Why is discipleship so important? Discipleship is important because we want people to be committed followers of Jesus Christ.
Without discipleship, people don’t grow in their faith, they don’t grow in their commitment to living for Jesus, and they will typically miss out on things Jesus has for them in their life.
What is Christian discipleship? Discipleship is the process a person goes through to go from being an unbeliever to a committed believer in Jesus Christ. As an unbeliever, people are mainly committed to their own joy and fulfillment but committed believers are committed primarily to bringing joy to God.
History of Christian Discipleship
Christian discipleship has a long history and is founded in concepts that were taking place in the first century and before–primarily found in Jewish history. During the intertestamental period, which is the time between the Old and New Testament, the Rabbinacle system was developed in the Jewish nation.
Rabbis were the religious teachers of Jesus’ time, so when He came on the scene rabbis were in charge.
Ancient Hebrew Discipleship
In the first century, discipleship was the process that a person went through to become a rabbi.
Rabbis would select young men whom they believed could become rabbis in the future. It was common that at the age of twelve or thirteen a young man would be selected to become a disciple and would then travel around several years with their rabbi. Rabbis would frequently publicly preach and teach with a group of young men following them, and the idea was that those young men were apprentices or rabbis in training.
During their discipleship, the young men were being trained in the way of their rabbi. They would be trained in his theology, how he taught, his philosophy, and how he believed the Jews should function during that time.
The rabbi’s hope was that when they died, the young men they had trained would then take on their mantle, and their way of doing things would then continue.
That is in essence of the root and concept of discipleship.
Ancient Greek Discipleship
The Greeks also had a system for discipleship, they used different terminology but it was very similar, and it actually predates the Jewish rabbinical system, going back to the times of Aristotle and Plato in ancient Greece.
The ancient Greek philosophers would similarly select young men and would train them to learn their philosophy and way of doing things. They would teach them to write and read material that was in line with that philosopher’s way of thinking.
If you were being trained or mentored by a particular Greek philosopher, you were expected to learn as much as you could to help give additional evidence to that philosopher’s way of thinking or way of teaching. Everything you did was aimed at spreading the ideas of the person you were training under.
The goal was not to be your own man but to understand your teacher’s thought and seek to expand his ideology and philosophy.
Distinctions of Hebrew & Greek Discipleship
Greek discipleship was focused in a more academic fashion. Some may call it more ‘heady’. Meaning that it tended to be more focused upon learning, history, and philosophy.
Jewish discipleship certainly shared some of these Greek components, but it was more centered on learning how to live like your rabbi. How did he function with his family, how did he treat the poor, how did he worship, etc.
So Greek discipleship was less personal and more knowledge-based with an emphasis on academics, history, and philosophy. While Jewish discipleship sought to marry the academic components of discipleship and mentorship to the personal heart issues related to mentorship and training.
Jesus & Discipleship
When Jesus comes on the scene in the first century, the Rabbinacle System had already been in place for almost 200 years. He didn’t invent a new system. Instead, Jesus is working in the framework of the society in which he lived, and then he brings redefinition to it.
Jesus does exactly what all the other rabbis would have done; he selected a group of young men to live with him and he would have taught them all the things that the other rabbis would have taught them. He would have taught them theology, philosophy, and how to interact with academic components.
He also taught them how to live.
Jesus teaches them his way of interacting with God, his way of interacting with people, and his way of doing ministry. He then begins to teach his disciples that this is not merely one way of doing and viewing things, as other rabbis would have claimed, but that it is the absolute way. And all other ways are secondary to his way of doing things.
Jesus makes the call to discipleship universal because his way is the truth and the life for all men.
Jesus Calling People To Be Disciples
Most rabbis in the first century only allowed their invitation to discipleship to be open to a select few. It was only introduced to young Jewish men who demonstrated high intelligence and high aptitude, but in Mark 8, Jesus laid the foundation for this invitation becoming universal.
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”.Mark 8:34
The old Latin word, catholic, literally means universal. Christians took on the word “catholic” because they were making the point that Christianity is universal. Christianity is not just for some, but for all people.
It wasn’t just for boys, it was for men and women. It wasn’t just for Jews but for Jews, Gentiles, and people of all nations. It wasn’t just for the rich, but also for the poor. It wasn’t just for those who demonstrated high aptitudes in academics, but it was for all people of all walks of life.
The call to be a disciple of Jesus was open to everyone.
Jesus Calling People To Make Disciples
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 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
We are to proactively go into every walk of life, every season of life, every potential moment, seeking to introduce people to Jesus and invite them to be disciples of him. We are to proactively befriend and develop relationships with people who may or may not be believers, seeking to mentor them so they may grow in faith.
We are also intentionally interacting with people that may be unbelievers, seeking to help them become committed followers of Jesus Christ.
What Discipleship Looks Like Today
Today, discipleship takes on many different forms in essence. However, it is not all that different from what Jesus did in the first century. We befriend people and help them to become committed in their faith.
Pastor Mark Dever, at Capital Hill Baptist Church, puts it this way:
Discipleship is friendship with a Christ-Centered focus”— Mark Dever
He is saying to disciples of Jesus, that we should seek to be friends with people who may not know Jesus or who have a nominal or weak commitment to Him. We intentionally have conversations centered around Christ, intentionally bringing up topics regarding theology and philosophy.
In Matthew 28, Jesus tells us to teach people all that he commanded. So in our friendships, we should be intentionally trying to help people learn and grow in all that was commanded. We seek to expose their beliefs that are theologically flawed. We verbalize the things we see that are not in line with what the Bible teaches so that they know the truth.
We are helping them become more obedient to Christ.
Too often, people are nominal in their commitment to Jesus, they live to gratify their flesh and run after their own desires. They live in line with how they think their life ought to be. But the goal of discipleship is to help people live in line with God’s opinions and commands, according to what the Bible teaches.
At the heart of discipleship, we are befriending people and leading to exemplify the life of Christ and to be obedient to the commands of Jesus.