By Jill Ireland
I wonder if you have ever thought about how you might answer this question?!
As I reflected on it, I realized that ‘discipleship’ is a word we use frequently in the church, though I’m not sure we all understand it to mean the same thing.
For some it is the 10-week beginner’s course that you take once you’ve become a Christian; for others, it’s the life-long process of growing in maturity in Jesus; for others, it includes evangelism and sharing the gospel, whereas others may feel it is something only for believers!
My personal preference is to avoid using the term discipleship, but to speak rather in terms of ‘disciple-making’. Making disciples is, after all, the language Jesus used in giving His disciples (and us!) their final command:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All Authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
Interestingly, Jesus didn’t say, ‘go and do some evangelism and then do some discipleship’ – he said ‘make disciples’. Make learners, followers, students of me (Jesus).
Just as Jesus called the twelve to “Come, follow me” (Matthew 4:19), so we too are to implore others to ‘Come, follow Jesus’. Once we have responded to that invitation to follow Jesus, we never stop following Him for the rest of our lives; it is a continuous, ongoing process of following Him.
I like this picture because it reminds me that I am continually being made into a disciple of Jesus. Whether I am responding to Jesus and following Him for the first time or I am continuing to follow Jesus after 20 years, I am still in the process of following and being made into His disciple.
The process of being made as a disciple doesn’t stop. I never graduate from ‘discipleship’. It is not a program or course. Being made into a disciple of Jesus is a life-long process of following Him, being changed by Him, and being committed to His mission of making other disciples!
Not only is it about our continuing to be made as disciples, but it is also about our making disciples of others, by ‘going’, ‘baptizing’ and ‘teaching’ as we have seen in Matthew 28.
By ‘going’ to the people God has placed around us in our offices, schools, homes, and sports teams. Going to those who are living and dying without Jesus today, all around the world! By ‘baptizing’, by calling people to the repentance and faith represented in baptism, turning from their sin to place their trust in Jesus and his work on the cross on their behalf. And by ‘teaching’ them all Jesus has commanded in the Bible.
In his book ‘Mere Christianity’, C.S.Lewis wrote:
“The church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became man for no other purpose.”
I am eternally grateful and indebted to the person, Lynda, who introduced me to Jesus and helped me to hear His invitation to ‘Come follow me’. Lynda modeled what it looked like to make disciples by:
- Going – she represented Jesus to me and all of the girls in our field hockey team.
- Baptizing – she helped me see and understand the need to repent and put my faith in Jesus and to do this publicly.
- Teaching – she opened the Bible with me regularly and introduced me to Jesus and continued to help me grow in Jesus.
You may remember in the second half of the verse in Matthew 4:19, not only does Jesus invite us to ‘Come, follow me’, but he follows that with… ‘and I will make you fishers of men’! Lewis is right – there is no higher calling or purpose for the church and for those within it than to draw others to Christ, to be fishers of men, to be and make disciples of others.
So, let’s go fishing!
Jill currently lives in the U.K. and leads the Sports Friends ministry development effort in South America and also provides leadership to Sports Friends’ overall training efforts. Formerly a high-level field hockey player, Jill came to faith through the testimony of one of her hockey teammates and is a passionate trainer and equipper of other sports ministers.