What is Discipleship?

disciples photoJesus instructed his followers to “go and make disciples.” But what does that mean? He didn’t exactly leave detailed instructions. But wait, maybe he did that on purpose? What if, by his exclusion of methodologies, he was purposefully trying to avoid them?

I believe that is exactly what Jesus did. He wasn’t being ambiguous to make it difficult for us to know the truth, or to enshroud it in a mystery that only a select few can know. What he did was to make the playing field as interactive as humanly possible. Discipleship is about the return to authentic humanness, not another guessing game of made-up principles couched in doctrinal adornment and religious trappings.

There is already enough going around the world to entomb the Life that God created us for, and that we can now have in Jesus Christ. We don’t need any extra distractions. Once people begin to think, “We got this,” it’s likely a sure sign that they do not.

So what did Jesus mean by, “make disciples?” What details did he leave us with?


As the caterpillar, a peculiar looking and awkward critter, goes into the chrysalis and emerges a majestic, winged creature, so does the brother or sister in Christ go through a process of transformation. Discipleship is a community that cooperates with this process, each in one another’s life. Transformation is solely the work of God, so that no one may boast or lord over another. Discipleship is not a hierarchy or pyramid, but rather the goal is to lift each member of the body into the fullness of life and purpose in Christ Jesus.

Jesus’ work with his followers was to see that they reach their full potential a human beings. His call upon their life was not based on the usual factors: talent, wealth, power, and prestige. He was looking for hearts that were open, and he called upon the ordinary men of the world to facilitate an extraordinary transformation process.

The role of a discipler is to call upon other humans, to help them to wake from sleep, and to aid in the Spirit’s work of seeing them changed into the magnificent beings that God knows that they can be.

Follow Him to the Father

Jesus set the stage by inviting others to follow him. This implies observation, demonstration, and imitation. “Watch me, friends. I’m going to show you how it’s done. Then, you do the same as me.” Discipleship is a culture of influence and freedom to choose as we learn what is good and right from our Daddy in heaven. It is not a hierarchy of egos who lord over one another and control what others do.

It is good to tell people what we mean, but it is infinitely better to show them. People are looking for a demonstration, not an explanation.
― Robert E. Coleman, Master Plan of Evangelism, The

For Jesus, influence began with his Father. He repeatedly made it clear that he only did what his Father told him to do, and said what his Father told him to say. The only name by which he called upon God is “Father”, and he shared with his followers that it is the name of God.

A father is a shepherd, a teacher, a leader, and protector of a family. A father is the chief lover of the family core. Jesus is telling us that God is as accessible as a daddy is meant to be, and that He is there waiting to teach and guide us into all things. I believe that if Jesus wants us to know anything, it is that we are all sons and daughters of the same Father, and that Father is accessible.

Discipleship means to follow Jesus in the same way that he followed the Father. This is the first discipline of a follower of Jesus. It is to learn to look to Him over all others, and to obey His voice even when everyone else seems to disagree with Him.


Oneness, or integral wholeness, is a result of discipleship. Oneness is a concept that is foreign to this world, and is not often readily understood, although it is readily recognized. Oneness happens when a disciple abides. Jesus taught to abide in him and to abide in his word.

To abide is to stay. It is to not leave. To keep oneself present. It is to be immersed. It is not passive. Whereas water baptism is to enter sonship and is the unification of one’s spirit with the Father’s, abiding is to stay in that unification. Abiding requires humility, which is to know one’s place and to keep oneself there. Abiding is essential to the Oneness of the human with God and with other human beings.

the big lebowski photo

The Dude abides. I don’t know about you but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowin’ he’s out there. The Dude. Takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners.” – The Big Lebowski

The key is to abide in Christ, and we practice this through his word. We no longer live by our feelings or according to the whim of our egos. Those impostors would keep us enslaved forever. We live the word of Jesus, which is truth and it sets us and others free.

Discipleship is about cultivating that freedom both in ourselves and in others. As we abide in Jesus, others see and sense it. It is the righteous state of being. As others are attracted to the state of life as it is meant to be, it is contagious. This powerful influence that begins to permeate our communities is the manifestation of our Oneness as authentic human beings.


Discipleship is about developing personal convictions in the life of a human who has entered into the kingdom of heaven.

Convictions are fixed or firm beliefs. They are what make us able to stand in the face of the tests of both temptation and trials in life. Disciples are beings whose convictions are developing within them. While you are not able to give convictions to others, you may take part in their formation by guiding and leading the way. A disciple must cooperate with God in order for her convictions to transform from those of the world to those of His basileia, or kingdom. Such development is deeply personal and relational, for which there is no patent method.

A true disciple of Jesus is one whose convictions align with his own.


Love, Jesus said, is proof to the world that one is his disciple. To love is the highest calling and the purpose for which humans are created. Love is the highest level of human consciousness. When we love, we are in our most powerful state, the natural state of a human, a human be-ing and not a human do-ing. Love is the great game-changer, and transforms lives even as it transforms the world in which the lover finds him or herself.

The proof of true love is obedience. Not that one simply changes one’s behavior or obeys a list of rules, but that one’s inner convictions and heart is so transformed by the love of God that all that is done is in line with God, who is love. Obedience is not the goal of a disciple, but it is the outcome of the transformed life of a disciple.

The role of a discipler is to teach another human to obey the instructions of Jesus. But the only way to obey them is to do so in his power, through abiding. And abiding can’t essentially be taught in conventional classrooms and through studying coursework. But it can be demonstrated in families, in the marketplace, and through friendships. Discipleship is so much more than passing along instructions or a list of rules. It is not persuading someone to merely change their behavior. It is using the words of Jesus along with life itself in a dynamic relationship with God to see the life of a brother or sister transform into the likeness of our heavenly Father, who was best illustrated in the life of Jesus.

No wonder he didn’t leave a formula. It is impossible. And so it is with all things that bring about true freedom.

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ John 8:31-32

Photos by ratterrell,

Photo by Sleeper Cell

About the Author

Dustin White

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