the weblog of Alan Knox

Replay: There’s a lot of talk about discipleship

Posted by on Jun 1, 2013 in discipleship | 8 comments

Four years ago, I wrote a post called “Alot of talk about discipleship.” There are so many lectures, classes, seminars, sermons series, books, and conferences about discipleship. Some people seem to lead conference after conference on the topic of discipleship… and I honestly wonder when they have time to actually make disciples. Yes, there’s a lot of talk about discipleship… but how much discipleship is actually going on?


Alot of talk about discipleship

Discipleship is about following. A disciple is someone who follows, and making disciples means helping someone follow. Following is about doing the same things that someone else does.

Thus, a disciple of Jesus is someone who follows Jesus. Making disciples of Jesus means helping someone follow Jesus. Following Jesus is about doing the same things that Jesus does.

In my time at seminary, I have heard alot about discipleship. We have been told that our seminary is concerning with the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), in which Jesus tells his followers (disciples) to make disciples. Many professors have exhorted us in class to “be about the Great Commission” and to “make disciples”.

I remember one class in particular. The class was called “Pastoral Ministry”. The class was designed to help vocational pastors carry out their responsibilities. We talked about how to conduct a marriage ceremony, how to baptize, how to serve the Lord’s Supper, how to conduct a business meeting and a deacons’ meeting.

On the last day of the class, the professor asked, “What is your most important responsibility as a pastor?” The students gave many different answers. Finally, the professor said, “Your most important responsibility as a pastor – and as a Christian – is to make disciples.”

The professor then moved on to another topic. For the next several minutes, I contemplated what the professor said. Eventually, the professor asked if there were any questions. I raised my hand.

“You said earlier that our most important responsibility is to make disciples. Since I’ve been in seminary, I’ve heard that we should be making disciples. We’ve been told to carry out the Great Commission, which is to make disciples. But, what do you mean by ‘make disciples’? Do you mean that we should lead ‘discipleship classes’? Do you mean that we should go on mission trips around the world? Do you mean that we should have prayer meetings? What do you mean when you say ‘make disciples’?”

The professor stopped for a moment. Then, he gave the best advice that I’ve heard in a seminary classroom.

He said, “All of those things can be included in discipleship, but none of those things are discipleship. When I say that we should ‘make disciples’, I mean that we should spend time with other brothers and sisters in Christ and help them do the things that Jesus did. We help them serve others and teach others. While classes can be part of this, primarily discipleship happen when we live our lives among one another. It happens in our homes and at restaurants, in parks and stores. We disciples when we drive somewhere together, work together, eat together, anytime we spend time together. And, in order to make disciples, we must spend alot of time with the people that we discipling – and most of the time should be outside of the classroom.”

I asked him, sincerely, “If discipleship is so important, then why is this the first time I’ve heard anything like this from someone at the seminary?” Many of the students around me nodded in agreement. (I thought, but didn’t ask, “And, if this type of discipleship is our most important responsibility, why was it an after-thought – an answer to a question – in this class?”)

I’ve noticed that it is much, much easier to talk about discipleship than to actually do it. It is much easier to prepare a lecture about discipleship than to spend time with someone else. It is easier to give a sermon series on discipleship than to help someone serve others. It is much easier to write a book about discipleship than to invite someone into our lives.

There is alot of talk about discipleship and the importance of discipleship.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 6-1-2013

    Alan, you’re alluding to the truth that we both as individuals and as local churches, live out our mission statement everday. However, it may not be what is written at the entryway or in the church bulletin. Those ‘mission statements’ can often be ‘what we’d like to be and this sounds really good’ statements.

    Doubtless you’ve covered this in one of your ‘Scripture as we live it’ posts. May I add the following….

    Mt 28:19,20 “ Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them when and if you can get a commitment from some of them, , and teaching them to hold really good meetings where you kind of talk about Me (along with good music though), obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I should be satisfied with that and you always can look forward to the very end of the age.”

  2. 6-1-2013

    This post and another one on discipleship earlier in the week have really blessed and encouraged me. While not easy, the concept of making disciples as helping people follow Jesus is simple. How encouraging!

    Again this is simple, but not easy. I think it is actually easier to set up a class or seminar or whatever to impart knowledge. There’s nothing wrong with this of course, but a few years ago I realized I had more biblical and theological knowledge than most people I know, and yet wasn’t much of a disciple. Regardless how much a person knows, a disciple follows Jesus.

    It seems like the church has equated discipleship with education. And if there is a problem with discipleship we just seek to do more education. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

    Thank you for these posts, Alan. You have helped me greatly and revolutionized my thinking. This actually gets me excited about making disciples!

  3. 6-2-2013


    I like the part about “mission statements.” Perhaps we should change them to “life statements” – as in, this is how we really live, even if it’s not what we want.


    I appreciate your comment. And, yes, it is simple but not easy. Thank you for bringing up the fact that educating people (even with right information) is not the same thing as discipleship.


  4. 6-3-2013

    Discipleship is a big buzz-word in missions right now. I recently attended the Global Discipleship Congress in Manila, attended by 7000 people. Unfortunately, in all the talk about discipleship, the core of it, which I believe is community, very seldom comes up. For most churches and church leaders, discipleship is a program that you run people through and then “release” them to go out and make a difference and impact the world. Then these church leaders experience the disappointment when all they have are churches full of people who feel guilty about not discipling enough, waiting for the next discipleship course that is going to be the “big one” that’s really going to change the world.

    Discipleship only effectively happens in a shared-life community. Most of it is informal, almost all of it is modeled and very little of it is taught in the academic sense of the word.

  5. 6-4-2013


    Yes, exactly. I love this: “Discipleship only effectively happens in a shared-life community.”


  6. 6-5-2013

    Well you know what I think about “discipleship”. Paul never mentions it – Peter never mentions it – James never mentions it – and John never mentions it. So why is something of such huge importance not even mentioned in any of the epistles?

    Effectively – the last scripture in the New Testament about it is this: (Acts 20:30) Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.

    Every movement I’ve ever gotten close to – it ends up being YOU follow ME – instead of YOU following CHRIST – or me assisting you in following Christ. And yes – it is totally impossible outside of community. And yes – the last real mention of it in scripture is a warning and that for very good reason.

  7. 6-5-2013

    Actually – Matt 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15-18 are parallel passages. Matthew said “Go and make disciples” – and Mark told you what a “disciple” looks like.

    These two passages are identical really – just two different view points – of the common experience they had with Jesus. Yet some people look at Mark 16 like it’s a freak show or something. The freak show is what the devil does to people – and it needs a powerful response.

    From Mark 16:

    A true “disciple” Believes, is baptized, tells others the “Good News” and assists them in believing and being baptised – casts out devils, speak in new tongues, gets their hands very dirty in helping others out of their messes – when they attack you with all kinds of stuff (i.e. handling snakes and feeding you poison trying to kill you). And an aside – lay hands on the sick and see God heal them. Mark tells you exactly what “Go and make disciples” means.

    You can translate that into ‘operate in spiritual gifts’ – or ‘open up hospitals’ – and maybe it means both. The idea is this – disciples of Jesus are about Jesus’ business.

  8. 6-9-2013


    Different authors used different terms, but the idea of helping each other follow Jesus is found throughout Scripture.