What Is Discipleship?
>> On Saturday, May 18th, I spoke at a men’s conference at McLean Bible Church in northern Virginia on discipleship. The theme of the conference was based on a book that I wrote with the pastor who discipled my wife and me in college, The Invested Life: Making Disciples of all Nations One Person at a Time. Here are the notes I used for my three talks as prepared for the delivery. Soon, I’ll post links to the videos of the messages and you can see precisely what a said.
The year was 1929.
On Wall Street, the stock market had crashed – and with it, investor confidence had collapsed. A Great Depression was beginning to spread across the U.S. and Canada, across Europe and the entire globe.
Yet in Winnipeg, Canada, a young married couple were about to make an investment that would pay off big.
Their names were John and Edith Hayward, and one day they were contacted by their pastor to see if they would be willing to have a young international student come live with them while he studied agriculture.
The student was from India. He was raised a devout Sikh – but on the steamship to Canada, he had been dramatically converted and was now eager to grow in his newfound faith in Jesus Christ.
The Haywards loved Jesus, so they prayed about it, and the Lord gave them peace.
For the next three years, this young man lived in their home with them and their two pre-teen children, a boy and a girl. They ate meals together. They studied the Bible together. They prayed together. They went to church together. They discussed the sermons together. They answered his questions. They encouraged him.
In short, they invested in him. They discipled him.
But they had no idea the impact God was making through them.
The young man’s name was Bakht Singh, and when his studies were completed, the Lord called him back to India to preach the Gospel. And that he did.
Over the next few decades, Bakht Singh became the “Billy Graham of India.” God used him to set into motion the greatest spiritual awakening in the history of India. He preached the Gospel to millions. He saw untold thousands received Christ as their Savior. By God’s grace, he chose faithful men and discipled them, and together they planted more than 6,000 churches in India, Pakistan, Europe, Asia, and here in North America.
One of the men Bakht Singh discipled – indeed, someone who became his right hand man – was named T.E. Koshy. They traveled together. Studied together. Ate together. Prayed together. Preached the Gospel together. Made disciples together.
When Brother Bakht Singh went home to be with the Lord in 2000, more than 250,000 Indian Christians came to the funeral. They literally shut down the city of Hydrabad for the day. And Dr. Koshy – who was now one of three senior elders
overseeing those 6,000 congregations – preached the eulogy.
This story is special to me for many reasons, but one of which is became Dr. Koshy was the man who discipled my wife and me.
After many years serving at Bakht Singh’s side, the Lord called Dr. Koshy to the United States, to become a pastor, and an evangelist, and a disciple-maker, based as the evangelical chaplain at Syracuse University.
That’s where we met Koshy.
He became our pastor. He discipled us. He invested in us. He involved us in the Billy Graham crusade when it came to Syracuse in 1988. He performed our wedding when Lynn and I married in 1990.
Over the years, I would have the joy of traveling all over the world to do ministry with him – we preached the Gospel and trained pastors together in Israel, Iraq, and India.
And together, we wrote this book, The Invested Life: Making Disciples of All Nations One Person At A Time, hoping to share some of the lessons the Lord had taught us.
In this conference, we’ll explore three key issues that we discuss in the book:
God – The Investor
This is the greatness of our great God – He is an investor.
He’s in the business of turning nothing into something, and a little into a lot.
- Out of nothing, God created the heavens and the earth.
- Out of water, Jesus created wine
- Out of five loaves of bread and two fish, Jesus fed more than 5,000
- Out of a handful of unruly, uneducated, unsophisticated men, Jesus made disciples who changed the world forever.
And that’s what He is doing in our lives.
God invested in us. He bought us. He chose us. Before the foundations of the world, He knew He was going to call us by name. And then He has given us every spiritual blessing.
And what He asks us to do – what He commands us to do – is invest what we’ve been given into others.
The Great Commission
In the next session, I will share some of my story of discipleship. But let’s start with a far more important story.
Two thousand years ago, in a dusty outpost of civilization, Jesus was born and raised and baptized and sent out by the Holy Spirit.
What did He do first? He invited a group of men who were curious about Him to “Come and see.” (John 1:39)
Before long, He became more clear, telling this small band of men, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)
In time, Jesus told them, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me.” (Matthew 11:29)
By and by, He told these men, “Abide in Me (remain in Me), and I in you.” (John 15:4)
And then He told them, in effect, to “obey Me.”
