Discipleship is one of the most underutilized aspects of Christian ministry. Yet its importance can’t be overstated. The Epistles mention worship, prayer, and evangelism far more often than discipleship. However, the few passages discussing discipleship make it clear that a healthy church is a church in which discipleship takes place.
First, discipleship was Christ’s main method of building his future church. Christ had many followers (Mark 5:24). However, his closest followers – those personally he spiritually mentored – were his disciples. Their importance in Christ’s ministry can’t be overstated. Jesus refers to his disciples over two hundred times in the gospels, clearly emphasizing the importance of discipleship in his ministry. It was these disciples which would be the foundation of the Apostolic church. In other words, making disciples is imitating Jesus’ ministry method would.
Second, the great commission, the very purpose of the church’s existence, is to make disciples of all nations by baptizing them and then teaching them (Matt. 28:16-20). The great commission is less about evangelism (although it certainly would assume evangelism is taking place), and more about discipleship. From this passage, we can observe that Christ is just as concerned about the maturity of his followers as he is about the number of his followers.
Finally, Paul makes it clear that discipleship was a key part of his own ministry. Throughout his ministry, Paul had surrounded himself with young men whom he poured his life into much like Christ had the twelve (Matt. 24:3). Timothy is probably the best known, but Luke, John Mark, and others are also mentioned. In second Timothy, Paul made it clear that he had discipled timothy, and that his goal was to make Timothy a mature believer who would then disciple other disciple-makers (II Tim. 2:1-2)!
Unsurprisingly, studies show that the time parents spend with their children matter: “Plenty of studies have shown links between quality parent time — such as reading to a child, sharing meals, talking with them or otherwise engaging with them one-on-one — and positive outcomes for kids” (my emphasis). Parents who actively interact with their children regularly tend to raise children who grow up to be mature, well-balanced adults (Prov. 4:10). It should surprise us that the same is truth with believers! Just like children who are “discipled” by their parents for years tend to turn out to be mature, well-balanced adults, most believers who are discipled for years turn out to be spiritually mature Christians. Discipleship is vital for any healthy church. It helps people grow in the Lord in a way which Sunday worship or private devotions cannot. And as Christ alludes to in the great commission, it is the key to a church growing numerically as well.