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Christ in Discipleship

The Centrality of Christ in Christian Discipleship

            Without Christ as the central figure, the focal point, of discipleship, there can be no real discipleship.  Jesus is the only one who can call a person into a discipleship relationship with Him (Bonheffer 2013, 59). He must initiate it. If we come to Him on our own terms and if reasoning alone is what brought us to the point of deciding to follow Him, then it is not a true discipleship that will lead to a transformed life. Under these conditions, it will be a life focused on establishing and maintaining an outward appearance of conformity to the commands of Jesus without the heart involved. It will be a farce. A sham. And the one engaged in this version of discipleship will lack passion, be uninspiring, may even have difficulty actually keeping the commandments, etc. It is clear that the heart must be involved because this is the seat of the mind, will, and emotions. And we are commanded to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind (Luke 10:27 NIV). However, to truly do this implies that one has responded to the call of Jesus. They have, on their own accord, without coercion, chosen to follow Him. The creature comforts of this world with its built-in entrapments, distractions, and temptations, have been left behind. Though, that former life was eating away at the soul, it was familiar, comfortable, predictable, it was home. The new life, conversely, is the great unknown. One cannot, without being called by Christ, truly, let go of the former life completely. Only Jesus can call us to discipleship. As Deitrich Bonhoeffer states, “So, the call to discipleship is a commitment solely to the person of Jesus Christ” (Bonhoeffer 2003, 59).

Obedience Reflects the Discipleship of Christ

            To enter into a discipleship relationship with the Master requires an initial act of obedience (Bonheffer 2003, 57). It is the acceptance of the call to follow Jesus. This first step is exponentially bigger than the other stages of discipleship that will come after. It requires a leap of faith; leaving the old life behind for a new unknown life that lies ahead. However, through this act of obedience it opens the door to walking down a path into a deeper more intimate relationship with Jesus that will transform a life. It is a life that demands plenary obedience to all of Christ’s commands, even the ones that one might think are difficult to obey (Dempsey 2013, 50). Through obedience faith grows just as the more times something is done faith, or trust, in it grows. Such as, the more times one shoots a basketball and makes a basket, their trust, or confidence that the ball will go through the hoop grows.

            Discipleship expects from us to be molded into the image of Jesus. We are to look more and more like Him as time passes. Thoughts, words, actions, attitudes, habits, and so on, should all be in the process of being changed. This was what Jesus’ twelve original disciples did. This was expected of all disciples in the Jewish culture they were from. Not only did they have memorized most of the Old Testament and lived according to it, they were expected to learn, memorize, and adhere to the teachings of the rabbi they were following (Dempsey 2013, 68, 72).

            Commitment of a disciple is required. This should manifest in a strong prayer life, living in community among other Christians through a local church, learning and obeying Christ’s commandments, being actively involved in ministry, and always on mission. All of these things require obedience for them to happen. They will not happen on their own and they are not reserved for only a certain Christians, or for designated Christian leaders, or missionaries, etc. We are all commanded to obey all of Jesus’ teachings. There is no option for partial commitment or obedience. For one to say they are a Christian means that they are a disciple. If they are a disciple it means that they are fully committed to Christ and obeying all of His teachings. At least, with God’s help wanting and trying to obey all of His commandments.

The Three Stages of Discipleship

            No matter what discipleship program that a person or entity choses to use they will all need to have a clearly defined methodology, with agreed upon terminology, as to how they will take a new convert and lead them through the process of discipleship that will culminate in them creating more disciples themselves. Putman uses spheres as a way to segment the different areas that a disciple needs to grow in (Putman 2013, 84). Comiskey uses tracks for defining the progression a disciple goes through from the beginning to becoming a disciple that multiplies themselves (Comiskey 2008, 92-93). According to Dempsey, and the way he has labeled his three stages for discipleship, they are (1) declaration, (2) development, (3) deployment.

