Discipleship. It is the process wherein the knowledge, skills, and teachings of a person or society are passed down onto the next generation, in order to preserve the ideals of a former time. It is an evolution of information from one generation to the next generation that bears great significance in almost every culture. From the śrāvaka system of followers in Buddhism to the traditions of knighthood in the European Middle Ages where a child would work their way from Page to Squire to Knight (1), the passing on of discipleship has always been a key to the advancements mankind has made throughout history.
Even in modern times, academics has become a sort of discipleship for scholars, although instead of strictly studying under only one mentor there is the luxury of accumulating mass amounts of information under many mentors within a short span of time. Yet there are other ways of discipleship, such as craftsmen with a specific skillset like a woodworker or a mechanic. Regardless, discipleship is a key to human development.
So then, what is discipleship in Judeo-Christianity and why is it so crucial to Judeo-Christianity? In simple terms, a disciple is “a person who is a pupil or an adherent of the doctrines of another. (2)” In this case, that would be the doctrines of Church Tradition, which originate with the teachings of Jesus the Messiah that were based off of Judaism. Even then, Judaism was directly instructed by YHWH (God) to the Hebrew people who passed it on through each and every generation. Within a Judeo-Christian context, there are 5 varying levels of discipleship in a pyramid structure set from top to bottom in order of closest followers in relation to Christ: the 1, the 3, the 12, the 70, and the masses. Shown below is an example of this breakdown:
- The 1: Peter (formerly known as Simon).
- The 3: Peter, James the son of Zebedee (or Jacob), and John.
- The 12: Peter, James the son of Zebedee, John the brother of James, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James (or Jacob) the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot (or the Cananaean), and Judas Iscariot.
- The 70: the appointed 70 (or 72) sent in 35 (or 36) pairs into the cities that Jesus would eventually go to shortly.
- The Masses: The crowds that would gather during specific moments of Jesus Christ’s 3-year ministry.
If we were to use this template for one of my mentors, Andrew Morrison, it would look something like this for the men he has mentored at our old youth group:
- The 1: Bailey.
- The 3: Bailey, Christopher (Me), and David.
- The 12: Bailey, Christopher (Me), David, Zachary, John (My Brother), Jeremiah, Yomar, Daniel, Jaden, Samuel, Taylor, and Jeffrey.
- The 70: the youth group of students that he served in a local congregation that we both went to for a number of years.
- The Masses: all the students that have ever interacted or met Andrew.
So what is expected of a disciple? What does a disciple of Christ do and what did the disciples do when Jesus was still on Earth? In retrospect, the disciples were expected to do a lot from Jesus such as having authority over unclean spirits (3), instructed them to feed the 5,000 (4), commanded them to not rebuke those that cast out evil spirits in Jesus name (5), and even giving up family to follow Him (6). These are just a few examples from the Gospel of Mark, but there are numerous other instances where Jesus expects His disciples through faith in Him to do the remarkable, yet settle for standing on the sidelines.
It was not until later on that the disciples slowly became more adamant in following what Jesus actually taught them. A notable example is when Peter and 120 other believers gathered together to pray. After some time, the Day of Pentecost came where they all began proclaiming the wonderful things of God in the native tongues of the various people groups in the Jerusalem area. When some critics accused them of being drunk, Peter stood up and preached his infamous sermon that led to the conversion of 3,000 people into the Kingdom of God (7).
But what do we do once our mentors leave us and move onto the next calling God has drawn them towards in life? In actuality it is quite simple: do what your mentor did. Now I know that can be a vague answer, so allow me to breakdown what most mentors do by using the greatest example that is Jesus.
In the few years that Jesus publicly led a ministry, He did some distinct things that every mentor does concerning discipleship. He chose His disciples (8), He lived life with His disciples (9), and taught them all that they needed to know before it was time for Him to leave (10). Put simply, the disciples of Christ and the disciple of any mentor is a) selected, b) schooled, c) and sent (11). This third and final point is when the discipleship cycle repeats itself. When Jesus left to go to Heaven, each of the twelve took on disciples to teach what they were taught to bring about the furtherance of the Gospel message. For instance, Peter discipled John-Mark, while John discipled both Prochorus and Polycarp.
