Defining Discipleship

How do you define discipleship? What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? How are we to go about discipling others? These are some of the questions I hope to address in a series of blog posts.

Today we’ll look at how one might define discipleship. The following are a smattering of definitions for your consideration:

  • According to Michael Wilkins, discipleship “is the process of becoming like Jesus Christ. To be a disciple of Jesus Christ means living a fully human life in this world in union with Jesus Christ and growing in conformity to his image” (Wilkins, Following the Master, 342).
  • Fernando F. Segovia understands discipleship in a narrow and a broader sense. Narrowly speaking discipleship is “to be understood technically and exclusively in terms of the ‘teacher/disciple’ relationship with all its accompanying and derivative terminology” (Segovia, Discipleship in the New Testament, 2). With reference to its broader sense, discipleship is “[to] be understood more generally in terms of Christian existence—that is, the self-understanding of the early Christian believers as believers: what such a way of life requires, implies, and entails” (Segovia, Discipleship in the New Testament, 2).
  • James G. Samra provides the following definition of discipleship: “Discipleship involves both becoming a disciple and being a disciple. At times the focus is on the entrance into the process (evangelism), but most often the focus is on growing in the process (maturity); it includes both teaching and life transformation. It is a general call for everyone and also an intense process for a select few. Therefore it is best to think of discipleship as the process of becoming like Christ” (Samra, “A Biblical View of Discipleship,” Bibliotheca Sacra 160 (2003): 220).

What are some of the themes found in each of these definitions? Both Wilkins and Samra speak of discipleship as a process of becoming like Jesus Christ, and Segovia notes that this process requires something from the one involved in the process. One of the fundamental questions that must be asked with regard to Wilkins’ and Samra’s emphasis on discipleship as a process of becoming like Jesus is, to what extent is a disciple of Jesus to become like him. Are their certain things about Jesus’ person and work that makes him unique and distinct from us, and if so, how does this impact becoming conformed into his image?

So what do you think? What definitions would you propose for discipleship? What about the three definitions do you find yourself gravitating to the most? And to what extent can we follow Jesus’ example?


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