Three key observations concerning discipleship:
Discipleship is relational
Jesus models a life-on-life relationship of invitation (“come and spend time with me”) and challenge (the call to repent of an earth-bound perspective on life and believe a kingdom-of-heaven perspective). Paul models the same approach, inviting others into relationship, and challenging them to imitate him as he imitates Christ.
Discipleship is relational...contrary to the belief that Jesus disciples us directly through the Holy Spirit (Jesus explicitly charges disciples with the responsibility of making disciples); or that we can be discipled remotely by Christian authors (they can be helpful to us, undoubtedly, but it isn’t discipleship – not least because they cannot engage us in discussion or hold us accountable, essential ingredients in the difference between passing on information and handing on transformation); or that we can deliver discipleship through packaged courses.
Genuine discipleship consistently points the disciple to Jesus, not through abstract ideas, but through embodied evidence of transformation – imperfect yes, but real life examples. The good news (the invitation here) is that we all have relationships, and that you don’t need to be an expert. The challenge is to make some of our relationships intentionally discipleship relationships.
Discipleship is directive
Again, this is because discipleship is concerned with handing on transformation, not passing on information (which can be passed on in other ways). The key questions of discipleship are: what has the discipler learnt, that the disciple needs to learn at this moment? and, how might the thing that the discipler has learnt be applied in the life of the disciple? This second question is important for two reasons: firstly, because we are not concerned with the acquisition of knowledge (what to believe) but with the application of wisdom (how to believe); and secondly, because the outworking of the same wisdom will look different in two different lives.
The implication of discipleship – disciples who go and make disciples who go and make disciples – is that it is not a peer relationship, not a mutual discipling of one another (however valid mutual edification is). In over-prioritising mutual edification, we have effectively contained the momentum of discipleship (rather than one discipling a few, each of whom disciple a few, we tend to gather in groups that ‘disciple’ one another within the contained group, or to seek – potentially conflicting – investment for ourselves from several other voices at once). Discipleship is directive: it is about being led, about following, and about learning to lead, to call others to follow.
Andrew was John the Baptist’s disciple before becoming Jesus’ disciple: I would suggest that Andrew and John were not simply filling time, but that John took Andrew as far as he could – teaching what he had learnt, pointing (literally) to Jesus – at which point someone else (in this case, literally Jesus) took over the role of his discipler – a relationship which lasted three years, before the nature of that relationship, too, moved on.
Likewise, I would suggest that our expectation should be that we learn from someone who is sharing their life with us, and that we invite a few people at a time into our lives to learn from us...and that both the person who is discipling us, and the people we are discipling, will change from time to time as we each in turn journey through the process of becoming disciples who make disciples (a process that moves from unconscious incompetence in any given aspect of our lives, through conscious incompetence and conscious competence, to unconscious competence).
Discipleship involves both being a disciple and making disciples
You can’t make disciples outside of the parameters you have been discipled in (again, not least because all you can do is pass on information rather than hand on transformation)...and you can’t be a disciple unless you are learning to make disciples (that is, you are not the end product or point of this process).
Who is discipling you? Who has discipled you in the past? Who are you inviting into your life, to disciple?