- “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15)
- “You are My friends if You do what I command you.” (John 15:14)
Consider Christ’s approach:
- Come and see
- Follow Me
- Learn from Me
- Remain in Me
- Obey Me
And what were His final marching orders to His disciples?
Let’s turn to Matthew 28:18-20 — “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’”
- This is what we call the “Great Commission” – Christ’s final marching orders to His disciples
- All power and authority has been given to Jesus by the Father in heaven
- Jesus Christ is in absolute control – He is in charge– not us
- Do we believe that? Do we really believe that?
- If so, then….
- We are to make disciples
- We are to invest in disciples from all nations
- We are to baptize disciples
- We are to teach disciples to obey all that Jesus commands – we are to teach what the Apostle Paul called “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27)
- We are to know and trust as disciples that Jesus Christ will be with us always, even to the end of the age.
Jesus didn’t simply come to preach to the masses. He did that. But He did more.
He invested in a small group of men – uneducated men, unlikely men. He led them. Lived with them. Walked with them. Taught them. Loved them. Corrected them. Encouraged them. Challenged them. He let them see Him up close and personal. He modeled a life of faith, hope, love and great power for them. He taught them to preach the Gospel and lead others into the Kingdom.
And then, Jesus commanded His disciples to go and make more disciples. And they obeyed Him. Yes, the preached to the masses. Yes, they taught the Word and healed the sick and comforted the suffering and cared for the poor and planted congregations and took the Gospel all over the Roman Empire, indeed, all over the world.
But they never got distracted by the central objective: Make Disciples.
As they shared the Gospel and people came to Christ, they invested in them.
One of those they invested in they nicknamed “Barnabus,” or Son of Encouragement.
Barnabus grew in the faith and found a young convert to invest in. His name was Saul. He became the Apostle Paul. Now there’s an investment that paid off huge.
The Apostle Paul took other young men under his wing and invested in them.
Consider just three:
Talk about investments that paid enormous dividends – the letters written to or by these three men became part of the New Testament and have literally invested in billions of Christians!
But Paul wasn’t satisfied in simply investing in these disciples.
He commanded the men he was investing in to go invest in others, also.
- “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)
- “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2)
Epic Failure of Discipleship
The problem is far too few Christians are living like true and faithful disciples today.
Far too few Christians are making disciples today.
Many Christians have no idea what a disciple is, much less how to make one.
The painful fact is that the Church today is experiencing an epic failure of discipleship – and the costs of this failure are enormous.
Later in this conference, we’ll talk about these costs.
But the main one is this: Any Christian who doesn’t truly understand what it means to be a disciple or make a disciple is completely missing out on God’s plan and purpose for his life.
He is living a life of disobedience to his Master.
He – whether he realizes it or not – displeasing the heart of his Savior, and thus missing the enormous joy and power and the deep satisfaction that comes from living the invested life.
Two Simple Questions
Which brings me to my central point – not just of this session, but of the entire conference.
Every follower of Jesus Christ needs to be able to answer two simple questions:
- First, “Who is investing in me?”
- And second, “Whom am I investing in?”
Do you have an older, wiser man of God who has taken you under his wing and is teaching you to know Christ, share the Gospel, and make disciples?
Do you have a younger man into whose life you are pouring what God has given you – helping him know Christ, and share the Gospel, and make disciples?
Gentlemen, Christ doesn’t want us to simply spend our lives. He wants us to invest them.
What Is A Disciple?
Now, let’s define some terms.
The Oxford American Dictionary defines a disciple as: “A person who follows the teachings of another, whom he accepts as a leader.”
For a secular definition, that’s a pretty good start. But let’s go a little bit deeper.
The Greek noun disciple in the New Testament is mathetes.
According to Greek Bible scholar Spiros Zodhiates, editor of the Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, mathetes “means more than mere pupil or learner. It means an adherer who accepts the instruction given to him and makes it his rule of conduct.”
In other words, a disciple isn’t someone simply jotting down notes on a Sunday morning in church, or in a Bible study. A disciple is a person who is intentionally, purposefully following the life and conduct of someone older and wiser in the faith. A disciple is a person learning by example.
