Discipleship Essay #1 – “What Is Discipleship?”

7 06 2010

I will be posting my essays on Discipleship in the coming weeks.  I enjoy feedback from my readers, so let’s discuss discipleship!

“Discipleship” is one of the most misinterpreted and least understood words in the Christian vernacular.  Any Christian that has been a Christ-follower for any length of time should know about the Great Commission where Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 28:19-20 to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”.  Basically, He was instructing those that followed Him during His ministry to reproduce themselves in the earth.  These disciples were eyewitness to the amazing miracles He performed.  They had first-hand knowledge of the incredible teachings of Jesus.  They knew what to do with that information.  They were to go to Jerusalem and start making disciples there.  Then, they were to go to Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth spreading the good news of Jesus and making disciples everywhere that they went.  These original disciples carried within them the DNA to reproduce themselves under the power of the Holy Spirit everywhere that they went; however, discipleship is about more than making relationships with people and sharing the gospel.  Discipleship carries with it costs, conditions, and an incredible responsibility to reproduce in the earth.

When Jesus called His disciples to follow Him, He did not immediately tell them the cost of the decision they were about to make.  The Gospel writers tell us that He simply said, “Follow Me.”  The costs were built into the call.  For those that decided to follow Jesus, they left behind careers, homes, family, and other things that they cherished or felt gave them worth.  Another call in Scripture to be a disciple or follower was the call of Elijah and Elisha in 1 Kings 19:19-21.  When Elijah called Elisha in the field by casting his mantle upon him, Elisha responded immediately and left his father and mother and destroyed his oxen thereby leaving his home and career to follow this man and the call of God.  Elisha remained with Elijah for the remainder of Elijah’s ministry and learned all that he could from this mighty man.  The results were much the same as the disciples of Jesus.  Elisha’s immediate willingness to count the cost and follow Elijah resulted in him receiving a double portion of his anointing.  Elisha consequently performed twice as many miracles as Elijah.  When Jesus was speaking in John 14:12, He told His disciples that they would do greater works than He would do.  When the costs of discipleship are counted and “paid” immediately by the disciple, God reciprocates by allowing the disciple to function at a greater capacity than the master.

To go along with the costs of discipleship, there are also conditions placed on the disciple.  Many times, Jesus told His followers that they must do something before they could be true disciples.  In Dr. Michael R. Mitchell’s article, “The Conditions of Discipleship,” he states some of the main categories of conditions that Jesus gave His disciples.  Self-denial is the first on this list.  Jesus warned His disciples that they must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Him in Mark 8:34 or they would not be considered His disciples.  Jesus also instructed His disciples that to be a true follower, they must leave everything including family, jobs, homes, etc.  Jesus went so far as to require that personal possessions be sold and the profits given to the poor (Matt. 19:21).  Dr. Mitchell ended his article with the categories of “Leaving all,” “Steadfastness,” “Fruitfulness,” and “Love.”  God required in the Ten Commandments to have no other gods before Him, and Jesus reiterated that fact in the conditions He placed on His disciples.  Becoming a follower of Jesus Christ was to become “an all-consuming obsession.”[1]

Reproduction is not just a good suggestion from Jesus, but it was His final commandment before His ascension to the Father.  He told His disciples to go and make disciples.  They were to reproduce themselves in the earth.  God also gave a similar commandment to Adam and Eve when He told them to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28).  God never intended for His people to cease reproducing in the earth and not carry out His will and purpose.  A wise man once said, “Christianity is one generation away from extinction.”  If the body of Christ does not reproduce itself by making disciples, we will have ceased to fulfill the commandment of Jesus.  Barna stated in his book, Growing True Disciples, “An individual who does not reproduce himself in Christ is not truly a disciple since he does not exhibit the selfless love of the Master.”[2] Elijah reproduced himself in Elisha.  Moses reproduced himself in Joshua.  Jesus reproduced Himself in His disciples and the rest of the body of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Many Christians today have either not been taught or they do not fully understand the concept of discipleship.  The body of Christ as a whole has not grasped the gravity of the costs, the conditions, or the responsibility to reproduce itself in the earth.  True discipleship, as defined by Barna, is “becoming a complete and competent follower of Jesus Christ.”[3] The true disciple of Christ must be completely sold out to His cause and mission.  He or she must also be competent in knowing the Word of God and have the ability to teach and train others to do the same.  Barna also describes discipleship as “about being and reproducing spiritually mature zealots for Christ.”[4] Discipleship is about building relationships with people and allowing the Holy Spirit to work through those relationships to allow supernatural reproduction to take place.


Barna, George. Growing True Disciples: New Strategies for Producing Genuine

Followers of Christ. Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press, 2001.

[1] George Barna, Growing True Disciples (Colorado Spring, CO:  WaterBrook Press, 2001), 19.

[2] Ibid., 23.

[3] Ibid., 17.

[4] Ibid., 18.




2 responses

8 06 2010
Sandy Wigley

So true. Your essay is quick to remind us that most of us are half-heartedly carrying out our missions to be disciples of Christ. First, of course, we don’t lay down our careers, families, etc and pick up the cross like Arthur Cross literally did! Second, we don’t make it first on our priority lists for the day – at least, it’s not on mine. Honestly, I don’t even have it on my Toodledo!
Great paper with a great message, Neal.

8 06 2010

Thanks, Sandy, for your encouraging words. After only 3 weeks in this class, my spirit has been stirred up concerning discipleship and how we really don’t understand the Great Commission. We have a lot of work to do!!

Be blessed!


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