By Nate Keeler, MBC Arlington Campus Pastor
I recently had a conversation with a friend from MBC Arlington who asked me the question, “Is there an ideal way that discipleship should happen?” Great question. This one question leads to many: Is it one-on-one? Older to younger? Peer-to-peer? In a classroom? In a small group? Or is it in a mid-size Bible study? And what should we study? An inductive Bible study? Life topics? Systematic theology? This is just a sampling of the kinds of questions getting serious about discipleship will provoke. Often I will speak to people who are dogmatic and passionate about discipleship happening only one way, and they will have their example from Scripture to prove it! But when we take the time to carefully study the concept of discipleship in Scripture, it is not quite so narrow. There are a few examples of discipleship in one-on-one contexts (Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, Paul and Timothy). While we often exalt this form of discipleship, in reality these examples are few and far between. We also see Jesus model discipleship in a small group of 12 disciples, a large group of the 200+ crowd of disciples that followed him, and also in the intimate group of three: Peter, James and John. While we think of Paul discipling Timothy, he also spent 3 years discipling many students in the School of Tyrannus in Ephesus (Acts 19). Not only does discipleship happen in various environments but in varying types of relationships. Sometimes discipleship is modeled as the older pouring into younger (Paul and Timothy, as well as Titus) and sometimes discipleship has nothing to do with age, as in the case of Pastor Timothy in the church of Ephesus (1 Timothy 4:2).
So what can we learn from this? A couple things come to mind: God loves diversity! One size does not fit all.Throughout your life you will experience many forms of discipleship so don’t limit yourself to only one type. While discipleship takes on many forms there are three principles that unite all discipleship in Scripture.
- Discipleship starts with an intentional leader. More important than age or stage of life, discipleship starts with someone who takes on the mantle of disciple-maker.
- Discipleship takes place in a relational environment. It is impossible to make a disciple or become a disciple outside of relationships. While that seems obvious it cannot be overlooked. This relationship can be in a variety of sizes and shapes, but there is no substitute for life-on-life.
- Discipleship must include theology and practice that can be transferred to others. This is what makes discipleship reproductive. Disciples make disciples. While there is no one set curriculum or formula, it does include “what to believe” (theology) and “how to live” (practice).
Throughout my life I have experienced many different types of discipleship and each has served a key purpose in my development. Take full advantage of the discipleship opportunities God has for you right now!