by Austin Maxheimer
Discipleship is a trending topic in the larger church, and we are having conversations about it in our own church family as well. This is healthy, considering Jesus’ last charge and empowerment to his followers was to go and make disciples. A returned and/or renewed focus on what and how disciple-making should be lived out is an exciting development.
However, when you say “discipleship” it often brings to mind ten different definitions were you to ask ten different people. So in the name of healthy organizations, we went with a definition we could all use to bring clarity to the discipleship conversation:
“The process of becoming who Jesus would be if he were you.” —Dallas Willard
This will be our working definition of discipleship for this blog and future blog posts to come. During this series, I’d like to break it down into three parts to explore why we like the word discipleship so much.
The process of becoming…
The Greek word for discipleship (mathetes) most closely translates as “learner.” Learning implies progress but assumes failure. This is crucial in understanding disciple-making. Discipleship is a process. A lifelong one at that. This applies to both yourself and those you are helping grow spiritually. This is one of the most freeing aspects of the Great Commission: You aren’t expected to be perfect in helping others experience Jesus—the Holy Spirit handles the perfecting—you are simply called to be obedient. It is also freeing for those of us learning to follow Jesus more closely for the exact same reason. It is a journey and a process, one we should celebrate.
Who Jesus would be…
Make no mistake, Jesus is the end goal of discipleship. Most churches have specific roles or offices where people carry out acts of service. However, we don’t want them to engage in those activities to be good techs, kids’ ministry volunteers, small group members, etc., we want them to step into a discipling environment as part of the mission of the church in order to become more Christ-like…and to have the opportunity to help others do the same. Twice Paul says similarly profound statements about the reality of discipleship:
“I am determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)
“I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8)
Paul can say those crazy statements because Jesus is the creator and sustainer of all things. In him all things are reconciled and fulfilled. While being God, he lived out the perfect relationship with the Father that brings peace, joy, and unity. And the amazing promise of the Gospel is that we get his Spirit to live in and through us so that we can live that same life.
If he were you…
This is the absolutely mind-blowing part. It’s not that “you” are lost in becoming like Jesus or that you are blown to bits by the power of God living through you. Really, it’s the exact opposite. You are still “you,” you are just the fullest expression of “you” because you’re plugged into the Creator, the giver of life, who wants to give you the perfect gift: an unbroken relationship with him in which you find your purpose. As you go through the process of becoming who Jesus would be if he were you, you begin to live out the life you were made for.