we tell them to read the Bible and pray every day and send them on their merry way.

Having a discipleship class is not the answer, as helpful as they can indeed be, because discipleship cannot be done in 4-12 weeks. We must continue to be discipled and discipling throughout our lives.

Discipleship is not the same as mentoring, even though a mentor might disciple you. I have heard numerous people say that they were not discipled in the past. Usually, though, I have found that they have only meant that they did not have a specific person(s) who mentored them. I often respond by saying, “I don’t believe you would be a Christian if you had not received any discipleship!”

Discipleship can and often does happen in formal relationships (like with a mentor, during a church worship service, or in a class). However, discipleship can also happen in informal situations. For example, it can happen when two people are praying together. It can happen when you share with other believers how God is working in your life. And it can happen when a person invites people to their house and models hospitality.

So, what is discipleship?

As I understand it, discipleship includes:

  • Gaining a love for God (and “fear/respect of the Lord”) and a love for people around us (Jesus said this is the most important thing!).
  • Gaining proper attitudes, values, and affections.
  • Experiencing the presence of God.
  • Learning to recognize God’s guidance/voice and to follow God’s lead.
  • Being formed to have virtuous character (expanding on this would fill many blog posts).
  • Learning to deny oneself and to look out for the interests of others.
  • Dependency on the empowerment of the Spirit.
  • Orienting our lives to God’s will and goals for creation vs. a self-centered life. That is, living for the glory of God.
  • Fasting, solitude, and other spiritual disciplines.
  • Learning to relate with others in a godly manner.
  • Forgiving others.
  • Sharing the Gospel with those around us.
  • Being in community with other believers.
  • Serving others (sharing, encouraging, giving, etc.).
  • Gaining a knowledge of the Bible, but also a knowledge of how to read and interpret the Bible.
  • Gaining right beliefs (if you don’t believe me, read what Ephesians 4:13-14 says about maturity).

And

  • Discipling others (not just being discipled ourselves).

Overall, discipleship is about being formed by the Spirit into the character and ways of Jesus Christ within a community of believers.

No doubt I’ve missed some aspects of discipleship. What do you think are some additional aspects of discipleship?

Check out my post from a few years ago: “Foundational Discipleship Questions

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5 thoughts on “What is Discipleship? More than Praying and the Reading the Bible

  1. Andrew, thanks for these reflections. You’ve provided an excellent opening for discussion. Here’s a question to continue the conversation: Can we afford to talk about discipleship primarily or only in individual terms? Perhaps, instead, we’ll need to think about the formation of communities as communities, at the same time as thinking about the formation of individual believers in those communities.

  2. How does that relate to experiencing the presence of God, in particular? I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about what we mean by “presence” and how we are to discern and describe our experiences of it in a way that we build the kind of community God purposes for us. Thoughts?

    • I think that Church communities need to make room for people to seek God and experience God (rather than just, for example, to sing to God or hear from the Bible). In my mind, if this doesn’t happen in church group settings, then people won’t be as comfortable with experiencing God in their own personal time. And they might not value the experiences as much either.

      For my own part, altar calls were a regular part of my church life growing up. And we also experienced God through prayer and meditation in my youth group. I’ve written briefly about altar calls here, where I implicitly note their value for discipleship: http://andrewgabriel.wordpress.com/2013/07/09/pentecostals-and-altar-calls-an-evaluation/

      On a broad scale, if we don’t disciple people in experiencing the presence of God, I think it will be a lot harder for people to be formed and shaped in other areas of discipleship.