First we must ask what discipleship is. We could probably come up with a few differing definitions. Here's my take on the subject: Biblical discipleship occurs when followers of Jesus Christ come alongside one another and assist one another in growing both closer to Christ and in greater Christlikeness.
Let me also briefly say that biblical discipleship is not something that is confined to a building or class on a Sunday afternoon. It can begin there, but can't be limited to that time or location.
What are some of the characteristics of biblical discipleship? Below are a few I've though of:
1. The goal of discipleship is continuing Christian maturity.
After God saves someone, that person has the rest of his life to grow closer to Jesus and become more conformed to His image. Amazingly, God in his grace uses each of us in the church to spur one another along toward maturity in Jesus Christ. As we walk down the path of sanctification, we should gradually live holier lives as we come to know the Lord more fully each day.
2. Discipleship is word-based and Spirit-led.
The bible guides our discipleship. In other words, we know the standards for discipleship by looking in the pages of scripture. It is the Holy Spirit who directs what we are becoming by pointing out God's truths in the pages of the bible.
We can't simply make up what we think we should be. Discipleship is not some sort of subjective process. Instead, we do well to study scripture together and then strive to live this out in changed lives day-by-day.
We make a mistake and show a poor understanding of discipleship if we think it amounts to a bible study alone.
3. Discipleship is most effective when it occurs in community.
Churches should be communities of believers who are sharing lives together. This will, of course, look somewhat different in various locations and cultures. Despite differences, however, the churches remain communities. This means that the people really know each other.
In this real life setting, effective discipleship occurs most readily. Real life provides many instances where the church can come together and serve others. In the midst of these opportunities, discipleship can be lived out. But how can these things happen if the church is not really a community?
Real relationships are a wonderful breeding ground for true biblical discipleship.
4. Discipleship is reciprocal in nature.
There is a sense in which discipleship may flow more from mature Christians to those who are less mature. Someone who has faithfully followed the Lord for numerous years will have much to teach/show a brand-new Christian. Additionally, it is elders' primary responsibility to shepherd the flock toward maturity and holiness in Christ.
However, there is also a sense in which discipleship is reciprocal. When we read the epistles we see the terms "one another" and "each other" over and over again. Most of these are exhortations to holy living to the church. Each person is to have a positive impact on the others. We can all, in one way or another, be discipled by others. A new Christian may not know as much bible as others, but they often tend to see the needs of the lost more clearly than anyone else.
We are in a dangerous spot if we ever begin thinking that we can only be discipled by biblical scholars. If that's the case, it only proves that we are still in desperate need of discipleship.
5. Discipleship leads to action.
Biblical discipleship leads to changed lives. This is much more than intellectual knowledge. It is knowledge in action. In particular, it is increased knowledge that leads to increased holiness of life, service to others inside and outside the church family, and sharing the gospel with the lost. No action = no discipleship.
What else is involved in biblical discipleship? What might you add to this list?