About halfway through my freshman year at Baylor, I was the most aimless I had ever been in my life. At the time of move-in, I was a religion major living in an international dorm with hopes of sharing the gospel with the international students living next to me. However, I was quickly immersed in a friend group with only one other believer, and while I tried to share the gospel, I failed more often than I succeeded. You see, I had been told to evangelize countless times, but had never once been shown how to do it. I quickly became discouraged and stopped trying.
My faith began to rapidly atrophy in this season; like so many other believers my age, I had no clue what it meant to take the equipping I had received in my home context and turn that into a lasting, Spirit-filled pursuit of Jesus. I wandered through much of freshman year, aimless, caught between fruitless community that was not pursuing the Lord and a festering double life of secret sin (from which I’m still healing from).
I had been told so many times that I would need to own my faith for myself when I went to college, but nobody had shown me how. I had to work hard to find someone who was supposed to teach me “to observe all that I have commanded you” as Jesus commissioned the Apostles. And as I looked deeper into what Jesus models in the calling of His disciples, I began to realize that this flowed from the unfortunate fact that many other believers had also not been discipled and were at a loss for how to practice discipleship themselves.
What is Discipleship?
Discipleship is a word we throw around a lot in the church, almost to the extent that I’m afraid we don’t even know what it means. The word disciple, on its most basic level, simply means “learner.” To be a disciple of Jesus is to learn “the Jesus way” and follow Him in every aspect of your life. We grow in our personal discipleship by participating in Christian community, studying God’s Word daily, sharing the gospel, practicing your spiritual gifts, loving your spouse and kids, and more.
When we talk about being discipled by someone, we are talking about imitating that person as they imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1) and learning, in the process, how to follow Jesus better. In the scriptures, discipleship is not so much learning from someone as it is doing life with someone and learning along the way. Jesus gave us this example best as He traveled through life with His disciples, showing them what to do along the way.
Invitation Over Inclusion
Allow me for a moment to make a distinction between two different kinds of discipleship–one, we’ll call inclusive, and the other, we’ll call invitational.
Inclusive discipleship tells me, “You’re welcome here whenever you want.” It sounds really nice to say, “The door is always open,” but when push comes to shove, people need to be invited in before they can be fed by what you have to offer them. This is often our approach to initiating discipleship. We’ll say, “If they want to learn from me they just have to ask,” or, “We’re super welcoming, they’re just afraid to come talk to us. I don’t bite!” However good that method sounds in theory, in practice, it fails to make disciples.
Invitational discipleship, on the other hand, looks a lot more like the way Jesus did discipleship. Matthew 4:19 recounts the calling of the Disciples like this:
“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”
Where inclusive discipleship says, “If you want to,” invitational discipleship says, “I want you, come with me.”
So, Why Should You Care About Discipleship?
So, why disciple? Well, simply put, Jesus commands us to. He says this in His final instruction to His followers before He ascended into Heaven:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
Beyond just this explicit command from Jesus, and the example He gave us with His disciples, the Bible constantly points to the call we have to instill faith in the next generation. And while it’s a hard call to live out, it’s worth it. Discipleship builds up the Church (Ephesians 2:19-21), helps us worship God more fully (Deuteronomy 6:5-7), and it gives us an inheritance better even than “sons and daughters” (Isaiah 56).
But most of all, we can’t show someone else how to own their faith if we aren’t owning ours in the first place. Discipling others is important because it ensures that we are living out our faith and putting it into practice every single day.
If you aren’t currently discipling the next generation, we have a college ministry full of students who want your discipleship. We need you to show us the way. Let’s learn together what it looks like to be disciples who make disciples.
By Mason Smith. Mason is a follower of Jesus, a senior at Baylor studying religion, a youth intern, and was one of our summer residents. He is passionate about theology, discipleship, and generational Bible literacy. He enjoys disc golf, cooking, and ballin’ on a budget.