A Biblical Foundation for Discipleship

A Biblical Foundation for Discipleship

By Keith Wieser

Christ's command to "go and make disciples" may seem confusing or even overwhelming to you. So, here are three ways you can intentionally focus your circle of influence as you pursue a life on mission.

The mandate and the movement

As Jesus concludes His time on earth, He gathers the remaining 11 disciples and gives an undeniably clear mandate: “Go and make disciples.” This clear and compelling statement—hanging on the backdrop of His death and resurrection—was fully understood and embraced, and it set a movement into motion that has since changed the world. Yet sometimes, I wish one of the disciples would have leaned in and asked, “That’s great, Jesus… but how?” Making disciples is undeniably central in the life of a Christ follower. However, it gets a little fuzzy when we ask how we are to actually go and make disciples.

I’ve heard it said that the functional great commission in many of our churches is effectively, “Go therefore and make worship attenders, baptizing them in the name of programs and teaching them to volunteer to make it all work.” Maybe that’s harsh, but for much of my time as a pastor, this was even more true than I wanted to admit.

The core issue was that I was thinking more about the process than I was about the people. I was thinking in terms of programs and curriculum. Unfortunately, this most reliably produced participants—not disciple-makers. This low bar of mere participation has created within our culture a level of consumerism that utilizes resources without releasing the true power of the gospel to transform lives and communities.

Discipleship relationships

The word “disciple” as Jesus used it in the original context primarily referred to the relationship between the teacher and an apprentice. An apprentice relationship is based upon personal connection and intentional interaction. Apprenticing is hands-on, interactive, and observed close up. So, how does this really work? When we ask “How did Jesus make disciples?”, we don’t get a clear process or curriculum. However, what we do get with specificity is who Jesus was discipling.

Mark gives us the list in chapter 3:

He appointed the Twelve: To Simon, he gave the name Peter; and to James the son of Zebedee, and to his brother John, he gave the name “Boanerges” (that is, “Sons of Thunder”); Andrew; Philip and Bartholomew; Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him. (Mark 3:16-19)

This list may seem trivial, but I believe the foundation of discipleship is the relationship. Discipleship based on programs without personal relationship is the difference between lighting a stick of dynamite and throwing it up in the air versus driving it deep into the ground. One produces a temporary effect while the other moves mountains.

Intentional investment

Jesus teaches the crowds and interacts with many others, but He invests into a specific group of guys. The key characteristic is that they came to Him and were with Him (Mark 3:13). He doesn’t just impart information, but He sends them out, empowering and equipping them to do the ministry—not to just grow in their knowledge. Living a “with” kind of life can feel overwhelming and, frankly, can seem impossible in our time of packed schedules and busy lives. However, as we look a bit closer into whose lives Jesus invested in, a trend emerges that feels a bit strange in our culture. Jesus straight up picked favorites.

Jesus picks Peter, James, and John to form an inner circle. These guys received access to experiences with Jesus that were profound and personal. Then, taking this idea even further, we see Jesus give additional clarity to Peter about the plan He had for his disciple’s life: “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” (Matthew 16:18)

Jesus provides a disciple-making framework as we look more deeply into His relationships. While I don’t think Jesus is prescriptive, I do think it’s helpful to establish the foundation of discipleship based upon the nature of relationships rather than programmatic participation.

This disciple-making framework can be understood as having eyes for twelve, a heart for three, and a plan for one.

Eyes for twelve

Disciplemaking begins by lifting our eyes to see those around us intentionally, and more important, relationally. Two simple questions can help us to determine if those around us may be a good fit.

1. Are they open to my influence?
This question helps us to see who may be already leaning in to a relationship with us. It could be a believer in our church or someone we have favor with in our community.

2. Are they open to God’s influence?
This helps us to further understand what may be going on at a spiritual level that God may use us to accelerate. There’s nothing worse than trying take a person to a place they don’t want to go and nothing sweeter than an eager learner.

Heart for three

Deep influence often requires deeper investments of time and energy. We all have a finite amount of time and energy, so we must carefully choose how we leverage these precious resources. In my experience, it’s challenging to invest at an emotional level with more than three people outside of your family. These are people who have access to more than just your knowledge; they have access to your life! At this level of relationship, following Jesus is more caught than taught.

Here are three questions that help determine who to bring closer:

1. Calling: Are they headed in a direction that is compatible with mine?

2. Capacity: Are they a wise investment of my time and energy?

3. Chemistry: Are they someone you’d go on a road trip with?

Plan for one

One of the most powerful things we can do in the lives of others is to help them see a vision of who they can become as they follow Jesus. A powerful blessing emerges when someone allows us to see a future we cannot yet see. Jesus may have had this kind of moment with all of his disciples. We get to see his words to Peter in what must have been a powerful moment in the life of a man likely experiencing the shame of his denial of Jesus. In moments of self-doubt, I find myself going back to moments where trusted leaders in my life told me what they saw in me. Don’t ever doubt the transformative power of articulating what you see in those whom you have influence on.

Jesus’ command to “Go and make disciples” doesn’t have to be complicated to be powerful. Maybe the foundation of discipleship is really about being intentional and specific in the who more than the what.

So, who are your twelve, your three, and your one?

Published May 29, 2023

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Keith Wieser

Keith Wieser is Lead Pastor of Resonate Church, a network churches focused on and around universities. Resonate started in 2007 at Washington State University and has multiplied to 16 different churches across Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Utah. Keith primarily focuses on developing strategy to reach, equip and send the next generation from the university setting. Keith works for the North American Mission Board as a Collegiate Church Planting Catalyst. Keith and his wife Paige and 3 kids (Karson, Karis, Karter) live in Pullman, WA.