Was discipleship important to Jesus? His own words certainly indicate that. He specifically told His followers, “. . . go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19,20).
Some people may be surprised to learn that the word discipleship never appears in the Bible. Not only that, but the word disciple never appears as a verb in Scripture, either. Look all you want, but you won’t find a mention of Jesus discipling Peter or John or any of the twelve.
What does that mean for an organization such as The Navigators that has focused on making disciples for 80 years?
It’s easy for us to define discipleship by certain criteria. We can look at how well we know the Bible and how much of it we’ve committed to memory. We can consider the amount of time we spend in prayer and the kinds of things we pray about. We can evaluate our skill at sharing the truth of the Gospel with others. There are plenty of spiritual disciplines by which we can define our discipleship. And all of these disciplines are good things and are important for a life of discipleship.
Jesus, however, made a very revealing comment about what it means to be His disciple.
“A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher,” (Luke 6:40, NKJV).
Some translations replace the word disciple with pupil or student. That’s what a disciple really is: a learner. As disciples of Jesus we are to learn, and when we are perfectly (or fully) trained, we will be like Him.
That’s the true goal of discipleship. It’s not to generate Bible scholars or evangelists, or counselors or even leaders. The result of discipleship is someone who is like Jesus. That’s a powerful thing. Consider the impact the early disciples had. It wasn’t their Bible knowledge or their oratory skills that made them stand out.
“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus,” (Acts 4:13).
The apostle Paul, who devoted his life to equipping believers to be followers of Jesus, embraced this. No wonder he wrote: “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ,” (1 Corinthians 11:1, NASB).
Keep that thought in mind as you read through the stories in this issue of Disciple! No matter where people are engaged in the process of discipleship, no matter what tools or techniques they use to pass on spiritual truth, the goal is men and women who become more and more like Jesus—and are able to pass this character on to others and help them do the same.
“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit,” (2 Corinthians 3:18).