Following Jesus—What would you call it?

While having lunch with a friend, he offered the following perspective. "You use the words 'disciple' and 'discipleship' a lot—don't you think that word is out of date? You need to use a new term…something that will communicate…something people will understand."

It was important for me to hear him. If my friend did not understand the term discipleship, it became obvious to me that others would be in the same boat.

So what does discipleship mean? And, are there other words that say the same thing?

• Apprenticeship describes being trained by a master, but it does not imply spiritual training.

• Mentoring suggests guidance and friendship, but does not require following Jesus in obedience.

• Counselling helps you deal with life's choices and decisions, but tends to happen in an office.

• Spiritual direction is great, but again, it implies professional appointments.

• Coaching is well-respected in our society, but coaches may fail to deliver on deeper life issues.

Discipleship is a biblical term. It was a word that Jesus used in the New Testament to refer to a small group of people He had invited, saying, "Come follow me." He called them His disciples; a small band of followers who joined His apprenticeship program and received mentoring, counselling, coaching and spiritual direction. These disciples spent time with Jesus. They ate with Him. They travelled with Him. They listened to His public lectures and talked with Him privately about what He meant. They argued together. They doubted Him. They asked questions. And at times, they got angry and wanted to walk away.

Following Jesus and being His disciples was an invitation into a relationship—doing life together with Jesus. It was demanding, inspiring, exciting, challenging, rewarding and difficult. It required humility because Jesus had a way of seeing right through any facade, or pretense and would speak directly about the real issues of the heart. You couldn't hide your junk. Your hidden thoughts and bad habits had a way of showing up, and Jesus would speak to you about them; lovingly, but not always subtle.

It was inspirational to be with Jesus. His understandings of human nature drew them close and made them want to be more like Him. Being with Jesus was a safe place, a place where you could let down your guard and know you were loved—loved and accepted by Jesus just for who you were.

Being a disciple required obedience. It came with accountability. They spent a lot of time together. In doing so, Jesus saw hidden pain that needed to be healed. He saw the attitudes that were self-destructive and harmful to others. He saw their self-centeredness and their resistance to change.

Being with Jesus was dangerous. He spoke of being a king and of having a Kingdom; an upside-down Kingdom that challenged the status quo and called into question the kingdoms of this world. No wonder it was dangerous—there were risks involved.

Above all, Jesus loved His disciples and taught them how to love. It was His love that inspired devotion. It was His love which inspired obedience. It was His love that allowed them to change.

After three years of being with Jesus the lives of these disciples were transformed. They began to look like Jesus, act like Jesus, live like Jesus and love like Jesus. People who met them would say, "Isn't he a follower of Jesus? Isn't he one of His disciples?"

What is discipleship? Discipleship is following Jesus, being with Jesus, learning from Jesus and becoming like Jesus. You too can be transformed by Jesus through a life-on-life process. What would you call it?

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About the author

ChristianWeek Columnist

Paul Kroeker is the director of Global Disciples Canada. Visit