What Is a Disciple?

If God's church is to multiply the way he intended, it must get serious about discipleship.

What is a disciple? In Greek, disciple literally means a learner. Another way to define a disciple is by looking at his or her relationships. A disciple has a dependent relationship with Jesus, an interdependent relationship with other believers, and a redemptive relationship with the world. Perhaps Jesus gave the best definition: "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples" (John 8:31).

Jesus identified two components of discipleship as he called his apostles (Mark 3:14): "He appointed twelve—designating them apostles—that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach" (emphasis added). The first part of discipleship is to be with him, to follow Jesus and to grow continually in understanding and obedience. The second part is to be sent—to reach out to others. Here, we see the gathering and scattering method of Jesus in action.

Part of being a disciple of Jesus is being obedient to him and to his Word. In the Great Commission, "to obey" is the object of "teaching them." A new believer does not accept Jesus as Savior and then later take him as Lord. The two go hand in hand. Placing oneself under the Lordship of Jesus is part of becoming a new creature in Christ.

At the same time, a disciple is a learner. He has not yet achieved Christlikeness—he is working toward it (Philippians 3:12-14). Christians are truly people in process.

The church has redefined discipleship into churchmanship. Living as a disciple takes effort. It means more than just sitting in a pew or a classroom every Sunday morning.

How a Disciple Grows

In 1987, Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, was listed as the sixth fastest-growing church in America. Worship attendance had increased by more ...

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