by Evans Kwesi Walton.
Discipleship/discipling is a life-long journey, which demands commitment and self-denial from both the disciple and the discipler. Jesus Christ is the greatest example for all who want to commit their lives in discipling others. Jesus Christ called twelve men, His primary aim was that they will be with Him and His secondary was to send them out to the harvest field. Jesus keenly chose some men who will be with Him, not just a bunch of people around Him doing nothing. It was purposeful with intent; it was not just a group of men who were idling, in fact, the men He chose were men who were engaged in various occupations. The churches in Ghana are not doing well in terms of discipleship, because they have neglected the command to make disciples. In this paper, I am going to look at the meaning and the importance of making disciples, the essential elements of making disciples, the challenges encountered in making disciples and the place disciple making should have in the Church.
“The concept of disciple is not original to Jesus. [The] Jewish rabbis of the first century had disciples.” However, Jesus’ concept of disciple was different from the rabbis, in Mark 3:13-14, Jesus called twelve men so that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach. Unlike the rabbis of the first century, men seek after them to be their disciples, Jesus as the greatest example has laid done principles for us to follow in the area of discipleship. True Christian discipleship is identifying men and women whom you will be committed to teach them to emulate the life style of our master Jesus Christ. Greg Ogden says it this way, “A disciple is one who responds in faith and obedience to the gracious call to follow Jesus Christ.”A disciple is one who is able to make disciples of others; a disciple is not passive but active to reproduce. Jesus told Simon Peter, I would make you fishers of men meaning I will teach you so that you can teach others, instead of throwing your nets into the sea; you are going to throw your nets in the sea of the world. A disciple is one who is humble, when Jesus washed the feet of His disciples; it was a sign to show them to do likewise as he the master has done. As we look at the meaning of discipleship, it will be helpful to look at the importance of making disciples.
Discipleship, stated in my introduction is a life-long process that a believer must go through in order to reach maturity with the aim of discipling others. According to Judith Mutie, discipleship prepares future leaders of the church both spiritually and [cognitively]. The maturity of a believer comes because of discipleship. Discipleship is a command from our Lord Jesus Christ to all believers, thus when one disciples other people it brings joy in a sense that he has obeyed the command of Jesus Christ. Discipleship builds the body of Christ through multiplication. Discipleship was Christ’s passion to spread the good news, so should be our passion, Christ did that by investing in the apostles so that they can go and multiply.
It is like giving birth to a child and telling the child to take care of him/herself, that child might end up dying. When we give birth to spiritual children and we do not disciple them, do not lead them to a total commitment to Jesus, do not help them to become spiritual adults, we reap a variety of negative consequences. Therefore, it is important for believer to emulate the master by making disciples of the kingdom.
Jesus Christ gives a classic element of disciple making He asked, “for which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (Mark 14:28). Discipleship requires denial of one’s self both the discipler and the disciple, because it is not something you do for a week and you are done. That is why Jesus told those who desire to follow Him to deny themselves, He also told them that the foxes have holes but the Son of man does not have a place to lay His head. It involves time; our Lord Jesus spent time with the twelve “[He] could have spent all His time in evangelism.” Prayer is another element of discipleship; you pray in order to identify those who are not born again since God gives salvation to all men. Prayer directs you to someone the Lord wants to reach out to for salvation. Prayer helps the new believer to understand the word of God and make commitment to obey, and intend to reproduce the process to other people.
Jesus in His command to His disciple in the gospel of Matthew said …“teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19-20). Teaching is one of the core elements of making disciples; the aim of discipleship is to help the disciples to emulate Christ by teaching them the word of God. Paul told Timothy that, what he have hear from him in the presence of many witness he should entrust it to faithful men who will intend pass it on to others (2Timothy 2:2). Discipleship requires supervision; you do not want to assume that because you have inculcated something into the life of your disciple he is going to come out victoriously. Fear or challenges may come his way and he may be prone to give up, hence it is important to supervise your disciple. Life style is one of the elements in disciple making, the discipler must lead by an example. Jesus demonstrated this pattern clearly, on several occasions He would move away by Himself to a desolate place and spend time with God, till one day when he came down from the mountains, His disciples asked Him to teach them how to pray. Exemplary life is important in disciple making.
Let us not forget that there are challenges or obstacles that we will encounter in disciple making. When someone become a believer we get all excited and we tell them the blessing and the promises of God that they will receive, neglecting the fact that our new life in Jesus Christ will come with a cost or challenges. Jesus said; if anyone wants to follow me let him pick up his cross daily. The disciple must know the challenge that comes with his commitment to follow Jesus. In our contemporary world today, we live in a sophisticated context where people do not have time to study the word of God and to mature in Christ Jesus. Evangelism is a component of discipleship, but many people assumed that it is the work of the pastor not them. If we consider the commandment of Jesus Christ which says, “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,” (Matt. 28:19), then it is a command to all believers not just the pastor.
