What is a Disciple?

Recently I read an article from the Barna Group that startled me. The Barna Group is a research and polling organization that focuses on Christianity in the United States. Its research has helped to provide new perspectives on Millennials and the changing landscape for the church in our country.

This specific article, though, discussed how 51 percent of people who attend church cannot recognize the Great Commission. It was startling to read and I hope it is for you as well, because our very existence as a United Methodist congregation is centered on the Great Commission.

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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20b, NRSV)

That is the Great Commission and it is our mission. You have heard me say time and time again that our calling is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world here in Princeton, Kentucky.” We are called to make disciples in our local community who then go and change the world.

So, what is a disciple?

I believe this is a question that we all struggle to answer. That is because we don’t discuss much about what we mean we say “disciple.” We assume people know what we are talking about and then wonder why people struggle to understand the life of a disciple and what it means to make a disciple.

When we define a disciple, we mean someone who seeks to dedicate themselves to following Jesus. Matthew uses a word in Matthew 28:19 to define a disciple as a “pupil.” We know a pupil is a student who follows the teaching of their mentor, teacher, or guide. That is what a disciple of Jesus Christ does. They follow in the teaching and life of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

This means a disciple of Jesus Christ has values we must take seriously.

A disciple of Jesus Christ has a value of the Great Commandment. We must hold both the Great Commission (make disciples) and the Great Commandment (love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself). Disciples of Jesus Christ are devoted to God and seek to share the love of God freely with all people. Love is the most important component of discipleship, because it is the commandment Jesus gave that summed up the entire law of God.

A disciple of Jesus Christ has a value of seeking to live in community with other disciples. Jesus calls his followers into community. We cannot be disciples by seeking to be individuals in isolation from other believers. Disciples are called into a community with other believers for prayer, worship, accountability, and encouragement.

A disciple of Jesus Christ has a value of surrendering themselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Surrendering is not something we always talk about. To surrender means to let go of our need to be in control. When we surrender ourselves to Jesus’ Lordship, we humble ourselves and let go of our need to have power and control of who we are, where we are going, or even the life of the community of believers. Disciples allow Jesus to direct their lives and how they relate to other people.

A disciple of Jesus Christ values making commitments to God and other believers. Disciples of Jesus Christ make a promise to God and to other believers that we will be committed in our walk with God. Our commitments are to be in prayer for one another, to be faithful in worship attendance, to give ourselves through our gifts and talents, and to serve by witnessing of God’s love through our words, actions, and deeds.

This is what we mean when we use the word disciple. We are called to make disciples as a church and we do so through worship, study, and service.

Discipleship and making disciples must be at the core of who we are as a church and a people. The question we must always be willing to ask ourselves is this: Is what we are doing at Ogden Memorial making disciples?

This is not a question that can be answered immediately, but it is a question that we must be willing to ask. It is the evaluative question that gets to the heart of fruitfulness and moves us beyond from thinking of survival, but towards thriving.

My prayer for us at Ogden Memorial is for us to thrive in our ministries and witness to God. I pray we will be a disciple-making church that is willing to do the things necessary to lead us into long-term fruitfulness of living out the Great Commission’s call to make disciples.

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