Before Christians were called Christians, we were actually called “Disciples.” A disciple, in the time of Jesus, was someone who followed and learned under a teacher, or “rabbi.”
During his three years of ministry on earth, Jesus sets forth the example of discipleship, and just how integral it is to the church
Why is discipleship important? Discipleship is important because we want people to become fully committed followers of Christ. Discipleship helps believers to grow in their faith, to grow in maturity and wisdom, and build their faith on a strong foundation so that they can then disciple and lead others towards Christ.
I’ve often wondered why someone would drop everything they were doing to follow a stranger who only said two words to them, “follow me.” But I gained clarity on what I thought to be a ludicrous concept when I gained some context to what discipleship meant in that day so let’s dive a little deeper into what discipleship is so we can better understand its importance.
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.
Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.Ephesians 5:1-2
Discipleship then, at its basic level, is growing and maturing in your faith in Jesus Christ.
Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 11:1 “And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.” In this verse, he is laying out the key actions and principles of discipleship––imitating your teacher as they imitate Christ. Because as disciples of Christ, we are called to be transformed into the image of God.
Reasons Discipleship is Important
In learning the history and reasoning behind discipleship, we can see much easier now, the importance of discipleship in the Church.
Not only was discipleship a long-practiced method of teaching and growth, but it is also the same method that Jesus our Savior, used to teach and lead.
Discipleship ensures thorough teaching of the word and is a way to be sure that believers don’t fall through the cracks, becoming complacent and without purpose.
So let’s take a look at just a few reasons why discipleship is so important.
Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God….Hebrews 6:1
One reason discipleship is so deeply important is found in its counteracting of complacency. Churches that only teach from the pulpit, and do not implement ways for individuals to be walked alongside by a seasoned Christian, become stagnant and pulpit focused.
Discipleship introduces accountability into the new believer’s life, beginning with the basics and urging them on towards deeper things. It’s one thing to hear the truth from the pastor, but to have someone holding you accountable, encouraging you to press on, and walking through life with you is another thing entirely.
Discipleship helps to deepen and grow the believer’s faith in Christ, as the newer disciple follows the example of the seasoned Christian who has already walked through the things they are sure to face.
You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in enduranceTitus 2:1-2
Another key aspect of discipleship is learning sound doctrine. In the book of Titus, Paul, over and over again, urges Titus to know and teach sound doctrine and to also appoint elders who were firm in right teaching.
Discipleship is designed to teach those who are “infants” in the faith, what is in accordance with Christ’s teaching. Everyone gets it wrong sometimes, especially when we’re just starting out, so it’s important to have someone who is more thoroughly versed in the faith, showing the correct teachings of Christ.
It also should be noted that all believers should be able to teach the word of God and be ready to give an answer for the hope of their salvation.
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect1 Peter 3:15
Raising Up Leaders
In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.Hebrews 5:12-14
Finally, we come to raising up leaders. Discipleship is first, helping brothers and sisters along in their faith so that they draw closer to Christ. But another element is raising up leaders.
Just as the original design of discipleship in Jesus’ time was laid out, the same principle lives today. Discipleship is meant to pass on the wisdom and leadership of Christ to every person who seeks to follow him.
Christians are not meant to stay stagnant in the body, looking to one man for guidance and direction, it is instead the whole body that should be active and working together, operating in sound doctrine and individual giftings.
So, we can now conclude that discipleship is key to the Christian faith. We see the model laid out in the Bible, beginning with Jesus, and the whole point is to raise up believers who are dedicated to Him, and as a result, step into the calling that God has given.