But I’ve Never Been Discipled!

Quite a few of my friends say they’ve “never been discipled”—and so they are hesitant about discipling someone else.

In addition to belonging to a church and attending Bible study, they serve in various capacities. Yet when it comes to the idea of discipling someone, the task seems daunting and mysterious. 

How can we create a discipleship culture in our churches when so many of us feel ill-prepared? 

What Is Discipleship?

The word “disciple” means “learner.” Disciples in the New Testament were people who answered Jesus’s call to “follow me” (Matt. 4:19, 21; 9:9John 1:43; 21:19). Discipleship—the practice of following Jesus by learning, trusting, and obeying his Word—is essential to the Christian life. 

Discipleship—the practice of following Jesus by learning, trusting, and obeying his Word—is essential to the Christian life.

The on-ramp to the highway of discipleship is turning away from your life of sin and trusting in Jesus—his words and his work (Mark 1:15John 6:29). That first step of trust then sets in motion a lifetime of following him in word and deed. 

Do you live a life surrendered to Christ? Do you follow him? Then you are a disciple of Jesus, whether or not you’ve had an ideal mentorship experience. 

Discipleship Misconceptions

Still, I’ve heard many Christians express, with both frustration and insecurity, “I’ve never been discipled.” Though we should certainly heed the call to spiritual mentorship in the church (Titus 2:3–5), could it be that we’ve developed unhealthy conceptions about what discipleship relationships must look like? 

Sometimes our misconceptions of discipleship cast unfair expectations on ministry leaders, our church family, and even ourselves. 

You might not have the opportunity to meet with an older man or woman at Starbucks (especially in a pandemic!) once a week to study Ephesians. You might not have a Bible study leader checking in on you every day. Your church leaders probably don’t have the training required to address all aspects of your past trauma or mental illness. This doesn’t mean you’re not “being discipled.” 

Instead, you should ask yourself: Am I availing myself of the many means of grace that my local church offers? Am I sitting under and applying the preaching of God’s Word, participating in the Lord’s Supper, attending Bible studies, and fellowshipping with God’s people as I serve? If you are, then you are being discipled. 

Discipleship—following Jesus—is your responsibility to pursue through consistently practicing the spiritual disciplines and participating in the life and ministry of the church.

Do you read your Bible, pray, and seek to love the people around you? Well, the Spirit meets you in those habits and trains you in Christlikeness there.

If you’re expecting discipleship to look like one spiritually mature person constantly offering you companionship, guidance, and accountability for every area and season of your life, then you will experience unnecessary disappointment. 

Discipleship—following Jesus—is your responsibility to pursue through consistently practicing the spiritual disciplines and participating in the life and ministry of the church.  

What Is Disciple-Making?

What, then, does it mean to disciple someone else? Here’s how Mark Dever explains it: “Discipling is helping others to follow Jesus. [It] is deliberately doing spiritual good to someone so that he or she will be more like Christ.” Disciple-making is not just for the so-called spiritual elite; it is the task of every disciple (Matt. 28:18–20). Disciples make disciples. 

It’s helpful to remember that Jesus called his disciples friends (John 15:12–15). This is astonishing. At the cross, God’s wrath fell on the Son, so that we could be friends with God. When the Son of God called you to discipleship, he called you to friendship with him. 

Experiencing Jesus’s friendship through his Word, prayer, and his people means experiencing discipleship (John 15:7–11). Disciple-making, then, means inviting others into friendship with Jesus, too. It means asking, How can I help this person know and love Jesus more? 

Specifics May Differ

Now, the specifics of how to flesh out disciple-making relationships will vary depending on a person’s life stage and context. 

Perhaps it looks like inviting someone to read a book of the Bible one-to-one with you. Or maybe it looks like modeling repentance to your toddler when you’ve been impatient. 

Discipleship often means just showing up. It means praying alongside someone in a meeting. It means discussing what you learned from the sermon. It means singing loudly enough to encourage the people around you—even if your voice isn’t choir-material. It means living the Christian life in a way that models Christ and inviting others to live it alongside you.

Thankfully, the spiritual growth of others is ultimately God’s doing, despite our imperfect disciple-making efforts (1 Cor. 3:6–7). We don’t have to be the fount of all spiritual wisdom. Nor do we need a seminary degree or years of experience in vocational ministry.

When we make disciples, we simply help others grow in their friendship with Jesus by sharing and modeling what we’ve learned through God’s Word in our own friendship with Jesus. 

Whole-Church Project

When Jesus says, “Follow me,” he invites us into a relationship that is personal but not private (Heb. 10:25). He invites us to become a part of his body, the church. Being an active member of a healthy local church is how discipleship is lived out.  

When Jesus says, ‘Follow me,’ he invites us into a relationship that is personal but not private.

Disciple-making is the work of the whole church, not just its leaders (Matt. 28:18–20Eph. 4:11–16). I can’t get all I need for my spiritual formation from one or two people (1 Cor. 12:12–30). I need the various members of my church to show me what it looks like to follow Jesus in all kinds of trials, joys, and life stages. And my church needs the same from me. 

What might it look like for you to recommit yourself to the lifelong, slow-cook process of discipleship (or, as Eugene Peterson famously put it, a “long obedience in the same direction”)? In what ways do you need to take more responsibility for your own spiritual formation? 

Whether or not you’ve experienced an ideal mentoring relationship, ask yourself: Whom will I disciple? Whom will I invite into deeper friendship with Jesus? I suspect it will be your greatest accomplishment and joy (Phil. 4:13 John 1:4).

Written by:  QUINA ARAGON

First published 08.08.20: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/never-been-discipled/

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