Sample Essay On Concepts Of Discipleship
Principles of Christian Discipleship
Principle 1: Disciples Must Be Called
Christian discipleship is exclusively rooted in Christ (Jn. 15.1-2). It is a special call from Christ as no person can choose to be a disciple by himself (Jn. 15.16). It is a fruit of discernment, of discerning the call of Christ for discipleship. It is not necessary to have met Christ earlier or have taken personal initiative to follow Christ to become a disciple. Peter and the two sons of Zebedee (James and John) were fishermen who knew not Jesus before the call came (Lk. 5.1-11). Christian discipleship, thus, begins the call to follow Jesus and imitate His ways (Ryan 8, 13).
Moreover, desiring to become Christ’s disciple will not make him a disciple. A person cannot just say, “I want to become a disciple of Christ,” and then simply become one. Christ must call him first. In John 15.16, Christ said “You did not choose me, no, I chose you.” Being saved or healed by Christ does not even make a person disciple of Christ. In Luke 8.38, the man whom Christ expelled devils from asked to stay with Him as a disciple. But Jesus refused, and instead sent him home. The call to discipleship is personal (Ryan, 13). Its purpose too is personal, which will only be unfolding in the history of lives and events in it.
Principle 2: Disciples Have a Personal Relationship with Christ
Since the call to discipleship is a personal one, the response too is personal (Ryan 13). Life is lived each day in an intimate, personal relationship with Christ (14). Discipleship too grows from intimately knowing or communing with Jesus (Mk. 8.21; Jn. 1.10-12). ‘Bearing much fruit’ (Jn. 15.8) is the condition of discipleship, without which any Christian has not become a true disciple yet. When the Lord speaks, the disciple know it is Him, like Peter (Ac. 10.9-20) or Ananias (Ac. 9.10-16), and not someone else (Jn. 10.8). A disciple recognizes an emissary of God, like Cornelius (Ac. 10.3-6) or Philip (Ac. 8.26-27).
Principle 3: Disciples Should Be Connected to Christ
Becoming disciples of Christ means becoming branches of Jesus who is the true vine (Jn. 15.5) like the Apostles were. Becoming disciples today means becoming connected to the Apostles of Jesus; “whoever remains in me, with me in him” (Jn. 15.6). Remaining connected to the Apostles means remaining connected to Jesus, as branches of branches. This connectedness is important for discipleship as seen in the behavior of Paul after his conversion (Ac. 9.26-27). He had to present himself to the Apostles for recognition as a new member of the discipleship.
Beyond Baptism, this connection with Christ as disciples with specific missions to fulfill involves the laying of the hands of the Apostles and their delegates (Ac 6.6). It is understandable that since the Apostles practiced the laying of the hands, the action must be coming from Christ when He was still with them. This norm in creating the branches of branches, disciples of disciples, from the true vine, which is Christ the Master, was the norm preferred by Christ for His disciples from then to today. That’s exactly what Paul meant when he said, “Take me for your model, as I take Christ” (1 Cor. 11.1).
Principle 4: Discipleship is in Communion with Others.
The call to discipleship is not heard in isolation. Other disciples helped mediate the Lord’s call to others (Ryan 14). In John 1.35-42, John the Baptist mediated the discipleship of Andrew and Andrew mediated the call for Peter. Philip also mediated the call to Nathaniel (Jn. 1.44-51). This is a communion of love according to John 13.35 (Harrington and Patrick 24).
Principle 5: The Outcome of Discipleship is Friendship with Christ
The outcome of Christian discipleship is friendship with Christ and knowing the Father’s will through Him (Jn. 15.15). Christ will tell the disciple what the Father continually reveals to Him. Moreover, he knows His business. That knowledge will guide him through life.
Principle 6: The Disciple Follows Christ and His Will
The post-resurrection Church testifies on the great obedience of the early Christians. In addition to the Apostles and Paul, disciples, like Ananias, had been images of total obedience to the Lord. The disciple cannot say no to Jesus. Saying “no” to Jesus is to let go the priceless chance to become His disciple (Mt. 19.22). Moreover, following Jesus means letting go of material attachments. In the same way that His life had only one mission: to do His Father’s will; the one mission of a disciple is also to follow the will of his Father in Heaven (Ryan 14). Following the Lord, however, takes a lifetime to do. Discipleship is a total way of life, requiring constant conversion every step of the way (Ryan 15).
Principle 7: A Disciple Is Meant to Work in Christ’s Behalf
Principle 8: A Disciple Willingly Pays the Price of Discipleship
Discipleship is not easy as it involves personal costs. First, discipleship requires the denial of self in order to follow God’s will in carrying the daily cross (Lk. 9.23-24). In Christian life, losing life in following God’s will is the core of life. It is not about gaining something for the self. Instead, it is gaining others for the Lord. Second, discipleship promises abundance of graces not of material possessions (Jn. 10.10; Mt. 19.22). Grace without effort is “cheap grace” (Bonhoeffer 44). Discipleship demands for a “costly grace,” putting all cravings for the self.