When a person hears the word of God and he becomes a believer, he is established and groomed into maturity in Jesus Christ; but there is a challenge whether this person is also going to make disciples or not. Sometimes this person might face a difficulty, which may cause him to give up, but on the side of the discipler, it will bring a great disappointment. Another challenge is that many people will not accept the fact that they gave up all to follow Jesus. People want their community to know what they have; this nullifies the purpose of giving up all to follow Jesus Christ. Discipleship is not about fame and how many people you have led to the Kingdom of God. Most often, the human flesh and pride wants to take over and boast over what they have achieved.
Does the Church have a place in disciple making? Obviously yes, but how is it taking place? Jesus said go and make disciple, which implies that wherever we go or find ourselves we make disciples. The church is not the physical build where people gather and worship God, but it is the gathering of the saints in Jesus Christ. The churches in recent times have misunderstood what it means to make disciples. It might also be that the Church have miss appropriated the command of Jesus Christ in the Gospel of Matthew 28:19-20. Discipleship should be done in and outside the Church but many believers tend to live their Christian life in isolation. God is calling all believers in the body of Christ to reach out to people wherever they go. Sometimes God call some people into full-time ministry, others not into full-time but He places each individual in a particular context. God wants the Gospel to go to the market places, we may not find ourselves to be in full-time ministry, but we maybe in a business forum to make disciples for Christ.
Someone once said we need more sanctified shoe salespersons, more anointed accountants, more behaved personnel, and businesspersons that are more holy. God sovereignly equips and calls every one of us to a specific ministry. Sometimes it is full-time, sometimes it‘s within the context of a secular job. From experience, I have realized that some Churches in Ghana frown on believers who associate (associating here, does not mean they get involve with their sinful behavior rather building acquaintance with them in order to bring the Gospel to them) themselves with unbelievers, with the notion that these people are not truly born again. Disciple making on the other hand is a tool to grow the church quantitatively meaning numerically and qualitatively meaning spiritually.
We see the early church growing daily in the book of Acts. They were gathering so regularly and daily for teaching, fellowship, communion and prayers and sharing love to one another and so on (Acts 2:42-47). When believers are discipled, they become effective witnesses and win souls; as a result, the church grows. In addition, along with the growth come all other benefits like, there will be people to do various things in the Church and to function with a variety of gifts for the glorification of God and for the edification of the believers. The Church is supposed to train women and men who will go out and train women and men into maturity. Our Churches today have numerous of actives throughout the week; but the question is how many of them are geared towards discipleship to help nurture the believers, establish and equip them for the expansion of the Kingdom?
Our activities in the Church is more humanly structure that everything else is given ample time but when it comes to the word of God, the pastor stands up and says, you know we are behind time and so within this fifteen minutes I am going to share with you from the word of God. The Church is losing its focus of existence, and it is about time that it rise up and take her mandate. The Church should become like a man who goes and scatter seeds and expecting it to grow; believers are to be discipled and sent out to produce fruits by the Church. The church needs to be stewards of what God has entrusted to them by making discipleship the first priority in the Church. Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians rejoices of their faith, which has spread abroad and encourages them to continue firmly in their faith. Now the question is can our church today boast or rejoice about their discipleship program in the Church. We ought to be people who will not be ashamed at the coming of the Lord. He has given us much and much expected of us.
Discipleship is a process not a onetime thing; it requires denial of self, and commitment to God. Discipleship is the life-wire of the church without it the Church dies. My prayer is that the church realizes they are drifting away from their primary purpose as someone once said that the primary purpose of the Church is to glorify God by winning souls for Christ. Many believers are drifting away because there is no one to disciple them when they became new babies in Christ. God has called every believer to make disciples as we go; therefore, it is not only the responsibility of the pastor to make disciples. God has placed each one in a location where He expects us to be light to those around us. The way a businessperson may reach out to a colleague businessperson will be different from the way the local Church pastor will reach out to the community.The writer of Hebrews says, “You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God's word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food.” (Heb. 5:12). The church today is going backwards in disciple making compare to the early Church. Discipleship should take priority in the Church than any other thing, if we do not want to shrink when the King of kings appear.
 Vinay Kumar Samuel, The Meaning and the Cost of Discipleship (Bombay: Bombay Urban Industrial League for Development, 1981), 13.
 Ibid, 13
 Greg Ogden, Discipleship Essentials: A Guide To Building Your Life In Christ (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Connect, 2007), 24.
 A.B. Bruce, The Training Of The Twelve (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1971), 13.
 Judith Mutie, “The importance of Discipleship”: February 28th 2012.
 David wabule Masai, “The importance of Discipleship”: February 28th 2012.
 Bill Bright, Witnessing Without Fear: How to Share Your Faith With Confidence (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, 1987), 158.
 Robert E. Coleman The Master Plan Of Evangelism (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Fleming H.Revell Company, 1993), 94.
 Greg Ogden, Discipleship Essentials: A Guide To Building Your Life In Christ (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Connect, 2007), 29.
 Vinay Kumar Samuel, The Meaning and the Cost of Discipleship (Bombay: Bombay Urban Industrial League for Development, 1981), 54-55.