Jesus’ discipleship model was, and still is, the most successful model in history.
What is Jesus’ Model of Discipleship? Jesus’ model of discipleship revolved around teaching his disciples a lesson, and giving them opportunities to step out in faith. He built relationships with them, rebuked them, and ultimately his goal was to prepare them to be able to disciple others.
When we are learning to disciple others, it only makes sense to understand how Jesus discipled his followers. Today, we will look at six main tools that Jesus used to build strong, independent disciples.
1. Teaching Through Parables
One of the primary ministry tools Jesus used for teaching was parables. He used parables when communicating to a crowd. He also unpacked concepts in these stories to his disciples.
A parable is similar to an analogy. We can use parables to better understand difficult or complex topics.
Take this example from Matthew:
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.Matthew 13:47-50 ESV
Jesus would often use the context of a parable to explain things to his disciples. In this case, Jesus compares the separating of the evil and the righteous during end times to the separating of good and bad fish. Several of his disciples were fishermen and would have understood this practice.
2. Opportunities to Step Out In Faith
Jesus’ model also included giving his disciples an opportunity to exercise their faith. The biggest example of this is probably Peter in Matthew 14.
And Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.
But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him,
‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’Matthew 14:28-33 ESV
As the disciples walked with Jesus, he would give them opportunities such as this one to step out in faith. This gave them the opportunity to grow individually and to learn to trust him, for themselves.
When they fell, short, he was always there to scoop them back up and help them to keep going and learn from the experience.
It is important to note that in cases where he gave them the opportunity to step out in faith, he was looking for them to put faith in him. In our context, however, we are not looking for people to put faith in us, but in Jesus.
Rebuking is an incredibly important aspect of how Jesus interacted with his disciples. To rebuke someone is to express strong disapproval or criticism of something they may have done or said. Jesus did this on several occasions.
It is also very important to distinguish that Jesus rebuked out of love. His purpose in rebuking them was constructive.
He wanted them to recognize an error of thought process or action that was bringing sin or separation from him into their lives.
He wanted them to become more like him and learn to trust him. He would rebuke them when necessary to make that happen. It was important to their growth.
In our current culture, rebuke is often sorely mishandled. Either people do it with a poor attitude such as animosity and anger, or they don’t do it for fear of offending someone. Rebuke, done in the right spirit, is important and without it, it can be difficult to grow.
Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.Mark 16:14 ESV
4. Build Relationships with Them
The disciples have the unique experience of being able to be with Jesus while he was on earth. During that time, it was not like school or a job where they showed up, nine to five, for Jesus to disciple them, they did life together. They built relationships with each other.
Jesus does not think of the disciples as lowly people. He considers them his friends.
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.John 15:12-15 ESV
Scripture saturated every part of Jesus’ ministry, including his discipleship. He used it to teach lessons or to present a new understanding that would become part of the new covenant like in Matthew 5.
You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.Matthew 5:21-22
Jesus revealed his character and identity to the disciples by showing them what was prophesied about him in the scriptures.
6. Prepared Them to Be Independent
This is perhaps one of the most important things that Jesus did for his disciples. In discussing this, however, it is important to realize that Jesus’ discipleship model was in practice before Pentecost, so there will be some variances in modern application.
While Jesus was on earth he filled the role that would be given to the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. So, when Jesus ascended, he instructed his disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit before going out to fulfill the Great Commission.
Jesus’ goal was to raise up disciples who would be able to, with the help of the Holy Spirit, go and make more disciples.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.Matthew 28:19-20
So, having recognized all of the tools that Jesus used to create strong disciples, how do we take advantage of his example to disciple believers of today? Let’s look at six practical applications of Jesus’ model of discipleship.
- Teaching Through Parables: It may be helpful in the discipleship process to help the person you are discipling to understand some of Jesus’ parables. It may also help to create some parables or analogies of your own to help them understand other material.
- Opportunities to Step Out in Faith: Give the person you are discipling a chance to take steps of faith, allow them to have the opportunity to fail, and help them get back up again when it happens. Resist the urge to “protect” them and allow them to take risks.
- Rebuking: If you notice a negative behavior in the person you are discipling, don’t let it slide. Rebuke in love. Help them to understand why the behavior is wrong and help them develop steps to fix it. However, be measured in your rebukes. If you rebuke too many things at once they may become overwhelmed and discouraged. Take things one step at a time.
- Building Relationships with Them: Take the time to know them and understand them. Don’t build a relationship so formal that it isn’t an enjoyable process.
- Scripture: Always, always, always, refer back to scripture. If you rebuke, be ready to show them, in the scripture, why you rebuked them. If you are teaching, use the Scripture as the basis of truth for what you are saying. If they are taking a step of faith, use scripture as encouragement. The Bible is a priceless resource, don’t take it for granted, and stay grounded in its message.
- Preparing to be Independent: The point of discipleship is to create disciples who can then go and make more disciples. As they progress, give them the freedom to begin to do things independently. Allow them to maintain the skills they have learned on their own. And commission them to go make disciples themselves.
Jesus’ model of discipleship is the best model there is. If we can learn from it, it will prove invaluable in our lives as we each work, in our own ways, through our own gifting and circumstances, to fulfill the Great Commission.