Excerpt #3. What is a Disciple?
NOTE: In conjunction with the release of our new book about men’s discipleship ministry, No Man Left Behind, we are publishing 12 excerpts to give you a taste of the book. This one is from Chapter 3.
At our Leadership Training Center, we commonly hear the question, “What exactly is a disciple?” It’s a great question – you have to know what you are trying to produce before you implement a system to produce it! This chapter will discuss the motivations of men, define “disciple,” and describe a process by which men become disciples of Jesus Christ.
What Do Men Want?
In our experience with men and men’s leaders, we have found three things that every man wants:
- Something to give their lives to;
- Someone to share it with; and,
- A system that offers a reasonable explanation for why the first two are so difficult.
(explained and illustrated in book)
What Do Men Need?
The obvious answer to this is that men need a system that really works – a system that helps men change the core affections of their hearts. The most important thing we can do is to let men know that there is a system that explains why it is so hard to find happiness in achievement or relationships in this world. We have a system that shows them what happiness is and how they can achieve it. It’s called the gospel, and it’s all explained in the Bible.
This process of helping men move from relying on themselves or others relying on God is discipleship. But just exactly what does it mean to be a “disciple”?
In the Bible the word for disciple literally means “pupil” or “learner.” When applied to the early Christians, it came to mean someone who declared a personal allegiance to the teachings and person of Jesus. The life of a disciple revolves around Jesus.
We would like to suggest three conditions that, if met, qualify a person to be counted as a disciple. (All three conditions must be present. Further, if these three conditions are met, the person cannot disclaim being a disciple. See 1 Corinthians 12:15-16.)
- First, a disciple is called to walk with Christ; they profess faith in Jesus Christ.
- Second, a disciple is equipped to live like Christ; they are engaged in a process of spiritual growth and transformation.
- Third, a disciple is sent to work for Christ; they are serving the Lord.
The biblical case for this definition can be made by examining Paul’s admonition to Timothy:
From infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. [Calling]
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, [Equipping]
so that the man (person) of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. [Sending] -2 Timothy 3:15-17
First and foremost, a disciple is someone who has believed in Jesus-his life, work, death, and resurrection. The first task of making disciples is evangelism -to call men to walk with Christ by grace through faith.
A lot of people who reject Christianity see Christians and say, “If that’s what it means to be a Christian, then I want no part of it.” Isn’t that a criticism too dangerous to leave unanswered? It may do more harm than good to invite a man to become a Christian if we have no plan to help him truly know and follow Christ.
When we don’t disciple (train and equip) a man who professes Christ, he will almost always become lukewarm in faith, worldly in behavior, and hypocritical in witness. The second task of making disciples is teaching -to equip them to live like Christ.
Why do we equip men to live like Christ? So they can enjoy Christ by knowing Him better, but also “so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Jesus prayed, “Father, as you have sent me, so I am sending them” (John 20:21).
Every man wants to give his life to a cause, to make a difference, to do something with his life. When we disciple a man, he will eventually want to make that difference for the glory of God: to “bear much fruit” and do “good works that will last” (John 15:8, 16).
Once a man has been with Christ, experienced the joy of His grace, the warmth of His love, the cleansing of His forgiveness, and the indwelling of His Spirit, he inevitably comes to a point when he can no longer be happy unless he is serving the Lord. The third task of making disciples is service and missions – sending men to work for Christ, to build his Kingdom and bring him glory.
For the glory of Christ and no other reason,
Pat Morley, Ph.D.