A disciple is a ‘learner, one who is being trained’ to be like Jesus in life and ministry. The Kensington Temple Cell Vision and Training Structure give every member a golden opportunity to be 21st Century followers of Christ.
A disciple is a follower of Jesus. To be a disciple means you are a learner or a little-follower of Jesus or, to use a modern term, an apprentice of Jesus. It means you are following his teaching – that is you are living according to his teaching. But to do this you need to be taught in the ways of Christ. Teaching is not just communication of information, but it also involves demonstration and impartation.
All this implies proximity. You cannot be discipled from a distance – even the distance from the pulpit to the pew is too great! You must be in close contact with those discipling you so that you can see and follow their example. Mere words are not enough. That is what Jesus meant when he called his disciples to follow him. Matthew records one such encounter, Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19 Jesus later called his 12, to be his closest disciples, and Mark puts it like this,
And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He himself wanted. And they came to Him. Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons Mark 3:13-15
To be a disciple of Jesus means that you are following Jesus and growing in your lifestyle to be like him. The goal of discipleship is to be like the Master. And this means you are being trained to do what he did. It means you are being formed in your character and your ministry.
A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher. Luke 6:40
This is an important principle of discipleship because it shows how you can be discipled and learn to how disciple others. Discipleship best takes place in small groups. Jesus had a group of 12 so that he could be with them constantly and show them the life and ministry of the kingdom of God. So we today, can also have groups of 12 so that we, like Jesus, can train and release others in the work of the kingdom of God.
Discipleship training is not passive, theoretical learning but practical, hands on training and releasing. For this to happen, the more mature disciples must become leaders, models, mentors and trainers of the new disciples.
You are called to be a disciple of Jesus, and this involves close contact with Jesus through the Holy Spirit, and through leaders and other believers who are serious about walking the path of discipleship together.
Discipleship is not some optional extra in the Christian life. All believers are called to be disciples. But this is not automatic. We must choose to become a disciple and live as Jesus has called us to live.
In the beginning believers were first called ‘disciples’ before the term ‘Christian’ was used. It was discipleship that gave rise to the term ‘Christian’. Probably their pagan counterparts intended this term to be an insult to the believers, but it actually was a great compliment! It showed that the disciples were following their Master and known by his name.
The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch after a year of teaching by Paul and Barnabas. This shows that the real purpose of teaching is to form disciples, people who are like Jesus in their lifestyle, character and ministry.
We see from the book of Acts that making disciples was not confined to the ministry of Jesus in the Gospels but that the early disciples obeyed the Great Commission of Jesus and went out to make disciples of others. Making, maturing and mobilising disciples was the main focus and the principal work of the Church in Acts. This was the secret of their growth.
The call to discipleship is the call to be trained, equipped and released into ministry. In Kensington Temple training opportunities abound. We also have the structure for people to put their discipleship ministry training into practice from the very beginning. The cell groups provide the means and the opportunity for every believer to get busy with the work of Christ. This is how we obey Jesus’ call to be his disciples in the 21st Century.
The call is personal
The Greek word for disciple is mathetes, which literally means a ‘learner’. Mathetes comes from manthano – ‘to learn’ – and shows that reflective thought should be followed by an attempt actually to do something. Mathetes reveals that real disciples are not people who obey unthinkingly or legalistically; rather, they listen to a teacher, think about what the teacher has said, and then try to put it into practice.
It should be clear how this concept of discipleship naturally follows on from a biblical understanding of repentance and belief. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus calls us to learn from him personally – this is true discipleship. Just as he does not call us to follow a set of ideas or rules but to follow him, so he does not call us to learn merely from a written code or a book, but rather to learn from him himself.
The call is corporate
Although each of us must respond personally and individually to Jesus’ call to become disciples we must not forget that we are also called to follow Christ together as his people. We are his community of disciples and this corporate dimension is absolutely essential to a true understanding of God’s kingdom. Jesus has established his Church as a fellowship of discipled people with a responsibility to disciple others. The Great Commission of Matthew 28 makes this clear.
Each of us must be discipled within the Church and take up the mandate to disciple others. We cannot ‘go it alone’ as if our personal call were independent of all those who are following Christ. Jesus especially modelled this process of discipleship with his twelve spending most of his quality time with them. He taught them, trained them and finally released them to go out and ‘make disciples of all nations’. Modern day disciples of Jesus are rediscovering this dimension to discipleship through small group ministry, or cells.
The call is urgent
The Gospels record many stories about people who were called to follow Jesus – to become disciples. In every one the call is most urgent. They had to respond when he asked them, even if that involved considerable disruption to them and the people around them. For example:
- Simon, Andrew, James and John – Matthew 4:18-22
- Matthew – Matthew 9:9
- The rich young man – Matthew 19:21
- An unnamed person – Luke 9:59
- Philip – John 1:43.
