What is Discipleship?


Discipleship is one of those topics that everyone uses to identify their ministry objective. I attend a church where the emphasis is on discipleship because they believe that the Church as a whole has lost the art of discipleship, and as a result, the Church has lost its influence in society. My church has identified eight character traits of a disciple and these eight have become the foundation of our disciple-making process.

Here are those eight characteristics:

1. Grace

2. Commitment

3. Identity

4. Servanthood

5. Missional

6. Holiness

7. Fellowship

8. Obedience

I think it is great to put a face to discipleship because it helps people realize that discipleship is more than just a term Christians use to identify purpose.

Yet, today I want to give you two characteristics that Jesus said were His markers for discipleship. These still aren’t very popular today because they weren’t with Jesus’ First Century audience that heard them for the first time.

Jesus identified discipleship as narrow and sacrificial, and nothing short of these two defining words would make you a follower of His. Now, that seems like a bleak description, and those words are not very often associated with discipleship, but that is what Jesus said:

Discipleship is narrow:

Matthew 7:13 You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way.

Discipleship is sacrificial:

Luke 9:23 If any of you want to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.

In John 6:66 we read, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” This was the immediate reaction to some of His disciples not believing in the teaching about His sacrifice and the symbols of that sacrifice that we were to remember in what became known in the church as communion. Not everyone was on board with Jesus, and even though Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets in His sacrifice, some of the nuances of His teachings were strange to them.

It is really not too much different when we talk about discipleship and how it is narrow and sacrificial. People in the modern church have become accustomed to preaching that makes them feel that they are the center of God’s ministry on earth. Now, it is true God’s love for us was so great that He gave His only Son to redeem us and He does pursue us and draw us by His Holy Spirit, but the center of God’s ministry is not us … it is Jesus. The center of God’s ministry is focused upon a Cross and the one event in the history of mankind that changed everything. The Old Testament was all about leading up to the Cross, and the New Testament is all based upon the reality of the Cross.

For a very long time, I have felt the modern church has been guilty of pandering to the idea that God has a plan and a destiny for each of us. He wants us to know there are principles and values that will make us successful and happy in this life. Now, I can’t argue against the idea that if you live your life by the Biblical promises of God that you will find a satisfying life, but all satisfaction comes from the narrow and sacrificial process of knowing God.

The Word of God is narrow by nature, and sacrificial living is the foundational premise of the entire Bible. We were created to serve God and others, and this is a simple way of finding that satisfying life. That process is narrow, and it is sacrificial … it is that simple.

Discipleship is a broad term today, and like leadership, there are many ways it is presented. Discipleship is leadership but not in the fashion that is often described in most books and presentations. Discipleship is leading by example. It is a behavioral hands-on lifestyle that makes God known through loving, forgiving, and having mercy for others. It is not about taking charge and executing ideas that others will follow, but it is leadership from the heart. It is the kind of leadership Jesus displayed during His earthly ministry. He didn’t try to be important by hanging with the religious folk … He was found among the people, teaching God’s Word.

Discipleship is leading by example. It is leading through a narrow lens of God’s Word and does not broaden the meaning of what God says to match modern thought or living. The behavioral example of discipleship is sacrifice and it looks for ways to bless others by the giving of time, treasures, and talent. Sacrificial living is not about taking a vow of poverty … it is taking a vow of service. My life is God’s and He has the right to mold me, to teach me, and to direct me in making Him known in all circumstances of life.

Discipleship is narrow and sacrificial, and there is no doubt it will always be a challenge to live out those two all the days of our lives. However, no matter how great the challenge, Jesus knew that those who give their lives for Him and His kingdom would find life.

Matthew 10:39 If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.

Challenging the Culture with Truth … Larry Kutzler