Mathetes comes from the Greek verb matheteuo, which means to make a disciple or a follower of another’s doctrine, “to instruct with the purpose of making a disciple.”
Zodiates notes that: “matheteuo must be distinguished from the verb matheo, which is not found in the New Testament, and which simply means to learn without any attachment to the teacher who teaches. Matheteuo means not only to learn but to become attached to one’s teacher and to become his follower in doctrine and conduct of life.”
Okay, so a true disciple is learning to be a follower of someone’s life and doctrine.
He also has a personal attachment to his leader.
So discipleship is all about relationships.
In fact, it’s about three specific relationships.
- A true disciple actively seeks a personal relationship with Jesus Christ – that is, he has a sincere and growing commitment to know Christ, love Him, follow Him and obey His Word, no matter what the cost.
- A true disciple actively seeks a personal relationship with an older, wiser believer – that is, he has an “Apostle Paul” in his life to spiritually invest.
- A true disciple actively seeks a personal relationship with younger believers – that is, he has a “Timothy” into whose life he, too, can spiritually invest.
Now, let’s go deeper still.
Discipleship is about Christ-centered relationships that lead to Christ-like character and Christ-like action.
That is, a true disciple is a man who is:
- Faithful in prayer and faithful to God’s Word
- Worshiping God in Spirit and in truth
- Compelled by love
- Actively sharing his faith and investing in younger believers.
Let’s unpack these a bit:
First and foremost, a true and faithful disciple is faithful and prayer and obeying God’s Word.
- “With all prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18)
- “Now these [Bereans] were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the Word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures to see whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11)
- “But prove yourselves doers of the Word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” (James 1:16)
- “Faith, if it has no works, is dead.” (James 2:17)
Second, he is a true worshipper of God.
- he absolutely adores his Savior and longs to praise Him and thank Him and glorify Him as often as possible, and he models this for others.
- “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.” (John 4:23)
- “Be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18)
- And as he abides in Christ, and walks in the power of the Holy Spirit, he is seeing the fruit of the Spirit develop in his life. (Galatians 5:22-23)
Third, he is compelled by love.
- he’s not driven not by a love of self, or a love of accomplishment, or even a love of the Church or of the ministry.
- Rather, he is driven by a Supreme Love for his Savior, and love for others.
- “For the love of Christ compels us….” (2 Corinthians 5:14, NKJV)
- “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46)
Fourth, he is actively sharing his faith and investing in younger believers.
- Jesus said, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.”
- Honestly, and I say this in love, but if you’re not fishing for men – actively sharing the Gospel – I don’t see how you’re following Jesus.
- a true disciple is deeply serious about sharing the Gospel and leading people to Christ.
- he’s also deeply serious about helping new believers and young believers grow to true spiritual maturity.
- “….teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you….” (Matthew 28:20)
- Teaching them how to study the Bible and pray
- Teaching them how to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit
- Teaching them to resist temptation
- Teaching them to love their brothers, and neighbors, and enemies
- Helping them become “spiritual parents”
Too many pastors and too many church staff see the goal of discipleship as helping a person grow to spiritual adulthood.
Born again –> baby –> adolescent –> mature adult
But this model is not biblical because it is not complete.
The goal is not simply to help believers grow to spiritual adulthood.
Rather, the goal is to help believers grow to spiritual parenthood.
From the first chapter of the first book of the Bible, God commanded His people, “Be fruitful and multiply.” (Genesis 1:28)
Likewise, the Lord Jesus Christ told His disciples, “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain” (John 15:16)
This is what is means to “bear fruit” – not simply the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5) in which we become more like Christ, but the fruit of leading people into the Kingdom and helping them become more like Christ.
This is what truly pleases God’s heart and glorifies His name, when we bear fruit. As Jesus put it in John 15:8 – “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.”
In the next session, we will define “disciple-maker” and look at how to make disciples.
But for now, let me close with the one of two questions we began with: Who is investing in you?
Do you have a “Paul” in your life?
If not, write down names of some older, wiser men who might be able to invest in you.
Start praying over those names.
Ask the Lord to give you someone to invest in you – and trust Him to provide.
“Ask, and it will be given to you.” (Matthew 7:7)