We all desire to grow spiritually and deepen our relationship with the Lord. The word that is often attached to spiritual growth is discipleship. Many books, programs, and small groups in churches today have "discipleship" somewhere in its title. But in our quest to grow as disciples, we can get overwhelmed with all the options out there. How should we understand discipleship biblically, and what does it look like to grow as a disciple?
As we see in Scripture, a disciple is simply a follower of Jesus Christ. So discipleship is intentionally creating space to help people grow as disciples. There is a clear emphasis on discipleship in the New Testament. Making disciples was central to Jesus's ministry on earth as He invested deeply in a smaller group of men and invited them to follow Him (Matthew 4:19). We see it in the Great Commission as Jesus calls us to continue His work by making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). Discipleship is evident throughout the early church as Paul disciples Timothy so that he could invest in others (2 Timothy 2:2), and older men and women are encouraged to disciple the younger generation (Titus 2:1–7).
Want to experience deeper discipleship? Here are just a few practical tips to help you get started:
Be intentional in pursuing others. It can be intimidating to ask someone to meet with you for discipleship. Who challenges you to grow spiritually? Who encourages you to think of Christ more than yourself? Who is strong in areas where you are weak? Look for believers in your life that have the character and maturity you wish you emulate.
When we read a passage like Titus 2, we start to craft an image of an ideal discipleship relationship. We dream of someone who is at least 20 years older who the Holy Spirit prompts to pick us out of a crowded church lobby and say, "God told me to disciple you! Are you free for coffee tomorrow?" Oh, how nice it would be if it always worked out that way! However, in many cases, we will need to be the ones to take that first step.
Be purposeful with your time. There are many ways we can grow as disciples, from Bible studies to coffee dates over Zoom to classes at church. Whether you are in a discipleship group or desire to pursue discipleship, make sure your time together has a clear focus. Reflect on the following questions as you think about being purposeful with your time:
- How do we spend the bulk of our meeting time?
- Who or what is the focus?
- Is the content focused on self-improvement or greater dependence on Christ?
- What is the greatest benefit of our time together?
- How is God changing me? How is God changing others?
These questions can help you determine if the focus has shifted from the gospel to secondary areas. Regardless of the setting, we can experience deep, life-changing discipleship if we keep the gospel central to our spiritual formation.
In the busyness of life, it can feel like a stretch to consider adding something to your busy calendar. Being purposeful with your time also means utilizing the relationships you already have. Think about how you engage in your local church community, even the weekly corporate gathering. As you sing songs of redemption and mercy, you are reminding yourself and proclaiming to one another the goodness of God. When you listen to your pastor teach through a passage, you are learning how to apply the truths of Scripture to your everyday life. Though it may seem unconventional, the corporate gathering is actually one of the primary ways we are being formed as disciples of Christ in the context of community. Growing as a disciple means growing in greater dependence on our Savior.
Discipleship takes intentionality and a commitment to the Word of God. As we pursue deeper discipleship, let us remember what our ultimate aim is in discipleship. Being a disciple means laying down your preferences in order to take up your cross to follow Jesus. We can sometimes get hyper-focused on the ways we have failed that week or how we will try and do better next time. While it is good and helpful to deal with sin, remember to keep your eyes on Jesus. Our focus in discipleship is not on good behavior but on our Good Shepherd. We are only able to take steps of obedience because we are united to Christ, who perfectly obeyed on our behalf. His Spirit leads and guides us, and we trust that He knows what is best. We do not seek to obtain perfection in the Christian life but only to reflect our perfect Savior.