So we know now that the church is broken, and that getting back to the simple disciple-making strategy of Jesus is the thing to fix it. But what, exactly, does a disciple look like? Getting simple clarity on this definition is more important than you think. If we can’t define what a disciple looks like, then we really don’t know what we’re shooting for. In our resources, we define discipleship in terms of three stages.
Stage 1: Trusting Jesus
The initial and most fundamental stage of discipleship is trusting Jesus. This is the heart of the gospel, and it’s the starting point for any person’s relationship with God. Trusting Jesus takes two primary forms:
- Trusting his power. When we see God for who he really is – and therefore we see ourselves for who we really are – we recognize our deep need for him. Our sin separates us from God; the power of the cross sets us free to live a new kind of life.
- Trusting his perspective. Everyone has opinions, but when we come to Christ we are called to drop our own opinions in favor of adopting God’s view of the world. This is the biblical idea of “repentance” – which is the attitude of faith from first to last.
Stage 2: Honoring God
The fruit of a life given over to God is undeniable. A genuine encounter with the grace and forgiveness of Jesus causes us to act. The Christian life is not just a free pass to live however we want. We become new people from the inside, and that means a change on the outside.
2 Corinthians 5:17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
Followers of Jesus are submitted to his perspective. They develop a biblical worldview and live it out with the help of the Holy Spirit and other believers.
Stage 3: Helping Others
Sadly, most Christians think that the Christian life has only two phases. They believe if they “pray the prayer” they’ll get to heaven. The faithful ones go a step further, participating with God to live a new kind of life. But very few Christians feel the call of God on their lives to actively make disciples.
And that’s the third phase of a full circle Christian life. Once you’ve trusted Jesus for salvation, and as soon as you’ve begun to live a life that honors God, you’re ready to help someone else pursue God through biblical mentoring (disciple-making). This, according to Jesus, is the only way to mature. Paul said it, too, back in Ephesians 4. When regular people are empowered to do real ministry, speaking the truth in love with the people around them in everyday relationships, something special happens. Those regular people end up deepening their own faith and growing more mature.
Ephesians 4:15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…
When regular people speak the truth in love, they grow up. They are no longer consumeristic in their faith, looking for someone else to feed them and make them strong. This was the secret of the early Christian church, the source of sustenance for the believers who had no Bible studies or celebrity pastors or Christian concerts. They were disciple-makers, and carried along by a sense of mission and by the power of the Holy Spirit, they had what they needed.
A discipleship culture is where everyone understands what discipleship means – going full circle in the three things above. And when everyone understands it, everyone can start doing it. Ultimately, that means everyone becomes a mentor.
- Watch the video together or invite someone to set up the conversation.
- How do you think the average person in your church or ministry would define “discipleship”? How would you define it?
- List the 3 stages in a pursuit of God as articulated in the video. What percentage of people are at Stage 1 in your church? Stage 2? Stage 3?
- When did you go “full circle” in your own pursuit of God? How did you get there?
- Why is it important to define discipleship for your church or ministry? How will you define it?
- Write a personal action step based on this conversation.
- See also: The Foundational Stages of Pursuit, Understanding a Full Circle Pursuit of God, How to Win “Full Circle” at Church