What does the Bible say about being a Disciple and Discipler?
Scripture does give us numerous examples of discipling. Moses was discipled by his father-in-law Jethro, first as son-in-law and then as a leader (Exodus 18). The discipling relationship between Eli and Samuel prepared Samuel for the tasks and responsibilities that were his after Eli’s death (1 Samuel 1–4). Jesus discipled His disciples (Luke 9), and both Barnabas and Paul excelled in discipling relationships (Acts 9–15).
Jesus made His style of discipling clear: He led so that we can follow. He said, “If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24-26). Because He is our leader and we are to follow Him, Christian discipling is a process dependent upon submission to Christ. Neither the Discipler nor the Disciple controls the relationship. As such, the process is best characterized by mutual sharing, trust, and enrichment as the life and work of both participants is changed. The Disciple serves as a model and a trusted listener. The Discipler relies on the Holy Spirit to provide intentional Biblical insight, change lives, and teach through the modeling process.
The Apostle Paul spelled out discipling as his leadership model very simply. “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice” (Philippians 4:9). In essence, he is saying, “Let me disciple you. Let me be your role model.” He reminds the new Christians at Thessalonica to “follow our example” (2 Thessalonians 3:7). Example. Teach. Model. These are all facets of discipling which are indispensable in developing fully devoted followers of Jesus and in transmitting the faith from one generation to the next. It goes without saying that if disciplers expect others to follow their example, they must be wholeheartedly committed to following Christ. Any hint of hypocrisy—”do what I say, not what I do”—will be detrimental to both the discipler and disciple in this relationship.
Not only Jesus and the apostles, but elders in the local church also do their work by discipling. Peter commands, “Be examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3), and Paul explains to the elders at Ephesus, “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you” (Acts 20:17). In other words, Paul is telling the elders, “I showed you, now you show them.” In all truth, if a Christian leader is not discipling someone, to that degree he or she is not living up to his or her calling.
Of course, God has filled the body of Christ with many potential disciplers besides those who are named as elders or shepherds. The official church leaders cannot personally meet all the mentoring needs of everyone. While it may not be possible for shepherds to personally, intentionally, hands-on disciple each sheep that needs discipling, they are to help these needy sheep find godly mentors. To provide for the discipleship needs of their local community of faith, the leaders must be intentional, continually expanding the circle of disciplers by “equipping others” to be disciplers.