Defining Discipleship

Discipleship is a word that we often use in church culture. However, I think many people do not have a solid grasp of what discipleship is or what it looks like. I know that I lacked this understanding when I first came to know the Lord. In fact, I am really just now polishing up my understanding of discipleship since coming to Heartland. So I would like to speak to a biblical definition of discipleship and explain how Heartland’s 1st Steps discipleship seeks to adhere to that definition.

Just before Jesus’ ascension back to the Father, He gave this commission to His disciples:  “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.” (Matt. 28:19-20) So Jesus wants His disciples to make disciples. In fact, when you think about the prior three years of ministry, Jesus had already revealed what making a disciple looks like. Here is a list of some elements that are involved in disciple-making:  sacrifice, intentionality, relationship, growth, protection, provision, and love. This list is obviously not exhaustive, but it gives us a picture of what Christ has called us to, and we quickly notice that the picture is highly relational and encompasses all of life. That is, discipleship is not as much an event or program at a church building, as it is a part of our identity as Christians.

With an understanding that discipleship is a part of our identity in Christ, we have centered 1st Steps discipleship on the foundation of the gospel. After all, that is what Paul identifies as the primary focus of our lives, “For I have decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2) In order to grow in our understanding of the gospel we have broken it down into these four aspects:  gospel theology; gospel fluency; gospel community; and gospel movement. We begin by helping people understand what the gospel is and how it works. After this, we help people learn to apply the gospel to their own hearts as it grows and bears fruit in them. Because we know that the gospel is not meant to terminate on us, we help people think about how it moves through us to transform our relationships — both within and outside of the church. More specifically, the gospel shapes the community of believers and it moves us to bring the message of reconciliation to a world that desperately needs Jesus. Another way to think about this is that the gospel transforms the head, the heart, and the hands. It renews our minds, it transforms our hearts, and it shapes us as instruments of righteousness as we are the hands and feet of Jesus.

I’m excited for how God has already been working and bearing fruit in this 1st Steps process. We just completed our first module (gospel theology) a couple of weeks ago. It has been such a joy to witness and be a part of the vulnerability and love shown amongst those in attendance. This was especially pronounced as we grew together in an awareness of God’s holiness, an awareness of our own depravity, and an increased understanding of how Christ has bridged that gap in reconciling us. It is only through the reconciling work of Jesus that we can live in restored relationship with God. This is the foundation of our gospel theology. We will begin diving into the 2nd module on Sunday, December 11th as we journey through the book, Gospel Fluency by Jeff Vanderstelt. If the Lord is stirring your heart to come and be sharpened, or to understand your identity in Him in greater ways, please come join us. Our great desire is to glorify God by making disciples who make disciples.

May the Lord bless and keep you,

Austin Strange