Who is a disciple?

Today’s blog post is taken from a book by Aubrey Malphurs. The book, Strategic Disciplemaking, malphursaddresses what it means to be a disciple, how Christ made disciples, and what the church’s responsibility is today in the disciple-making process. Malphurs addresses (actually corrects) an all-too prevalent view that disciples must necessarily be committed believers – believers who go the extra mile to mature as followers of Christ. Here are Malphur’s thoughts about disciples and disciple-making:

Based on my ministry and research, the most common view of discipleship within the seminary and churches, currently and in the past few centuries, is that a disciple is a committed believer. Those who hold to this view argue that a disciple is a believer in Christ, but a believer is not necessarily a disciple. Thus a disciple is one who has committed his or her life to growing in the faith and serving Jesus, no matter the personal cost…this model implies that there are basically two kinds or classes of Christians in the church. The first are ordinary believers, and the second are committed believers who are following Christ as his disciples. And all of us who are believers fall into one category or the other…

As we have seen, the Scriptures are clear that a disciple is not necessarily a believer  who has committed his or her life to following the Savior, but simply a believer. Committed believers are committed disciples. Uncommitted believers are uncommitted disciples. In the book of Acts, Luke uses the term disciple for believers regardless of their commitment to Christ (Acts 6:1-2, 7; 9:1,26; 11:26; 14:21-22; 15:10; 18:23; 19:9)…disciples in the books of Acts were synonymous with believers…the concept of biblical discipleship begins when a person accepts Christ…the Bible does not teach that there are two kinds of classes of Christians that make up the church. Scripture does not draw a line in the sand between ordinary Christians and active Christians…The ultimate goal of the Great Commission is to produce mature believers. Once a person comes to faith, he or she begins the journey toward maturity. The reality is that all Christians are living at some point along the discipleship or maturity continuum. Some are farther along and more committed than others.

If every Christian is a disciple (just at a different points along the maturity continuum), then there are implications to those of us who lead groups or oversee groups ministry in our churches. Have you thought of a disciple as someone who is ultra committed to following Christ? Someone who memorizes vast amounts of Scripture? A person who is present whenever the doors of the church are open? Or do you accept the scriptural teaching that every believer is a disciple in need of maturing? Many of the people you may lead are at the beginning end of the discipleship continuum, even though they may have been believers for years. Others are maturing and progressing as they should. But all are in need of continual encouragement and opportunities to grow as followers of Christ.

We’re all disciples. We all need to grow and mature in Christ. Are we providing plenty of opportunities for less mature and maturing believers to choose options that help them advance to the mature side of the discipleship continuum?


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