Contrary to some, the twelve didn’t choose Jesus, rather Jesus chose His twelve disciples (12). After Jesus chose them, then they chose to answer the invitation and follow Him. Likewise, when your time comes to disciple another, you must choose them first as the disciple-maker. Then that person that you choose, whoever it may be, must decide whether or not to follow you as you follow Christ.
Regarding living life together, Jesus ate with his disciples, had the twelve report back to Him regarding their mission trips and outreaches (13), along with private sermons during their travels (14). It was this intimate exposure and schooling that led to the ultimate martyrdom of 10 disciples, the suicide of Judas Iscariot due to self-inflicted condemnation, and John’s death in exile on the island of Patmos. The effect that Jesus had on those who knew Him best was extraordinary.
This same effect will be present in the relationships that a mentor and a disciple have with each other. An unbreakable bond of friendship or sadly for some, an absolutely heartbreaking end for either the mentor or the disciple. The key to the heartbreak is forgiveness because for you mentors, your disciples will fail you and for you disciples, your mentors will fail you. Forgiveness and grace must always be present in these interactions of learning. Mentors choose wisely and disciples follow discerningly.
Now one more point that must be addressed and that is this: the difference between parenting and mentoring. The two are usually smashed together, but I see them as separate roles that one can have in their lifetime. A parent, whether father or mother, has the role of equipping their children with how to live in life. They teach us how to dress, how to behave, how to talk, how to eat, how to maintain personal cleanliness, how to treat others, and other skills that we all need to know. All the necessities and essentials of life, in order to properly operate in our given society or culture. Basically, our ultimate well-being during our upbringing.
A mentor is someone that chooses you to learn a specific skill, tool, or message to carry onto the next generation. They are the sports coaches, the school teachers, and the managers that we all have had in our lives. They teach us how to perform in our selective sport or how to be the best that we can be at our jobs that may become careers. They may teach us mathematics, science, history, or any other academic pursuit, but nevertheless teach us the specificities of that certain pursuit.
Parenting is a familial, whether biological or adoptive, inherited affair that has the sole purpose of teaching the generalities in life to your child(ren). Mentoring is a non-familial, chosen affair that has the sole purpose of teaching the specificities in life to your student(s). In other words, a parent may teach you how to change the oil in your car or how to change a tire, but a mentor teaches you every facet of what the car is and how to build one to its fullest potential.
Back to the topic at hand, how does one stay discipled? You stay disciplined in the ways of your mentor by living out what was taught to you by your mentor. In this case, follow them as they follow Christ. Do what they did. What did they do? They did their best to emulate what Jesus lived. He selected His disciples, He schooled them in all that they needed to know, and once they were done being schooled were consequently sent out to select new disciples in Jesus name.
Discipleship was and never is easy. It costs a lot. A lot more than you could ever imagine. The role of a mentor is even more costly because you have taken the responsibility to pour everything that you know to be true into this soul that may or may not take in what you have to say. Jesus referred to discipleship as a daily dying of self (15) and this is the best description of discipleship. Die to self to give life to another. The ultimate sacrifice for there is no greater love than to lay your life down for a friend (16). A disciple. A child in the faith.
Press on and stand strong. It may be time to leave your mentor to be a mentor, but do not be afraid because you follow Jesus. Don’t become distracted with the affairs of this life. Be attentive. Don’t attend a church. Be the church. Don’t be a church goer. Be a church constructor. Above all, be a fisher of men by being a disciple-maker.
With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless!
- Mark 6:7-13
- Mark 6:33-44
- Mark 9:38-40
- Mark 10:28-31
- Acts 2:1-42
- Mark 1:14-20, Mark 2:14
- Mark 2:15-17
- Mark 4:33-34
- My Dad created this three-word description of discipleship: selected, schooled, and sent out.
- John 15:16
- Mark 6:30
- Mark 8:14-21
- Luke 9:23
- John 15:13