Above is a video devotional on discipleship I delivered for a mini-series at my church. A lightly edited transcript of the video is below.
A few years ago, I got to see the Broadway show Hamilton, which was easily one of the most impressive performances I have ever seen in person (along with Taylor Swift, of course). For three hours, I sat in awe of the creativity and excellence of the entire production. I could talk for a long time about this show.
Yet one of my favorite parts of Hamilton was not the show itself but the drive home from Chicago with my sister. We blabbered back and forth for a full hour: Wasn’t that incredible? Wasn’t Eliza’s voice amazing? Wasn’t King George hilarious? Did you see those acrobats? Did they ever mess up?
What was I doing as I recounted my favorite parts to my sister? I was inviting her to enter into praise with me. I was inviting her to enjoy and marvel at the object I found admirable. Why? Because our joy is amplified when someone else praises the same object that we find beautiful. Our joy is amplified when we share in praising the praiseworthy.
We’ve all felt this sensation. When you hear a catchy song, watch a riveting movie, or see a beautiful sunset, don’t you want to share it with someone? Then—after the other person experiences the object of your praise—you ask, “Wasn’t that so good?” If she says, “That was amazing,” joy floods your heart—and that’s because sharing in praise completes our joy.
My Hamilton experience is just a tiny glimpse into what makes Christian discipleship so wonderful. Discipleship is an invitation to worship and enjoy our beautiful and praiseworthy Savior, Jesus Christ, with one another. And when we do that—when we share in praise and pursuit of Jesus—Christ is glorified, and our joy is multiplied.
Let’s consider three questions: What is discipleship? Why do discipleship? How can we grow as disciplers?
1. What is discipleship?
Before we define what discipleship is, it’s helpful to consider what it is not. Two common misconceptions of discipleship are helpful to identify up front:
On the one hand, some people think discipleship is merely community. They think as long as they have spent time with another Christian, they have therefore done discipleship.
On the other hand, some people think discipleship is merely teaching. They think as long as they gave someone a gospel tract or sermon, they have therefore done discipleship.
Unfortunately, neither community alone nor teaching alone fulfills God’s purposes for discipleship. Discipleship, rather, is the marriage between community and teaching (see 1 Thessalonians 2:8). Discipleship is life-on-life, gospel-centered, Word-driven, Christ-conforming community.
Often, discipleship happens when a mature believer teaches and walks alongside a younger Christian. But it’s not limited to that context. Discipleship happens whenever two people seek to know Christ, love Christ, and become more like Christ together. Examples include:
- A mother teaching her child how to pray.
- Two young men holding each other accountable.
- An older Christian mentoring a younger Christian.
- Two friends studying the Bible together.
- Siblings going to church together and then talking about the sermon afterward.
- A married couple inviting a single adult into their home for dinner and intentional spiritual conversation.
Discipleship is what happens whenever two or more people seek to know Jesus, love Jesus, reflect Jesus, and become more like Jesus together. To say that in three words: biblical discipleship is following Jesus together.
2. Why do discipleship? Why follow Jesus together?
Consider two reasons to follow Jesus with others:
(A) Because salvation is found in no one except Jesus; there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).
Jesus is the most precious, most beautiful, most glorious, most trustworthy, most praiseworthy person in the universe, and he is the only unfailing object of salvation, joy, hope, and peace. We follow Jesus to gain and know him (see Philippians 3:8).
So, you say, “Okay—I get that, and I do love Jesus, but why should we follow Jesus together? Can’t I just follow him alone?”
Consider the second benefit of discipleship:
(B) Following Jesus with someone else leads to a double blessing that cannot come from following Jesus alone.
Let’s return to the sunset analogy. When you enjoy a beautiful sunset with your wife, husband, or close friend, two wonderful things happen at that moment:
First, you enjoy the sunset more because of that person’s presence. We’ve all felt this joy—beauty is better shared!
But we often overlook the second blessing: You also enjoy the other person’s presence more because of the sunset. The very experience of admiring beauty with someone else causes you to walk away with a deeper appreciation for both the object of beauty and the person with whom you share it.
Discipleship provides the same double blessing! When you marvel at the beauty of Christ with another person, you walk away with a deeper love for Christ and that other person (see Psalm 16:2–3).
