Whoever said discipleship was easy was misinformed. Paul refers to the work of discipleship as a “struggle” in Colossians 2:1-3. The process of making disciples and discipling disciples is a difficult work, but it’s what Jesus has commissioned us to do. If we give ourselves to teaching athletics, building friendships, or doing service ministry (social work), but we don’t engage in the work of discipleship—we’ve missed our calling as a disciple of Jesus (Matt. 28:18-20). Mark Dever writes:
At the heart of Christianity is God’s desire for a people to display his character. They do this through their obedience to his Word in their relationships with him and with each other. Therefore he sent his Son to call out a people to follow him. And part of following the Son is calling still more people to follow the Son. 
As we examine the work of discipleship, there are many different component parts and aspects—but there are three elements that are central and necessary for true discipleship to happen.
You can build community around almost anything—from coffee to athletics. One foundational necessity for Christian discipleship is biblical theology. In order to lead people to a higher knowledge of God, such knowledge is built upon a firm foundation of the gospel.
This is where many small groups derail themselves in discipleship. They gather over food, have deep and rich conversations, build important relationships—but they don’t have strong teaching and what they do learn in those settings can often be shallow. That’s not the case for all small groups, but that ditch has certainly claimed a massive number of small groups through the years. Theology matters and it’s a necessity to build discipleship relationships on God’s Word in order to see people grow spiritually.
How many older men do you know who claim to have been saved for many years but don’t posses the theological capabilities to disciple someone in the faith? This is far more common than you might think—especially in the Baptist church.
When you read the New Testament, you see that Jesus invested time in people’s lives. He intentionally spent time with disciples, taught them, prayed with them, prayed for them, and modeled a life of holiness before them. Discipleship is hard work because it requires a time investment.
Everyone begins each day with the same number of hours, it’s how those hours are spent that prevent biblical discipleship from taking place. That goes for individual Christians as well as for churches as a whole. In Acts 20:31, Paul described his ministry in Ephesus as consisting of “night and day.” How many churches do you know that seem to be too busy doing everything other than making disciples?
It may seem like an obvious point, but true biblical discipleship requires a willingness on all parties involved. The one who is taking the lead in the process of discipleship as well as the one being discipled—everyone must be willing to engage in the process or it will not happen. Before people can learn anything, they must be willing to learn. Before people can follow Jesus, they must be willing to see His example from the pages of Scripture, hear His Word taught, and watch Christianity modeled in the lives of others.
This is why the church is a necessity. It doesn’t matter if you’re referencing one-to-one discipleship, small group discipleship—call it Sunday school, small groups, grace groups, connection groups, or whatever you like—there must be a willingness on all parties to get involved, learn, talk, pray, and put into action the gospel of Jesus Christ.
You can’t force people into discipleship. You can’t guilt trip people into discipleship. Anything less than a willingness to grow as a disciple of Jesus will lead to a broken model—one that may build friendships but may not end in genuine disciple making.
The work of discipleship is not one thing the church does—it’s what the church does. It requires theology, time, and willing people. Without theology—it’s friendship. Without time—it can’t work. Without willing people—it will never work.
- Mark Dever, Discipling, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), Introduction.