We can see in these stories that some people immediately began following Jesus, but that others made excuses and did not. The calls of the kingdom may be compelling but they are not compulsory. God always wants us to respond in love. He does not make us if we will not follow him on his terms, at his time.
The call is conclusive Not only was the call urgent, but it was conclusive. They were called permanently to forsake all and follow him.
- Luke 9:62 shows that there was to be no looking back.
- Mark 10:33 states that Jesus must not be disowned before men.
- John 8:31 makes it plain that disciples must hold to Jesus teaching.
Becoming a follower or disciple of Jesus is not merely an emotional response or mental assent to his teaching – it is a permanent decision to follow Jesus, to learn from him, to obey him, to keep close to him.
The call is costly Mark 1:16-20 & Luke 5:1-11 tell the story of the calling to discipleship of the four fishermen, Simon, Andrew, James and John. By following Jesus’ direction, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets were in danger of breaking and their boats of sinking.
Luke 5:11 reports that ‘they forsook all and followed him’. The ‘all’ must have included the miraculous catch which they had just laboured to bring to shore. It must have been one of their most successful fishing trips ever, yet – as part of their response to Jesus – they left the catch on the beach for their friends and family.
Luke 14:25-33 describes how great multitudes went with Jesus. They were curious; they were interested – even fascinated; but they were not committed and they had not counted the cost. In this passage, we can see that the essence of being a disciple was absent – they had not reflected and thought carefully about what was involved in following Jesus. Unless they would forsake everything they could not be Jesus’ disciples.
Matthew 6:33 shows that we must put the kingdom of God first. Before everything else, we must seek God’s rule and his right way of living. The parallel passage, in Luke 12:31-34, shows that this right living is characterised by selfless generosity.
When, in Matthew 16:13-33, the disciples realised who Jesus was, he explained to them that this meant suffering and death. This was anathema to the disciples, so Peter took Jesus aside and remonstrated with him. But Jesus rebuked them, said that their well-meaning protests were evil in origin, and told them that the divine demand for self-sacrifice applied to them as well as to him.
He said, in Matthew 16:24 & Mark 8:34, ‘If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me’. Luke 9:23 adds that this must be done ‘every day’. These words were spoken to those who had already begun to follow Jesus, who had seen God work powerfully through them, who now grasped that Jesus was heading for rejection and sacrifice. Now that they knew the truth, Jesus set them free to choose between self and self-sacrifice.
Death to self is not a calamity, but the fruit of commitment. It is not the end of everything, rather it is the beginning of abundant life with Christ – as we begin to allow his will to control and rule us.
To be a disciple is to say every day ‘death to self’. This is not a set of ascetic exercises, instead it is being unaware of ourselves and aware only of Christ. It is putting Christ’s will in place of ‘self’. It is having our eyes so fixed on the one we are following that we are blind to the path which is too steep for us and deaf to the pain which pleads with us to stop. It means knowing that nothing in this life compares with the glory awaiting us – if we stick close to Jesus’ bent and beaten back.
When we follow Christ, we must show that we mean death to self by taking up our God-offered cross. This is not an ailment or difficulty which is no different from those which are endured by all people. It will be some form of sacrifice, hardship or rejection ‘for the sake of Christ’ which is given to all those who follow him.
Each disciple who wants to follow in Christ’s footsteps has his own personal cross awaiting collection. Crosscarrying Christians are meant to consider themselves to have the same short life-expectancy as the people who live on the different ‘Death Rows’ round the world.
This self-death is not a calamity, but the fruit of commitment. It is not the end of everything, rather it is the beginning of abundant life with Christ as we begin to allow his will to control and rule us. The twelve heard these new requirements of discipleship, and not one of them walked away.
Sword of the Spirit
I have written a complete course in 12 manuals covering key topics: Effective Prayer, Knowing the Spirit, The Rule of God, Living Faith, Glory in the Church, Ministry in the Spirit, Knowing the Father, Reaching the Lost, Listening to God, Knowing the Son, Salvation by Grace and Worship in Spirit and Truth that build into a sound Biblical foundation.
The Sword of the Spirit course has 3 study options:
Option 2 Register with www.swordofthespirit.co.uk for online videos, webtools and quizzes. Study all 12 topics and complete the final exams to receive a Sword of the Spirit certificate. Cost £25 per topic including manual and workbook (or £150 if you register for all 12 at one time)
Option 3 Register with www.swordofthespirit.co.uk as option 2 but with the added benefit of a personal tutor. Cost £40 per topic including manual and workbook (or £270 if you register for all 12 at one time)