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  • Writer's pictureDarrell Stetler II

5 Things Discipleship is NOT

Imagine a farmer who was just getting started... he planted all his plants with the branches down in the soil, and the roots facing upward. How many vegetables would he grow? Not many... because his mental model of growing things was upside down!

In the quest to follow Christ and make disciples, many believers and church leaders grapple with understanding the essence of true discipleship. It's easy to fall into the trap of narrowly defining discipleship by

  • what we do (activism or disciplines)

  • what we know (information or education)

  • how we feel (mysticism or emotionalism)

But discipleship is way more than these things by themselves! By exploring what discipleship is not, we can gain a clearer vision of its true, transformative power.

5 things discipleship is not post graphic

Discipleship is Not Just Information

One of the most common misconceptions is equating discipleship with the mere transfer of biblical knowledge. While understanding Scripture is vital, discipleship goes beyond information acquisition to include the application of biblical truths in daily life. Real discipleship involves a life changed by the Gospel, not just a mind filled with facts. It's about living out the teachings of Jesus in a way that influences and transforms our surroundings.

Discipleship is Not Just Activism

Another misunderstanding is viewing discipleship solely as activism—engaging in social justice and community service projects. While these activities are important expressions of our faith and love, they do not encompass the entirety of discipleship. True discipleship involves internal transformation that naturally leads to external action. It's about being before doing, ensuring that our deeds flow from a heart deeply rooted in Christ.

Discipleship is Not Just Mysticism

Some equate discipleship with a mystical experience of God, focusing solely on personal spiritual encounters. While experiencing God's presence is a crucial aspect of our faith journey, discipleship is not limited to these experiences. It also involves understanding God's Word, engaging with the community of believers, and serving others. Discipleship balances the mystical with the practical, leading to a well-rounded faith.

Discipleship is Not Just Theology

Theological study and doctrinal understanding are essential to the Christian faith, but discipleship is not just about theological knowledge. It's possible to know all the right doctrines yet fail to live out the teachings of Jesus. Discipleship involves the heart as much as the mind, focusing on transforming lives according to biblical principles, not just accumulating theological insights.

Discipleship is Not Just Spiritual Disciplines

Practices like prayer, fasting, and reading Scripture are often highlighted as the core of discipleship. While these spiritual disciplines are fundamental to growth, they are not the sole components of discipleship. True discipleship is the integration of these practices into a lifestyle that reflects Jesus in every aspect. It's about the transformation that comes from consistently applying these disciplines, leading to maturity in Christ.

So What IS Discipleship?

In recent years, a particular analogy has dominated among American pastors as a mental model for discipleship. They've thought of it as donning a spacesuit -- a self-contained environment, designed to protect from a hostile world.

Have you seen churches and Christians who lived like this?

This metaphor, while illustrative, significantly narrows the biblical vision of discipleship. Scripture does not present discipleship as a solitary, protective endeavor but rather as a communal journey of transformation and growth. Unlike the isolation implied by a spacesuit, discipleship according to the New Testament is akin to a baby being born into a family.

Discipleship: A Communal Journey of Transformation

The essence of discipleship is learning about Christ with the aim of imitating Him, and this process is more about CONNECTION than it is about information. It is about being integrated into the body of Christ, growing and maturing within the community of faith.

This is the mental model of discipleship from the New Testament! How do I know? Let's think about the metaphors for spiritual growth that we find there:

  • The New Birth: Just as a newborn baby enters into the world and becomes part of a family, discipleship involves being born again into the spiritual family of God. It signifies the beginning of a new life, surrounded and supported by fellow believers.

  • Growing In Grace: The journey of discipleship is one of growth, not just in knowledge or in isolation but in grace. Like a child grows and matures within the loving guidance of a family, disciples grow in their understanding and embodiment of grace through their interactions and relationships with other members of the faith community.

  • Drinking Milk to Eating Meat: This metaphor, drawn from the writings of Paul, illustrates the process of maturation in discipleship. Just as infants start with milk and gradually move to solid food, disciples begin with the basics of faith and, over time, delve into deeper theological truths, always within the context of community learning and support.

  • Fellowship with Brothers and Sisters: The New Testament frequently uses the language of family to describe the relationships within the church. Discipleship is about more than individual spiritual development; it's about forming deep, lasting relationships with our spiritual brothers and sisters, supporting and being supported in our collective journey towards Christlikeness.

Redefining the Mental Model of Discipleship

The dominant mental model of discipleship in the New Testament is not about creating a self-contained environment that isolates believers from the world. Rather, it's about being born into and growing within the family of God!

This model emphasizes

  • vulnerability

  • dependence

  • mutual support

  • the interconnectedness of the body of Christ.

It's about living out our faith in the messiness of real life, learning from both successes and failures, and doing so within the context of community.

Conclusion: A Call to Cultivate Biblical Discipleship

The challenge for pastors and church leaders today is to shift away from viewing discipleship as equipping individuals with spiritual spacesuits. Instead, we should focus on nurturing a vibrant, supportive, and interconnected faith community. This means creating environments where believers can come together to learn about Christ, imitate Him, and support each other in their spiritual growth.

How can we do that?

Let's talk about discipleship strategy in a future post!

If you want to download my NewStart Discipleship Journal for free, you can do that right here:

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