            Stage One: Declaration (Investigation Leading to Repentance and Faith in Jesus)

            Salvation is a process that occurs over time and rarely in a linear fashion. However, it culminates in a decision to accept Christ as one’s personal Savior. Each individual, when presented with the Gospel, will already be on the” salvation spectrum”, if you will. Perhaps they have already heard the Good News and are ready to commit their lives to Jesus, or it is a person with a very rudimentary understanding of God and His Gospel. Either way, each person, for them to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and give their lives to Him must go through the spectrum. Within each individual there are three aspects that come into play when they come to Christ. They are the intellectual, emotional, and volitional (Thiessen 1979, 271-273). When each of these elements are properly satisfied the result will be a commitment to Jesus. With all of this said, it must be stressed that faith is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8). No one is able to come to God on their own without God calling them.

            Stage Two: Development (Immersion, Abandonment, and Apprenticeship into Ministry)

While the first stage required an initial act of obedience to the call of Jesus to follow Him, the second stage is marked with many acts of obedience that are expected of the disciple. This stage will gradually intensify the degree of commitment and obedience of the disciple, as well as, the intimacy they will experience with Jesus, and in turn, the impact they will have on others (Dempsey 2013, 62). This can actually also be said on the next stage, as well.

            In this stage the disciple will be expected to get into a deep relationship with Jesus through praying, reading and memorizing Scripture, Christian fellowship, meditating on God and His Word, and possibly fasting. Though Dempsey does not list fasting and meditation as spiritual practices for leading one into a deeper walk with the Lord, they are well-established ways of doing that that many practice. During this stage of development, depending on each disciple, the time it takes will vary greatly. Some will progress faster than others, some slower. The Lord works with each person differently depending on their personality, personal history, sins, habits, and what He is wanting to use them for in His kingdom. There may be many struggles with the flesh, bouts of temptation, etc. as the disciple learns to gain victory and turn over every area of their life to the Lord. It is oftentimes, not a neat, clean, and simplistic process.

Another aspect of this stage is the immersion of the disciple into Christian community. As Pettit puts forth, “Authentic community is God’s intention for humanity” (Pettit 2008, 39). Likewise, a Christian, a disciple, being one and the same, are called to live a life in community. In psychology they talk about the need that every individual has to belong in a group; to be a part of something bigger than themselves, to feel wanted, needed, and useful. It is a universally strong desire that our Creator has placed in each and every one of us. Therefore, every Christian needs to be, and is expected to be part of a local church body. This is also where the disciple making process plays out (Dempsey 2013, 71).

The disciple is also expected to be involved in ministry from the time of their conversion. Ministry serves as a way of apprenticing them to be future disciple multipliers. This part of this stage helps give the disciple the necessary tools they need to be effective disciple makers.

            Stage Three: Deployment (Intentional Global Commissioning)

            It cannot be stated enough that every Christian is a disciple. And as a disciple that has been called to also be a missionary, which is all disciples, it is not possible to be a disciple that is only a church member (Dempsey 2013, 77). Everyone that comes to Christ was called, they also must be developed, and they must go forth into the mission field.


As can be seen each of these stages build on one another. They also require greater levels of commitment, obedience, and faith. This whole process that the disciple has gone through, will be played out again with the disciples that they make. However, they will be seeing the process, stages, from a different perspective. Since they had gone through it, they will have an intimate knowledge of how to make other disciples. They will understand the necessity for each stage and be able to identify where their own disciples are at, stage wise, and what they need to get ready to go to the next stage. However, to move from stage to stage requires obedience. Even the original twelve disciples had moments where they needed to be minded of their ultimate purpose. It was to be missionaries. At times we all need to be reminded on this.


Bonhoeffer, Deitrich. Discipleship. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

Comiskey, Joel. The Church that Multiplies: Growing a Healthy Cell Church in North America.         Moreno Valley: CCS Publishing, 2008.

Earley, Dave and Rod Dempsey. Disciple Making is: How to Live the Great Commission with        Passion and Confidence. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2013.

Pettit, Paul. Foundations of Spiritual Formation: A Community Approach to Becoming Like     Christ. Grand Rapids: Kregal Academic, 2013.

Putman, Jim and Bobby Harrington. Discipleshift: Five Steps that help your Church to Make           Disciples Who Make Disciples. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.

Thiessen, Henry C. Lectures in Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1979.

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