To take that a step further: When you and another person pursue Jesus together, you will not only be able to enjoy the beauty of Jesus with that other person, but you will also be able to enjoy the beauty of Jesus through that other person. Think about the most patient person you know. Do you realize that this person’s patience is helping you understand and cherish the patience of Christ? Think about the most loving person you know. Do you realize that this person’s love is helping you understand and cherish the love of Christ?
Discipleship invites us to enjoy Christ and the people around us more—it’s a double blessing! Discipleship is the joy of knowing and being known, loving and being loved, and becoming more like Christ with someone else.
So, you say, “That sounds great on paper, but how?…
3. …How can I grow as a discipler?”
Consider three marks of an effective discipler. (This is by no means an exhaustive list; it’s more of a starting point.)
(A) An effective discipler teaches with both her words and her actions.
Remember, discipleship is the marriage between teaching and community. Sometimes the most powerful moments of discipleship happen not when you are explaining justification by faith alone at a coffee shop but when someone simply observes your life:
- They watch the way you speak gently to your kids. (Or they hear you repent to your kids after not speaking gently to them!)
- They see how you treat the waitress with kindness.
- They watch you respond with patience when someone cuts you off in traffic.
- They see how hospitable you are in your home.
- They hear the way you encourage your classmates or friends.
People will learn just as much about Christ by your actions as by your words. So it’s important to not only talk about the Christian life with the person you are discipling but also to live the Christian life with him or her.
(B) An effective discipler regularly spends time with Jesus in God’s Word and prayer.
I love the little phrase at the end of Acts 4:13:
“Now when [the Jewish leaders] saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.”
Can the people in your life recognize that you have been with Jesus? Can they tell that you have been spending time with him?
It has been said that you become like the people you are around the most. Can others tell that you have been around Jesus? Do they see Christ shining through you? Do they even hear you talking like him because you have been listening to his words so much?
A great way to disciple others is to read the Bible and pray with them. When these disciplines are already rhythms of your own life, you’ll find them spilling out in your interactions with others, and your discipleship will be much more fruitful.
(C) An effective discipler excels at listening.
A common mistake among people in leadership positions is to think that to lead a student, child, or a younger Christian, we must major in speaking—in telling others what to do and how to live. This simply isn’t true. While part of discipling others is guiding them through our words, the first step in leading and influencing others is truly knowing them, which cannot happen apart from listening.
The adage is true: people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care. We earn the right to speak into the lives of others by first listening well.
Love through discipleship
Is there someone in your life with whom you can have an intentional conversation about Jesus? Sometime today, seek out an opportunity to talk with this person (or schedule a time to meet with this person). Often the most meaningful spiritual conversations begin with a very simple question, such as:
- How are you doing spiritually?
- How can I pray for you?
- What has God been teaching you recently?
- What is one way you’d like to grow in your faith?
- What is one joy and one challenge in your faith right now?
- Can I share a passage with you that has been encouraging me?
- Would you like to come to church with me this Sunday?
God wants to display Christ’s beauty to the people in your life. He will use you to accomplish this end, especially as you spend time with Jesus, reflect him through your words and actions, and listen well. So rejoice today in the blessing-filled task of discipleship!
Blake Glosson is a pastoral resident at Chapelstreet Church in Geneva, Illinois, and an MDiv student at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been published by The Gospel Coalition and Crosswalk.com and republished and/or referred by Eternal Perspective Ministries (Randy Alcorn), Challies.com (Tim Challies), Moody Radio (here, here, and here), The JOY FM (The Morning Cruise with Dave, Bill, and Carmen), ChurchLeaders.com, The Aquila Report, Monergism.com, and numerous other sources. Previously, he served as the director of young adults at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois.
Side by Side (Edward T. Welch)
Deep Discipleship (J.T. English)
The Cost of Discipleship (Deitrich Bonhoeffer)
My recent articles:
Read “The Day ‘Darkness Rejoiced As Though Heaven Had Lost’” here.
Read “7 Things to Say to a Hurting Loved One” here.
Read “In Suffering, God Isn’t (Simply) Teaching You a Lesson” here.
Read “To Fix or Not to Fix? When to Give Advice and When to Listen” here.