So, What Is a Disciple?

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How can we know know what love requires? Or what a follower of Jesus should do?

I’ve been trying to make disciples to awhile now. Formally for 15 years and informally for another 18 before that. I’ve had a ‘working definition’ of what that means but until the other night as I was reading DiscipleShift, it hadn’t dawned on me that not everyone defines ‘disciple’ the same way. Your definition of a disciple depends on your spiritual ‘roots,’ the church you attend, your spiritual ‘heroes’ (i.e. the Christians you admire and want to be like), and the way you interpret God’s Word.

Some see a disciple as an evangelist, sharing his faith and constantly trying to bring people to Jesus. Others think a disciple is one who is all about representing Jesus in social causes, serving the sick, poor and needy. Still others see discipleship as Biblical scholarship, pursuing deeper and deeper knowledge of the Scriptures. Others (and everyone to a large degree) see a disciple as someone who takes his faith seriously and tries to live his life ‘holy’ like Jesus did.

Somewhere along the line, someone told me a disciple is a learner and follower of Jesus. No doubt, a learner reads and studies his Bible. But he also studies himself . . . he lives an examined life, learning from his mistakes and from the mistakes of others. He reads books and articles written by people who’ve dedicated their lives to learning about and from Jesus. He learns by listening . . . sermons, podcasts, and conferences. He learns from his wife. He learns from the guys close to him . . . the ones he’s ‘in community’ with. He’s hungry for learning, not just so he’s smarter and better informed, but because he uses what he learns to help others as he parents, teaches, leads, and mentors.

But a disciple is also a follower of Jesus. A lot more of us are learners than followers. A learner who fails to follow is like a hammer without a nail. Full of power and potential but whose purpose is never fulfilled. Remember, Jesus was never about Himself. The first commandment? Love God with everything. The second? Love others as yourself. Followers of Jesus are about other people . . . about loving and serving others. Sometimes, that’s telling your faith story and inviting them into a personal relationship with Jesus. Sometimes, it’s listening, since listening is loving in our frenzied culture. Sometimes it’s about giving . . . time, money, a book, a sermon.

So how does one know what love requires? Or what a follower of Jesus should do? Ask Him. “Lord, what would you have me know about this person/situation?” Then “What would you have me do with what you’ve shown me?” That’s what ‘following’ is all about. It’s constant interaction with Jesus, asking and listening, praying and praising, thanking and trusting.

And one more thing. A disciple isn’t a disciple until he’s made a disciple. Jesus gave us clear instructions before He ascended. “Go and make disciples.” He didn’t say ‘make friends,’ ‘make converts,’ or ‘make church members,’ although those are all good things and a part of it. He challenged us to love people and lead them into a relationship with Jesus. When you start being intentional about helping someone find and follow Jesus, something ‘lights up’ in you! When someone you’ve helped become a disciple starts to make disciples . . . when one of your mentees steps into leading a mentoring group of his own, you ‘blow up!’

With joy.

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