Discipleship is a process of reproducing or imparting the life of a teacher to a pupil. In the context of our discussion, discipleship training involves Jesus Christ as the Teacher while every believer is the pupil. Discipleship can be seen as a life transfer. It is a life-long process as well as a systematic and cumulative way of making someone (a student, pupil, trainee, an apprentice) to be conformed to, or transformed into the image and full personality of the Master (in this case, the Lord Jesus Christ). The books of Matthew 10:24 and Luke 6:40 (KJV) point out that a disciple is not greater than his master; but every one that is perfect shall be as his master. In other words, discipleship is to follow Jesus and become like Him.
Discipleship training is for all who believe in Jesus Christ and have responded to the call of salvation or have come to Jesus in the place of repentance from sin and accepted Him as Lord and Saviour. We must continue to follow Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and Life (John 14:6), hence a life-long process. According to the Webster Dictionary, training is the process of learning the skill that you need for a particular job or activity. Training involves teaching, demonstration or role play, instructions, commands, counsel and discipline. In order to have effective discipleship training, we need to relate to humans who are themselves following Jesus and training others to do so.
Since Jesus Christ who is the Teacher and Model can now be seen ‘physically’ through men who are learning and following Him correctly, we can in turn follow them as they follow Christ (1Corinthains 11:1). In Acts 4:13, the Sanhedrin council could identify Peter and John that they had been with Jesus, and in Antioch believers were called Christians because they behaved like Christ.
Discipleship has been in existence in the Holy Bible from the Old Testament where God Himself related with Enoch, Noah and Abraham; Elijah related with Elisha; Moses – Joshua; Ruth and Naomi etc. Also, in the New Testament we saw the foster parents of Jesus and Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ and His disciples; Paul and Timothy etc.
It is of importance to note that God desires to raise men for Himself and for His use through concerted discipleship. However, He seeks to do this both by His direct encounter with the man, and by exposing him to another trusted man or woman He has made to bring up the disciple for Him (Extract from Understanding the Concept and Conditions of Discipleship, chapter twelve page 91 by Peace House Revival Labours). The Human delegate or ‘discipler’ is one who by the help of God and on His behalf helps to nurture, train, trim and guide the younger disciple in the image of the Lord and for the Lord’s purpose.
When following the Lord Jesus through human ‘disciplers’ or trainers, there are several pitfalls that one must avoid in order to achieve Gods’ overall purpose of discipleship which is becoming like Jesus. (Romans 8:29).
Below are some pitfalls we must avoid in discipleship training.
Avoid Following Jesus because of things. We must follow Jesus because He is the only Way and not because of the things we want to get. In John 6:26, we saw Jesus Christ rebuking the crowd that was following him because of the bread and fish that they had eaten. When He offered Himself to them as the bread of life, the multitude left Him except for the twelve disciples who trusted in Jesus as the one who has the words of eternal life. It is surprising that today in discipleship; several people come to follow Jesus Christ because of the miracles of healing, need for a husband or wife, money or job and some even go ahead to submit to a discipler (human delegate or trainer) because of these things. We must avoid such pitfalls because God is offering us what is eternal (Himself) in discipleship and not the other things that are perishable.
Do not follow any man who is not following Jesus. In a discipleship relationship/ training, the teaching, demonstration or role play, instructions, commands, counsel and discipline must be centered on Christ and Christ alone. Since we are relating with humans, they are not perfect but working towards perfection. There are tendencies that they may exhibit some lifestyle that may not be conformed to Christ. We must fix our eyes perpetually, and keep looking unto Jesus (Heb. 12:2). In 1Cor. 11:1, the Apostle Paul emphasizes on ‘follow me as I follow Christ’, in other words, don’t follow me if I am not following Christ. May God help us!
Avoid Pride. Whenever we lack humility, submission and learning become difficult. In Luke 2:51, we learn that Jesus Christ was subject to His earthly parents. He demonstrated humility to the core: He being God humbled Himself to the point of serving at the table, washing the disciples’ feet etc. (John 13:1-17, Phil. 2:5-8). Moses, having been a great man of God, received counsel from his Father-in-law (discipler) on how to Judge Israel (Exodus 18:15-26).
Pride has hindered many believers today from submitting to men or elders in the faith that God has ordained for them to learn from in their Christian walk. They often insist that God alone is the one that they are relating with and sometimes they rebel against the people God brings their way to guide them.
Avoid the lack of adequate communication/relationship or fellowship. In discipleship training, we must never forsake the assembling of brethren. We must maintain a constant close relationship with God, His Church as well as our human disciplers. Every disciple must be connected to a local Church. It is an error to think that discipleship training is on its own outside the church. Discipleship is actually for the church. Jesus Christ asked His followers to make disciples of all nations who eventually became part of the early Church. Peter who was a disciple of Christ was told that upon this rock, He (Christ) will build his church. The church is an embodiment of people following Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church. Joshua was always with Moses and He would tarry in the tabernacle when others were in the camp (Exodus 24:13).
Avoid the mistake of not prioritizing the word of God. This implies neglecting the word of God. The word of God is the basic standard curriculum and model for discipleship training. We must prioritize the word of God and allow it be a means of transforming us and not just informing us. Jesus Christ told Martha in Luke 10:42 that one thing is needful and Mary had chosen it. In prioritizing God’s word, we must first believe it, totally obey it and teach it. Abraham made progress in his walk with God via the word of God.
Avoid focusing discipleship training on the spiritual alone and not practical.
Discipleship training is a life experience, our daily life must reflect Christ, and therefore it involves practical examples of life – the life of Christ. The Bible says Jesus began to do and to teach (Acts 1:16) and in II Timothy 2:2: “the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach”. Teaching/learning is effective when there are practical examples. Titus 2:6-8 says we must be good examples.
In conclusion, so many Christians today only believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour and have refused to be yoked together with Him by walking with Him and learning of Him in discipleship. Even demons believe and they tremble! This has contributed to the shallow Christians we have today in the Church and it has also led to the strange doctrines we see in the Church. Discipleship is not an elective or optional course for a Christian in the body of Christ. It is compulsory and we must avoid the pitfalls that will hamper our discipleship training so as to be who God wants us to be. We must follow Christ because He is the only Way, and “the Door”. Our discipleship will be effective if we don’t follow Jesus in the crowd but have a close contact with Him and focus on Him the teacher and Master to teach us. We must submit our necks to be yoked to Christ in order to be free from the pitfalls and dangers of walking alone or in error. May God help us!