Below is a list of 11 metaphors for discipleship. It's covered more in-depth in this post on Sermon Illustrations On Discipleship.
Let's begin by defining our terms:
What is a metaphor?
A metaphor is a powerful linguistic device that transcends the literal, creating a bridge between the familiar and the abstract. It involves the use of a word or phrase to signify something different from its literal meaning, allowing for a more nuanced and imaginative understanding of a concept. Metaphors are potent tools for communicators! (See what I did there? a metaphor!)
What is discipleship?
Discipleship is nothing less than imitating Jesus Christ. It involves following his teachings and example, seeking to deepen one's faith, cultivate virtues, and contribute positively to the world. It's not just the acquisition of knowledge but the embodiment of his teachings in daily life.
Using Metaphors to teach about Discipleship:
The curated list of metaphors for discipleship below serves as a valuable resource for communicators seeking to clarify and inspire discipleship.
Metaphors, by their nature, provide accessible entry points into complex subjects, enabling speakers to paint vivid mental images and evoke emotions that resonate deeply with listeners. Each metaphor in the list offers a unique imaginative twist, allowing communicators to choose the imagery that aligns most effectively with their audience's needs. This collection can help you create a richer, more engaging message on discipleship. For more on this, you can check out this post on 21 Ideas for Discipleship Sermons.
Metaphors for Discipleship
Illustrations are not just quotes, Johnny and Suzie stories, or poems and statistics. They are also metaphors, quick illustrations that help to frame or analogize a complex topic such as "discipleship." Here are 11 metaphors for discipleship. Some are from Scripture, others from just observing the world and logic.
Discipleship is like a baby born into a family. Imagine a baby, who is just born. There is so much potential in them, but they are dependent on their family for so many things. They need nutrition, contact, protection, and love. This is probably the most common metaphor in Scripture, since it is implicit in so many other metaphors: Growth in grace, moving from "milk to meat," God as a father, and more.
Discipleship is like a Gardener's Care: Imagine a skilled gardener carefully tending to a young plant. Through regular watering, pruning, and nourishment, the plant grows stronger and eventually bears fruit. Similarly, discipleship involves God's nurturing care, helping us grow and bear the fruit of Christlikeness. (See Galatians 5:22-23, Romans 6:22-23, Matthew 3:8)
Discipleship is like a Potter's Hands: Picture a skilled potter shaping a lump of clay into a beautiful vessel. God, like the potter, molds and shapes us through life's experiences, challenges, and triumphs, transforming us into vessels for His purpose as we walk the path of discipleship. (See Romans 9:19-24, Jeremiah 18)
Discipleship is like Navigating Stormy Seas: Envision a ship navigating through stormy seas. Just as sailors grow in skill and resilience through the challenges of the ocean, discipleship equips us to navigate the storms of life with faith, trust, and a deepening relationship with Christ. (Mark 4:35-41, etc.)
Discipleship is like a Caterpillar to Butterfly Metamorphosis: Reflect on the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly. Similarly, discipleship involves a transformative process where we, through the power of the Holy Spirit, undergo a metamorphosis, emerging as new creations in Christ. (This is implicit in the word metamorphosis in the Greek NT.)
Discipleship is like a Marathon Runner's Training: Consider the discipline and training of a marathon runner. Discipleship requires perseverance, endurance, and a commitment to spiritual training as we run the race set before us, growing stronger and more Christlike with each step. (See Hebrews 12:1-3,
Discipleship is like a Masterpiece Restoration: Think of a skilled artist restoring a damaged masterpiece. God, our divine Artist, patiently restores and refines us in discipleship, turning the broken areas of our lives into a masterpiece that reflects His glory. (This is implicit in Ephesians 2:8-10, God's "workmanship")
Discipleship is like a Symphony of Unity: Envision a symphony where each instrument plays a crucial role in creating a harmonious melody. Similarly, discipleship emphasizes the unity of believers, each contributing to the beautiful symphony of the Body of Christ as we grow together in Christlikeness. (This is implicit in the idea of harmony: unity among diversity in Scripture.)
Discipleship is like a Mountaineer's Ascent: Picture a mountaineer ascending a challenging peak. Discipleship involves the climb toward greater spiritual heights, with each step drawing us closer to the summit of Christlikeness and a deeper relationship with God. (This is implicit in all the mountain experiences of Christians within the Bible: Abraham, Elijah, Moses, Peter/James/John, and more.)
Discipleship is like a GPS using God's Word: Imagine using a GPS to navigate unfamiliar terrain. God's Word serves as our spiritual GPS in discipleship, guiding us on the path of righteousness and leading us toward a Christlike destination. (This is implicit in the idea of God's guidance of believers.)
Discipleship is like a Oak Tree's Growth: Consider the strength and resilience of an oak tree that grows over many years. Discipleship involves deep roots in God's Word, allowing us to withstand the storms of life and grow into mature, Christlike followers of Jesus. As Rick Warren says, "When God wants to make a mushroom, he takes 60 hours. When he wants to make an oak tree, he takes 60 years. Which do you want to be?"
Feel free to adapt these illustrations to fit the specific context and style of your sermon or teaching on discipleship.