Effective and Authentic Discipling Ministry
Context of the Discipling Ministry
Any Christian ministry should emerge in the context of Christ’s ministry. It is modeled upon the Lord’s ministry and that of His Apostles who succeeded Him in tending the Kingdom of God. This modeling standard is meant for Christ to be handed down by His Apostles to their disciples. Authentic modeling is necessary to ensure that the disciples of today receive the same authentic faith that the Apostles received from Jesus and the subsequent disciples throughout the millennia received from the Apostles. Apart from a long line of apostolic modeling, a Christian discipling ministry loses its authenticity and turns into a human socio-religious endeavor, not a divine ministry that the Lord taught to His Apostles and disciples.
The Ministerial Mission and Formation
The discipling ministry is a task that Christ gave to His disciples, not just to anyone; “I commissioned you to go out and to bear fruit” (Jn. 15.16). It is interesting to know that Jesus did not commission just anyone outside the small circle of Apostles and disciples. One reason for this can be found in John 15.2b-3 (“and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more. You are pruned already by means of the word I have spoken to you”). The disciples have been trained and formed for the task that He commissioned them to perform. Disciples tasked to continue His ministry must be formed by Him. Such formation or “pruning” will be handed down to generations of Apostles like teachers handing out their ways to their students who later became teachers too.
Another reason for this is people outside the circle of Apostles and disciples do not know Christ as a person and who sent Him; the sheep that did not know Jesus as a person, or recognize His voice (Jn. 10.16b), are not His sheep (Jn. 10.14) and “because they do not know the one who sent me” (Jn. 15.21). That explains the importance of Apostolic witnessing in the propagation of Christianity throughout the millennia. The eyewitnesses of the Lord’s life (His Apostles and disciples) shared their witness to their respective disciples like a teacher preparing his student to take on the role of a teacher that was no longer an eyewitness. Disciples cannot make disciples unless they learned from true disciples (Harrington and Patrick 24). All books and letters in the New Testament constitute that witnessing from generations of disciples to generations of disciples with each generation forming those following them to continue the mission. The structure of the discipling ministry is the structure created by Jesus, the true vine who gave out many direct branches, who themselves gave out new branches through the ages.
Furthermore, Jesus sent the disciples to mission with the authority emanating from Heaven through Him: “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me Go, therefore And know that I will be with you always; yes, to the end of time” (Matt. 28.18-19, 20).
Universality, Internationality and Completeness of the Mission
In Matt. 28.19-20, Jesus commissioned his disciples: “Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you.” Two elements emerge from these orders. First, the scope of the mission is universal (that is, all people) or international (that is, all nations). The Gospel of the Kingdom of God should reach all people in all nations. The disciples of Jesus should make disciples of all people in all nations. Second, all that the Lord taught the disciples should be taught to all people in all nations. He did not mean all that “will be written” about Him because at that time not even the disciples wrote about Jesus. He meant all that He taught them.
Later on, some decades after His ascension, two Apostles (Matthew and John) wrote their personal gospels about Jesus; four Apostles (Peter, James, John, and Jude) wrote their universal letters (i.e., for all Christians); and then Paul wrote his pastoral letters to the churches he helped establish, as their way of reaching out to their growing number of disciples beyond Jerusalem. John concluded his gospel, saying: “There were many other things that Jesus did; if all were written down, the world itself, I suppose, would not hold all the books that would have to be written” (21.25). Discipleship that does not embrace all people in all nations is not the discipleship the Lord taught and handed down to His Apostles and disciples.
Foundations of the Discipling Ministry
In Matt. 28.19-20, Jesus made it clear that all that He taught His disciples should be preached to all people in all nations. The foundation of the discipling ministry is Jesus (the True Vine) and His disciples and their disciples (the branches of the branches). And we learned about them through the written records they left behind, which include the gospels, the apostolic letters, and all other teachings not recorded in the Bible but transmitted from disciples to disciples since the time of the Apostles by word of mouth (John 21.25). Some of these teachings appear in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, a group of disciples bishops who are direct disciples of the Apostles (i.e., apostolic disciples) or their direct disciples, who wrote about what they received from the Apostles, such as Ignatius of Antioch [AD 30-107] and Polycarp of Smyrna [AD 65-155] who are fellow disciples of John (Schaff 67); Irenaeus [AD 120-202], a student of Polycarp (443); and Clement of Rome [AD 30-100], a Gentile convert of Paul (5).
