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January 2013

Learning the Ropes


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Discipleship Defined


Back to the basics of discipleship…

Discipleship Defined

By Todd Smith

The word disciple(s) occurs 270 times in the Bible, and with the exception of one instance, all in the New Testament. The Greek word simply means “a learner.” Discipleship includes three parts: communication, demonstration, and application. The greatest model of discipleship is the Lord Jesus Christ who taught the Apostles by word and example.


The first part of discipleship involves communication. We must communicate the truths of God’s Word. Learning is a part of growing. We learn by communication and by experimentation, and we have all experienced failure. Someone once said, “Experience is a good teacher,” but I might add, “Communication is a better teacher.”

It is a joy to see others come to know the Lord Jesus Christ, but we must not stop there. We must disciple them in the truths of God’s Word, communicating to them the way a Christian should live so they can grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Consider a small group or personal discipleship study like First Steps or Guide for New Believers, both published by Randall House.

The communication level of discipleship is best carried out in small groups. This was the example of Christ. He poured His life into 12 men, teaching them so they might teach others also. One of the greatest ways to grow a Sunday School or small group ministry is to multiply by dividing. When a class or group reaches approximately 20-30 students, divide it and continue the process of discipleship within the smaller groups or classes.



The second aspect of discipleship is demonstration. This is the relational aspect of discipleship. While Jesus took time to teach His Apostles, the Apostles learned just as much, if not more, through their relationship with Jesus. This is the level of discipleship in which the mentor must have wisdom regarding his students. No two people are alike, and everyone learns differently. It should not be our goal to change the new believer, but to teach him the truth of Scripture and allow the Holy Spirit to bring about needed changes.

It is much easier to motivate people to change once we build a relationship with them. Motivation without relationship often results in hesitation, but direction with relationship results in cooperation. Simply put, people are more willing to listen when we have a relationship with them.



The last aspect of discipleship is application. The student must apply what has been communicated and demonstrated to him. Christ illustrated this after the Parable of the Good Samaritan when He told His listeners, “Go and do thou likewise” (Luke 10:37). He expected them to apply the truth in their daily lives by doing what they had been taught.

Communication with application results in proliferation. We multiply by applying the truth of what we have learned. Discipleship of a new believer is a great opportunity. Jesus died for the world, but He discipled a small group. How can Christ depend upon you to be involved in discipleship today?


About the Writer: Todd Smith became the executive secretary of the South Carolina State Association of Free Will Baptists in 2007.


©2013 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists