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Biblical discipleship — both being a disciple and making disciples — is the key to walking with Jesus. But what does it mean to be a disciple? What does it mean to disciple someone else? What does the Bible say about discipleship, and where does the church come in?

Let’s start with some definitions of discipleship.

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What is a disciple?

(Discipleship defined)

At Crossworld, we define a disciple as one who is learning to live and love like Jesus and helps others to do the same. Let’s break that down into three parts, or three characteristics of a disciple.

A disciple is a learner.
Being a disciple of Jesus is a lifelong learning process. We move forward and we move backward at times, but we continue on this journey to become like him.
A disciple is learning to live and love like Jesus.
Though we don’t do it perfectly, we are consistently growing in two areas of Christ-likeness:
  1. Living holy lives in obedience to God
  2. Loving people sacrificially
Jesus summed up these characteristics of his disciples in three short verses: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you (John 15:12-14, ESV).
A disciple helps others do the same.
By definition, a disciple is a disciple-maker because he obeys Jesus’ commands — including the command to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). Discipleship is not just about your own relationship with Jesus but about journeying together with others and building the body of Christ, the church.

If you know that you’re a disciple, how do you then make disciples?

“My journey of learning to share about Jesus started with asking God, Help me learn how to make disciples. If he can do this work through me, I’m confident he can do it through you, too. I dare you to ask him!”

— Whitney, a disciple-maker in the U.S.

What is disciple-making?

(Disciple-making defined)

Disciple-making is helping people everywhere to live and love like Jesus by imparting God’s truth through authentic relationships wherever life happens. Disciple-making is about three things: truth, relationship, and life.

The content of disciple-making is God's truth
God’s truth: the content for disciple-making

Our discipleship cur­riculum is the Word of God itself, and our teacher is the Holy spirit. That means we have to know God’s Word and abide in the Spirit in order to disciple someone else.

Authentic relationships are the context for disciple-making
Authentic relationship: the context for disciple-making

Jesus modeled relational disciple-making when he lived among us and chose 12 men to pour his life into. God’s truth is most effectively transmitted through relationship, because love builds trust.

Everyday life is the setting for disciple-making
Everyday life: the setting for disciple-making

Jesus taught his disciples to shepherds in fields and fishermen in boats. God’s truth must not be relegated to scheduled times and artificial environments. It’s best learned in the everyday moments of normal life.

What happens when you passionately pursue God’s truth with another person in the context of a loving relationship where truth is both modeled and taught in real life? Powerful, lasting transformation. That’s how the church grew in the first century and it’s how it will continue to grow today.

How to make discipleship part of your life

(Practical next steps)

You want to make disciples but where do you start? While there is no step-by-step guide for making disciples, here are some ideas to make biblical discipleship a priority in your life.
Spend time every day in God’s Word.
Read through the entire Bible. Study Jesus’ life and the early church. Memorize verses that help you reflect on God’s glory and fight sin. Dig into Scripture every day so that you are ready to share God’s truth.
Be prepared to share God's truth by spending time reading the Bible every day.
Speaking God's truth in everyday conversations
Connect everyday conversations to truth.
Talk about God’s beauty and creativity in nature. Talk about seeking God’s direction in a big decision. Talk about God’s grace when you make a mistake. Talk about a verse you’re memorizing and why it’s important to you. It may seem awkward at first, but the more you do it, the more natural it will become.
Ask God to show you who to disciple.
Pray for God’s leading about who to invest your life in. It may be someone already in your life or he might bring you someone new. Keep your spiritual eyes open for one in whom he is already working.
Pray and ask God for someone to disciple
Making disciples through hospitality and opening your home
Build relationships through hospitality.
Inviting people into your home jumpstarts a relationship. Invite them to share dinner or a holiday with your family. Ask good questions to get to know them, and open up about your life so they can get to know you, too. Look for opportunities to share God’s truth.
Make room in your schedule.
Making disciples takes time. It’s not a once-a-month or even a once-a-week activity. Pray about what you can cut out of your schedule so you can open up room for relationships and unhurried conversations.
Build in time for disciple-making relationships.
Engage in local church discipleship
Engage in your local church.
The church is at the heart of Jesus’ command to make disciples, because it’s through disciple-making that Jesus will build his church. Invest in your church community and allow them to invest in you. Invite them into your discipling relationships and also bring your disciples into the community of faith.

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The Biblical Basis for Discipleship

Looking for an example of discipleship in the Bible? Jesus himself was the perfect example of a disciple-maker. He spent three years calling people to walk with him, teaching them his ways, and empowering them to follow his example. Then, when he was about to leave them, he gave them one final command in Matthew 28:18-20. Many people point to this passage as the biblical basis for discipleship and missions.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

— Matthew 28:18-20

Jesus spoke this final command, known as the Great Commission, to his followers in the first century 2,000 years ago. And it is just as relevant today as it was then.

Here’s what we learn from the Great Commission.

  1. Jesus has all authority, so we must obey his command. At the same time, we can do so with confidence in his power to help us accomplish it.
  2. Our task is to make disciples of all nations. Every person on earth has the right and desperate need to know and follow Jesus. The church must pursue a global vision.
  3. Making disciples includes baptizing new believers into the community of God and teaching them to obey all of Jesus’ commands. Discipleship begins before a person comes to faith and continues as they grow in faith and obedience through the rest of their life.
  4. Jesus promises us his presence forever and always. For such a God-sized task as making disciples, we need this assurance.

Learn more about the four “alls” of the Great Commission.

What do these verses mean for you? Your assignment as a Christian — no matter who you are, where you live, or what you do for a living — is to make disciples of all nations.

How does disciple-making relate to missions?

Disciple-making is at the heart of Jesus’ Great Commission to make disciples of all nations. “All nations” includes your home country, the countries on the other side of the globe, and everywhere in between. You can stay and make disciples where you already live, or you can pack your bags and move to a different country to make disciples in a new culture. That’s what we call global missions.

The Great Commission command to make disciples of all nations is the foundation for global missions.
The purpose of missions is to fulfill the Great Commission. Being a missionary, then, means living and working cross-culturally for the purpose of making disciples.

Do you have what it takes to be a missionary? Read more about the DNA of a cross-cultural disciple-maker and a portrait of a marketplace disciple-maker.

Discipleship resources

Here are some resources to help you keep growing in your journey as a disciple-maker.

  1. Disciple-Making 101 email challenge
    Sign up for our free seven-day email course on discipleship. Each day, get a video lesson on one of the seven essential elements of disciple-making, plus action steps to put it in practice, all delivered straight to your inbox.

  2. A Better Way: Make Disciples Wherever Life Happens by Dale Losch
    This inspiring and practical book will help you understand disciple-making the way Jesus designed. The principles in this book are accessible to everyone, no matter your age, occupation, or stage of life.

  3. Jesus Christ, Disciplemaker by Bill Hull
    How did Jesus disciple 12 lowly fishermen and tax collectors to the point they were ready to revolutionize the world? This book outlines Christ's methods of discipleship and offers a biblical pattern for us to follow.

  4. Imitating Jesus: Love, Friendship, and Disciple-Making by Lewie Clark
    There's no secret formula, nor is there a one-size-fits-all plan for disciple-making, but there are examples to follow. And there are certainly adventures to be had!
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