A Philosophy of Discipleship


If you want to live a life of discipleship, you must understand what discipleship truly means.

If we do not start with a philosophy of discipleship, the process or product of discipleship will drive our philosophy by default. Since our perspective should shape our practice, we will begin with a brief look at a few biblically based principles that can guide and enrich the practice of discipleship.

We Must Be Disciples to Make Disciples

We teach what we believe, but we reproduce what we are. Although God in His grace may often use us in spite of ourselves, we normally cannot impart what we do not possess. Discipleship does not happen by accident; it is a process that is animated by an ongoing intention of the heart. No one suddenly stumbles into spirituality, and if we do not decide to apprentice ourselves to Jesus’ authority, we will not become His disciples. Similarly, if we do not consciously intend to reproduce the life of Christ in others, we will miss our calling to make disciples.

The more we know Christ, the better we can make Him known. When Paul told the Corinthians “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2), he saw himself as a messenger who was sent to introduce the people of Corinth to a Person with whom he had an intimate relationship. He wanted them to be more impressed with Jesus than they were with him, but this required a personal introduction to Jesus, not a list of His attributes. We must know Christ as a Person before we can guide others to this level of spiritual intimacy.

Personal revival flows from fresh commitments to radical obedience and expresses itself in the focused presence of the life of Christ in us and through us. Like farmers (2 Timothy 2:6), we reap what we sow; spiritual nurture cannot be separated from our own spiritual formation, since we reproduce after our own kind.

Discipleship Is a Dependent Process

Discipleship is not an event but an ongoing process that requires conscious dependence on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-14). “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” (1 Corinthians 2:12-13). Apart from the work of the Spirit, we are powerless to accomplish anything of lasting good. God is the One who causes spiritual growth, not us (1 Corinthians 3:6). Discipleship is sanctification—the growing experiential knowledge of the Person of Christ.

Our natural tendency is to depend more on skill, knowledge, programs, and written materials than on the ministry of the Spirit of God. We must learn the secret of ministering out of weakness, brokenness, and humility so that the power of Christ may dwell in us (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). As with the other areas of our lives, we are really not in control, though we usually entertain the illusion that we are. “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps... Commit your works to the Lord, and your plans will be established” (Proverbs 16:9, 3). The humility of fervent dependence on divine rather than human resources should permeate the discipleship process.

People Are Not Our Disciples

Those who are active in discipleship ministries face the ever-present danger of supposing that the people they nurture are their disciples. When this happens, several negative consequences can follow: (1) disciplers may attempt to control the product, (2) they may derive their identity more from their product than from their relationship to Christ, (3) they may tend to make their disciples overly dependent upon their ministry and gift-mix, and (4) this possessive mentality can prevent them from freely exposing their disciples to other valuable resources. These inherent errors are minimized when we grasp the concept that all ministry is part of a larger matrix.

True discipleship flows out of a multiplicity of influences, some smaller and some greater. When we realize the truth that the people we love, serve, and nurture are Jesus’ disciples and not ours, we can minister to them with an open hand. As part of a larger matrix of ministries, we are invited to participate in a slice of what the Spirit of God is doing in their lives, but we never have the whole pie.

The Lord may call you alongside some people to nurture them for a brief moment or for a long season, but they never were and never will be yours—they are always His. A willingness to expose people to other gifts and resources is a mark of the humility of authentic security in Christ. Wherever we are involved in the nurturing process, the goal is ever for us to decrease and for Jesus to increase.

Taken from Ken Boa’s Handbook to Spiritual Growth

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