The structure of a discipling ministry should be founded from the structure of the Lord’s disciples. The Lord constitutes the pastor and teacher, while the Apostles and the rest of the followers as the disciples. As mentioned earlier, the office of the pastor was handed down through the laying of hands or ordination. The Apostles laid their hands on appointed disciples called to certain offices within the Church, such as preaching, administration, etc. Thus, there are disciples who are ordained ministers and those who are non-ordained. The ordained ministers tend to the flock of non-ordained disciples in the same manner that the Lord directed Peter to feed His sheep (Jn. 21.15-17; Hoyos, et al. [Theological Principles] para.3).
Ron Bennett and John Purvis (162) proposed a cumulative Diamond Model in discipling, which showed a three-structure organization consisting of the elements: discipler, disciple, and believer. The discipler is the more experienced disciple who is qualified to form new disciples. Disciplers, to be authentic, need to belong to the long line of disciplers that the Apostles and their disciples laid their hands over (ordained disciples) and trained in discipleship. Such formation developed and equipped in him the competence to form new disciples in ways consistent with the practices of the Apostles. The disciples (ordained) are for believers (non-ordained disciples) who made a commitment to devote his life to be an ordained disciple of Christ and His Apostles. So the disciplers took the disciples under their wings prepare them for the ordination and guide them in their ministerial life. Conversely, the believers are former non-believers that the disciples successfully introduced to the gospel and joined the Church through Baptism. In the structure of the discipling ministry, the disciples are the ones directly serving the believers according to Christ’s order to Peter to “feed” His sheep.
Desired Outcomes and Criteria for Success
The outcomes of discipling ministry depends upon people keeping the words of Christ; “If they keep my word, they will keep yours as well” (Jn. 15.20). And it will be to the account of Christ that success in the ministry rests; “But it will be on my account that they will do all this, because they do not know the one who sent me” (Jn. 15.21).
There are four criteria for a successful discipling ministry. First, new disciples are made as legitimate disciples of a long line of authentic discipleship connected to the branches of disciples growing from Christ and His Apostles. The foundation of Christ and His Disciples guarantees the authenticity of the discipleship formation. If this line breaks, those ministerial branches growing from the broken branches will lose the authenticity of this branch’s discipleship as separation from the true vine separates the ministry from the Lord. Second, the new disciples are growing to live the eight principles of discipleship discussed in the previous section. Although these principles are not exhaustive, they strongly represent the characteristics of true apostolic disciples. Third, the new disciples are starting bear spiritual fruits as time go by and have attracted and helped develop new disciples. Fourth, the discipling ministry represents a universal and international character as it grows, on its own, into a fruitful branch of the long lines of fruitful apostolic branches.
Discipling ministry finds its life and meaning in the ministry of Christ. The discipleship ministry presented here provides an authentic Christian model guaranteed by the formative intervention and care of the apostolic disciples, without which any talk of discipleship will be hollow no matter the long list of purported biblical rationale. Biblical citation is far removed from authentic witnesses of Christ from the Twelve to their disciples’ disciples connected in grace life branches of the branches of the True Vine, like a research paper compared to the authentic life of its subjects despite the complexity of statistical analysis. Authenticity is living the gospel, not only reading it, and staying truly connected to the Apostles of Christ.
Discipleship eventually calls disciples to a ministerial life in communion with the ordained and non-ordained disciples, both organic members of the Kingdom of God. Ordained discipleship demands full commitment from the responding disciple; demanding even more for others in the service of the Kingdom of God. The non-ordained disciples, though, are not without missions on their own. Theirs is the mission of directly transforming this world into the image of God through the abundance of love, channeled through them. Both unique forms of discipleship services the same Master though, and moves towards the same goal: winning this world for Him.
Lord, may your call be heard by the disciples you want to share in your discipling ministry. We glorify you for the purchasing us from sin; thank you for your friendship that saves. Grant us the grace we need in the specific discipleship you have called us to be. Amen.
Bennett, Ron and Purvis, John. The Adventure of Discipling Others: Training in the Art of
Disciplemaking Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003. Print.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship New York: Touchstone, 1959. Print.
Harrington, Bobby and Patrick, Josh. Discipleship Handbook: 6 Elements of a Discipleship
Lifestyle (Revised) USA: Discipleship.org. Print.
Hoyos, Dario C., et al. Ecclesiae de Mysterio: On Certain Questions Regarding the
Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of the Priest Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997. Print.
Ryan, Sylvester D. Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, 10th Edition. Washington, D.C.: United
States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2002. PDF file.
Schaff, Philip. The Apostolic fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus Grand Rapids, MI:
Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1886. Print.
The Jerusalem Bible. Ed. Alexander Jones. UK and NY: Darton, Longman & Todd, Ltd. and
Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1966. Print.
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