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Psychology of Discipleship


There is more to discipleship than the salvation experience and membership in a local church.

psychology of discipleship

by Jaqueline Rasar


When Jesus gave the command to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19), He was speaking to a process of transformation that involves the whole person, including all aspects of a person’s life, which is why the discipline of psychology brings an interesting perspective to the command of discipleship. Psychology may be defined as the study of mental processes and behaviors. Mental processes include thoughts and feelings. Various elements of discipleship speak to these facets of the human experience.


Stimulates the Mind

First, discipleship should stimulate the mind. This can be done through reading, memorizing, contemplating, meditating, and talking about the things of God. Romans 12:2 states, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

Thinking is a challenge for some people today, because our culture emphasizes instant gratification and being satisfied with quick sound bites. I enjoy having a cell phone and using the internet, but these technological advances create a desire for instant gratification. Examples of quick sound bites include commercials and news headlines in which the main thrust of a product or story is presented, and people do not take the next step and delve further.

In contrast, the best process of discipleship leads to change in the way one thinks. This change requires depth, time, and hard work. In my experience, memorizing scripture is one of the biggest challenges, but when I engage in this activity, I am certain my mind is being transformed and renewed. Accept the challenge to love God with your mind.

Impacts the Emotions

Second, discipleship should impact one’s emotions. Everyone is emotional, but people vary in their ability to talk about, express, and manage emotions. As a psychology professor, I put much effort into encouraging emotional education in my classes. This is done through learning how to name emotions, discussing acceptable emotional expressions, and talking about circumstances that negatively impact one’s emotional state.

These examples of emotional education can also be implemented in your family and in the local church. Being in a relationship with God and a process of discipleship should make you feel. Peace, joy, and contentment are examples of such feelings, but sadly, it is also common for Christians to feel fearful, depressed, and worried. It is impossible for all negative emotions to be removed from one’s experience, but growth in this area is God-honoring. Emphasizing the Fruits of the Spirit—such as love, joy, and peace (Galatians 5:22)—in discipleship is one way to mature in the faith and experience transformed emotions.

The Fruits of the Spirit can be cultivated through selflessly serving others in love, engaging in activities that bring joy to the self and others, and forgiveness, mainly by forgiving people who have caused hurt. This important element of forgiveness brings peace and emotional healing. I encourage you to enter into a process of counseling with a Christian counselor or qualified pastor in order to deal with painful, unhealthy, and deep-seated emotions. Processing emotions, especially unhealthy ones, is hard work and a life-long endeavor. Don’t give up in this important pursuit because developing healthier emotional responses aids in Christian maturity.


Transforms the Behavior

Third, a discipleship process should transform what you do. The expression “actions speak louder than words” is true in many ways. The way disciples live should reflect Christ and His purposes. When someone is being discipled, he will change his actions in some way or another.

The spiritual disciplines—including Bible intake, prayer, worship, serving, evangelism, and stewardship—speak to the actions of a Christian. Donald Whitney wrote a wonderful book titled Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. I highly recommend the book as a discipleship tool. A caution flag should go up about this aspect of discipleship. Don’t fall prey to the unbiblical belief, “I have to work my way to Heaven.” Living a holy life is the appropriate response to the gospel, but salvation comes through faith alone.

James 1:22-25 states, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.”

The blessing that comes from living out the Christian life makes the effort required worth it. The mature Christian may battle burn-out, but practicing the Christian life is of primary importance.


Enriches the Relationships

In addition to thinking, feeling and doing, another key aspect of discipleship is relationships. The gospel is relational in its nature because God reached down in love to mankind through the sacrifice and resurrection of His Son to bring us into a right relationship with Himself. Since the gospel is relational it makes sense that God would use other people to help us grow in that relationship.

This means that attending church once a week, relying on a TV evangelist or some other at-arms-length exposure to the truth of God will not turn you into a disciple of Christ. It takes interactions with other mature believers. Who has influenced you to grow in God? How has God used you to impact the life of a growing disciple? Make a commitment today to start or continue your transformation as a disciple of Christ.

In the book, Essentials of Discipleship, Cosgrove provides a biblical profile of a disciple. You can use this profile as a guide to self-assess your level of discipleship.

  1. A disciple is an open and teachable learner.

  2. A disciple puts Christ first in all areas of life.

  3. A disciple is committed to a life of purity and is taking steps to separate from sin.

  4. A disciple has a daily devotional time and is developing his prayer life.

  5. A disciple demonstrates faithfulness and a desire to learn and apply the word of God.

  6. A disciple has a heart for witnessing.

  7. A disciple attends church regularly.

  8. A disciple fellowships regularly with other believers.

  9. A disciple demonstrates a servant heart by helping others in practical ways.

  10. A disciple gives regularly and honors God with his finances.

  11. A disciple demonstrates the fruit of the Spirit.


Cosgrove, F.M. (1988). Essentials of discipleship. Fort Collins, CO: Treasure Publishing.
Whitney, D.S. (1991). Spiritual disciplines for the Christian life. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.


About the Writer: Jacqueline Rasar is the Psychology program coordinator at Free Will Baptist Bible College. Read more about the college at




©2010 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists