From the General Secretary: How to Make Deeper Disciples
By Tom De Vries
What is a disciple? Ask your pastor that question this coming Sunday. What is a clear, concise, and biblical definition of discipleship?
Let’s look to Jesus. Last words are lasting words: Jesus’ last words to his disciples and to us were a simple command: “Go and make disciples…” (Matthew 28:19, NIV).
Jesus uses a wonderful word to help us understand the heart of his last words: mathēteuō. We translate the word as “disciple,” and it means something like pupil, student, or apprentice—essentially, one who learns. A disciple is a learning follower of Christ.
Often the church thinks of disciple-making as a command for evangelism and sharing the gospel and as the foundation for global mission. While Jesus’ instruction certainly includes leading people to a spiritual decision or a faith declaration, it also goes beyond that.
Jesus sends us out not just to collect converts, but to help people follow Christ and, in our own following, to be disciples who are growing in our faith and our love for the Lord. To make progress in its mission, the church must not simply look for a one-time profession of faith but must help cultivate a lifetime of holiness, obedience, and spiritual growth.
In John 8:31, Jesus says, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples.”
Disciple-making involves not just attracting non-believers but also developing followers of Christ who have learned what he taught and are committed to living it out in their daily lives. It is more than the transfer of information. It includes imitating the teacher’s life, assimilating the teacher’s values, and reproducing the teacher’s teachings.
As we become devoted disciples, learning the teachings of Jesus and putting them into action, we experience being transformed—becoming a new creation—and transforming—becoming more and more like Christ.
In growing to know and love Jesus more, we will both embody and express that love. In deepening our faith, we will begin to walk more faithfully. In seeking to apprehend and comprehend the teachings of Christ, we will develop into learning followers of Jesus.
Radically following Christ in mission together leads us to a place of deeper disciple-making, of helping followers of Christ learn more fully what Jesus taught us, and of being a community of disciples who live and love like Jesus.
Tom De Vries is general secretary of the Reformed Church in America.
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