Much of SEND’s focus is on making disciples as we plant churches around the world. In this post (the first of two by Lynn Karidis; read part two here) we consider being a disciple in the 21st century. Lynn designed and facilitates “Soul Care in the 21st Century,” a spiritual formation retreat that helps believers rest, learn, and reconnect with Jesus.

By Lynn Karidis — The call came after a hard night on the lake. Used to arriving on shore in the morning with lots of fish to sell, on this day Simon had returned with nothing. Yet, after Jesus taught the crowd from a spot on Simon’s boat, Jesus asked him to return to the deep water to let down his nets again. The result was overwhelming. There were so many fish that the nets began to break and Simon signaled his partners for help. James and John sailed over and together they started to haul the huge catch, which began to sink both boats. Astonished, Simon fell to his knees and, claiming to be a sinful man, asked Jesus to leave. Jesus responded by inviting Simon to “catch men” instead of fish. Luke 5:11 tells us that “they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him” (NIV). Thus began the beautiful process of Christian discipleship.

Be Disciples. Make Disciples.

In the pages of the New Testament, we see the disciples following Jesus from city to city, listening to his teaching, and learning to imitate him. How wonderful it must have been to see his face, hear his voice, and experience his ministry with the people. But what about us? We don’t live with Jesus in the flesh. How does a 21st Century person become a disciple? And what does being a disciple look like for us? The answers are both simple and complex. While the basic structure of discipleship can be found in Jesus’ prayer in John 17 and in his commands in Matthew 28, one gleans how to be a disciple from the whole of Scripture.

The basic structure of discipleship

In John 17, we learn that Jesus revealed the Father to the disciples he called, he shared God’s word and plan of salvation with them, and the disciples believed and obeyed. Then Jesus sent the disciples out into the world to share the gospel with others. This pattern holds true for us. We learn about Jesus from others who know him. We hear the call and make a decision to repent and follow Jesus and, in this way, become disciples of Jesus.

In Matthew 28, we learn that discipleship with Jesus is different than with a typical rabbi and his followers. Instead of learning from Jesus in order to gather their own following, Jesus’ disciples are called to make more disciples of Jesus. And they do so by sharing the gospel, baptizing the believers, and teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded. Simple, yet complex. We become disciples instantaneously at the moment of our salvation, but then spend a lifetime learning what Jesus taught and how to obey (a necessary prerequisite for teaching others).

Other thoughts from Jesus

Scripture includes many other passages that inform our journey of discipleship. For example, Luke 9:23-27 and 14:25-35 together tell us to count the cost of discipleship. Those who follow Jesus are asked to value him above all other earthly treasures. They are required to deny themselves, to take up their cross, to follow Jesus, and to live their lives for his sake.

Another significant passage is John 14:15-15:17, where Jesus tells his disciples that if they want to bear fruit, they need to abide in him. There is no other way to become like Jesus other than to spend time with him. Also included in this passage is Jesus’ reminder that those who love him keep his commands—not the least of which is to love others.

A survey of Bible passages on being a disciple would not be complete without the inclusion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7, and Sermon on the Plain, found in Luke 6:17-19. These are meaty passages. There is enough information about discipleship in those passages alone to mature an eager disciple. They present the counterintuitive nature of Christian discipleship and show that living as a disciple in the kingdom of God is radically different than living according to the wisdom of this world.

Discipleship in the early church

The apostles also help us understand what it means to be a disciple. Paul tells us that disciples, like athletes, are disciplined people (1 Cor. 9:24-27). They are people who act in humility with genuine concern for others rather than out of selfish ambition (Phil. 2:1-11). They cultivate the fruit of the spirit rather than the fruit of the sinful nature (Gal. 5:19-26). Other pertinent passages that tell us how to be a disciple include Ephesians 4:17-6:20; Colossians 3:1-4:6; and 1 Peter 1:13-2:3 (please note this list is not exhaustive).

Finally, a passage that helps us understand how the 1st Century church learned all that Jesus commanded is Acts 2:42. We don’t know a lot about what the early church did, but we do know that they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (NIV). This verse contains what are commonly called the “classic means of grace,” which are vehicles God uses to bless, grow, and sanctify us. The early believers not only engaged in these disciplines, but they “devoted” themselves to them. Of all the spiritual disciplines available to disciples of Jesus, these four are essential.

Making it personal

More will be said about the spiritual practices mentioned in Acts 2:42 in the next blog post. In the meantime, you are invited to consider your journey with Jesus. Where are you in the process of becoming or being a disciple? Have you heard a call from Jesus? If you are a disciple, how do you actively keep company with Jesus? To what are you devoted? Discipleship—which involves the making of new disciples—is not a status reserved for a select few dedicated Christians, but is a position with obligations granted to all who choose to follow Jesus. In your journey of being a disciple, have you reached a level of maturity such that you are making new disciples for Jesus?

Be disciples. Make disciples. Let’s do both, together. 

  • How to be a disciple in the 21st century (part 2): Prayer, the Word, fellowship — all are key ingredients that God has provided to help a disciple do what Jesus has commanded.
  • SEND offers resources and stories that illustrate how you can grow in your own discipleship and disciple others, both where you are and around the world. Read more here. 
  • Our internship programs include both practical outreach and personal growth through discipling relationships. Find one that suits your interests. 
  • SEND offers more than 200 opportunities to make disciples around the world. Explore them here. 
  • Sign up for On Mission, SEND’s monthly guide for people who want to become missionaries. Subscribe here, and as a welcome gift, you will receive a free download of a world map that highlights today’s unreached people groups. Together, we can bring them Good News. We can’t wait to join you on the journey!