Ligonier Ministries, founded by the late, great R.C. Sproul, just released its bi-annual survey, their effort to explore what “Americans believe about God, salvation, ethics, and the Bible.” Known as The State of Theology, the survey takes the “theological temperature of the United States to help Christians better understand today’s culture and to equip the church with better insights for discipleship.”
And that’s exactly what I want to talk about in this article: discipleship.
Before we explore discipleship, we must first define disciple. To be a disciple simply means to be a follower or a student of a teacher. Christians are disciples of Christ because we follow Jesus and in the way of Jesus. In Acts, the first Christians often referred to themselves as belonging to “the Way” (Acts 9:2).
So all Christians are disciples — but what is discipleship? Mark Dever defines discipleship as “helping others follow Jesus” or simply “doing intentional spiritual good to others.” As disciples, we both disciple and are discipled; we help others follow Jesus and we let others help us follow Jesus as well. You can think of it as living out all of the “one another” passages from the New Testament, such as loving, encouraging, comforting, confronting, and helping one another.
Because we live in a hyper-individualistic day and age, these ancient Christian commands may sound foreign to our ears. After all, you need to have some “others” around so you can “one another” and be “one anothered.” The Bible knows nothing about “Lone Ranger” Christians.
But maybe you’re reading this as a Christian and you have been going at it alone, and you want that to change. Maybe you’re a member of a church, but don’t attend regularly. Maybe you’re a young Christian looking to grow or a lifelong disciple of Christ looking to help others grow. Whomever you are, and whatever stage of life you’re in, I want to offer three simple steps for helping jumpstart your discipleship.
Let’s go back to the Ligonier survey for a moment. Many Christian leaders expressed concern over the 2022 results, which show a lack of proper theological knowledge among many Christians. But in my opinion, the most concerning response might have been the results from Statement No. 24, which asked respondents if they agreed with this claim: “Every Christian has an obligation to join a local church.” For the general “U.S. Adult Finding” the responses were 36 percent agree vs. 56 percent disagree. For the “U.S. Evangelical Finding” 68 percent agreed vs. 26 percent who disagreed.
These results reveal some serious confusion about the role of church membership in the life of a Christian. Again, a Christian is a disciple of Christ, one who follows in His footsteps. Disciples are meant to value what their teacher values — or they aren’t very faithful disciples.
Jesus valued the Church. Not only did He establish the Church as the New Covenant community of His followers (Matt. 16 and 18), but through the Spirit inspiring the author of Hebrews, He made it clear that church membership is a matter of obedience. Hebrews 10:24-25 says,
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Consider the phrase, “not giving up meeting together.” To put it positively, it means, “Keep going to church!” If you want to be a faithful disciple of Christ, you need to be in a good church.
If you went to a physical trainer and asked how to get in shape, he would tell you to go to the gym. It’s the same with church for the Christian. We can’t expect to be in good spiritual shape if we ignore the primary, God-given means for growth in our faith — the local church.
God’s Word is the fuel for our spiritual gas tanks. Or, as Peter puts it, “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord” (1 Peter 2:2-3).
When it comes to being discipled, or discipling someone else, if you don’t know where to start, start with the Bible. In fact, the Bible should be a major component of all of our discipleship, both personal, interpersonal, and corporate (that is, in church).
If you feel sluggish in your own walk along “the Way,” then the best thing you can do is start reading the Bible regularly. If you are in an intentional discipling relationship, or just starting one (say with a fellow church member or your housemate), try going through a New Testament epistle, like Galatians or Ephesians, using the “OIA” method. Take a passage, read through it, and 1) Observe what it says, 2) Interpret what it means, and then 3) Apply it to your life.
God’s Word is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12), and we know that God promises that it will not return to Him empty (Isaiah 55:11). If you want to jumpstart your discipleship, get in God’s Word.
Finally, take time where you can make time to be discipled and to disciple others. What do I mean? I fear that too many Christians, if they are focused on joining arms with other believers to grow together, often think it has to be a solid 60-minute session every time, with a fixed program of prayer, Bible reading, accountability, and updates.
Of course, I recommend having that sort of relationship with at least one other believer, specifically a member of your local church.
But discipleship can happen in any number of different settings. If you are a mother, you can invite women over to your home to help you with kids and household tasks and talk about life while you’re at it. If you are a single man, ask an elder at your church if you can meet him for lunch or coffee. If you’re an older, wiser father in the faith, invite a few younger men in your church to run errands with you on Saturday — and make sure to have an intentional conversation as you go.
Discipleship isn’t about being buttoned-up or “Insta-worthy.” It’s about spurring one another on to love and good deeds, confessing sin, and growing in our faith as we run towards Heaven together (Hebrews 12:1-3). Look at Titus 2:1-8 for more Spirit-inspired examples of this.
There are certainly more than three ways to help build consistent patterns of discipleship in your own life, but I would suggest the three I am providing here are critical building blocks.
First, make sure to join a local, faithful, Gospel-preaching church. Second, get in God’s Word, both on your own and with others. Third, take time where you can make time to spend with other Christians and members of your church. Taking these steps will help ensure that you stay on the narrow road “that leads to life” (Mark 7:14) — and you will help others stay on it as well.
The Lord genuinely knows that we need this help. Pray that He would provide this in your life, even as you seek to provide it to others.
Follow William on Twitter! @William_E_Wolfe
Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.