Education, Discipleship, and Spiritual Formation

10 06 2010

This is my second essay on the subject of Discipleship.  I welcome comments!

A recent study of born-again adult believers shows that most acknowledge that spiritual formation or development is a primary responsibility of a follower of Christ and may be a helpful endeavor; however, they do not feel that it is a pressing need in their lives because they feel that they have mostly mastered the concepts of the Christian faith.[1] Making disciples is the ultimate goal of all believers.  It is what Jesus commanded His followers to do before He ascended to heaven.  He stated in Matthew 28:19a, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”  When considering discipleship, one must ask the question, “How does this happen?”  Discipleship is not a one-time event.  Discipleship is a lifestyle of learning and growing in the things of God as Paul said in Philippians 3:12.  It is a constant process of being trained and mentored by an individual or a collective effort of a group of people.  For the church to fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus and make disciples of all nations a thorough understanding of discipleship, education, and spiritual formation and how they interact with each other must be ascertained.

A true disciple can be defined as “becoming a complete and competent follower of Jesus Christ.”[2] It also refers to “someone who is a learner of follower who serves as an apprentice under the tutelage of a master.”[3] Based on this information concerning discipleship, it can easily be established that learning must take place.  The true disciple must have the capability to learn, the ability to learn.  Also, the desire to learn must exist.  It has been established that discipleship is a process.  It is a lifestyle of deliberate choices and decisions to follow Christ and to obey all that He has commanded in His Word.  The key word in the study of discipleship is “process.”  That word connotes a series of steps to attain a certain goal.

Education is a major step in the process of becoming a true disciple of Jesus.  Education has been defined as “the creative process of promoting and attaining growth and development, enabling the complete individual to contribute to his or her culture.”[4] By definition, education is a process in much the same way as discipleship.  In the process of education, there must be a relationship between the teacher and the student (1 Corinthians 11:1).  The student learns from the teacher that which has been designed for the student to teach.  Every student has a different capacity for learning; therefore the methods of teaching or training must be adjusted for every student in order for learning to be most effective.  In relation to discipleship, education is the process by which the disciple learns information from the master, whether that is through classic education styles, such as classroom training, or in more practical activities, such as outreaches.  Without education, disciple making would be impossible.  Education is the vehicle by which information is transferred to the disciple from the master.

The process of becoming a true disciple of Jesus includes another very important piece.  Spiritual formation or growth must take place in the life of the disciple.  George Barna stated, “Churches that are most effective in discipleship have a philosophy of ministry that places daily spiritual growth at the core of the ministry.”[5] Spiritual formation is also a process.  Paul stated in his letter to the Corinthians, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Cor. 3:18).”  We move from glory to glory by spiritual transformation.  That process is very similar to another principle that Paul spoke of – sanctification. Sanctification is defined as “being set apart by God and for God.”[6] When Jesus called His disciples, He set them apart for Himself.  He required of them that they leave everything and follow Him.  They left their homes, careers, families, and personal ambitions.  Jesus told His disciples that they must turn from their selfish ways and take up their crosses and follow Him (Matt 16:24).  Sanctification is a process whereby disciples are spiritually set apart to follow Christ and reproduce themselves in the earth.

An understanding of discipleship, education, and spiritual formation are key in becoming true disciples of Jesus and fulfilling the Great Commission of making other disciples.  These three elements are not mutually exclusive.  One cannot have discipleship without education.  Education holds within its very nature an element of discipleship in the teacher-student relationship.  Being a true disciple of Jesus Christ requires that spiritual formation take place. Church ministries should have discipleship as their primary focus.  Spiritual formation would be a natural result of the discipleship program, and education would be the process by which the discipleship would take place.  Barna stated, “True discipleship creates Christians who aggressively pursue spiritual growth rather than passively experience spiritual evolution.”[7] The body of Christ must aggressively pursue creating disciples by fostering an environment, which enhances spiritual growth through the process of education by a quality teacher-student relationship.   


Barna, George.  Growing True Disciples.  Colorado Springs, CO:  WaterBrook Press, 2001.

Gangel, Kenneth O.  Holman New Testament Commentary: Acts, ed. Max Anders.  Nashville,            TN:  Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998.

Mitchell, Dr. Michael R.  “On the Structure of the Discipline and the Essential Activities of            Education.”  Liberty University BlackBoard.  Internet.  Accessed on May 23, 2010.

[1] George Barna, Growing True Disciples (Colorado Springs, CO:  WaterBrook Press, 2001), 34.

[2] Ibid., 17.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Dr. Michael R. Mitchell, “On the Structure of the Discipline and the Essential Activities of Education.”  Liberty University BlackBoard. (accessed May 23, 2010).

[5] George Barna, Growing True Disciples, 31.

[6] Kenneth O. Gangel, Holman New Testament Commentary: Acts, ed. Max Anders (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 348.

[7] George Barna, Growing True Disciples, 167.




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