What is a disciple? Many people claim to be Christians, but what exactly does that mean? The first time the title, “Christian” was used it was in the context of opposition and used in a derisive manner (Acts 11:26). What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? In short, to be a disciple or a follower of Christ means to be a person who learns from Him and seeks to obey Him. Mark Dever explains:
What is a disciple? A disciples is a follower. You can do that by following someone’s teaching from afar, like someone might say he follows the teaching and example of Gandhi. And being a disciple of Christ means at least that much. A disciple of Jesus follows in Jesus’s steps, doing as Jesus taught and lived. But it means more than that. Following Jesus first means that you have entered into a personal, saving relationship with him. You have been “united with Christ,” as the Bible puts it (Phil. 2:1, NIV). You have been united through the new covenant in his blood. Through his death and resurrection, all the guilt of sin that is yours becomes his, and all the righteousness that is his becomes yours. 
Discipleship Explained from the Pulpit
The pulpit is the best training ground for making disciples. Through a healthy and balanced preaching ministry, the subject of discipleship will be addressed in a careful way through biblical exposition. Unfortunately, many churches become unbalanced in their approach to preaching and teaching the Bible. Some churches are known for their evangelism and missions while other churches are known for their emphasis upon discipleship. Which one is correct? The answer is that neither approach is accurate. Both discipleship and missions are necessary in the life of the local church—like two wings on an airplane, and without one or the other the plane will go down.
As the Word of God is expounded on a weekly basis, the subject of discipleship will be covered in texts such as Matthew 28:18-20 and all through the book of Acts and the epistles. The work of the church is discipleship. Before one can engage in missions, a person must be a disciple of Jesus and learn how to make disciples as commissioned by Jesus. If you get the cart before the horse or if you head off down the trail without the horse—it will spell disaster in your mission. It’s essential to know what discipleship is before you move on to engage in making disciples.
Discipleship Modeled by Biblical Preaching
The way in which the Bible is handled on a week-by-week basis in the pulpit will go a long way in teaching the congregation how to read and study the Bible. It’s like a pastor who teaches a congregation to be zealous about missions, but he never goes out and shares the gospel outside of a classroom or pulpit setting. How much evangelism do you think his congregation will effectively engage in? The pastor who teaches his congregation to rightly handle the Bible and to study the Bible in the proper context through a literal, historical, and grammatical approach will never see his congregation follow that method if he doesn’t employ it in his preaching.
The reason so many Christians embrace a loose hermeneutic and an allegorical method of interpretation is because they have witnessed that type of preaching from the pulpit for so many years. If a father should not parent by saying to his son, “Do as I say and not as I do,” the pastor should not preach sermons by one method and expect the congregation to follow a different approach to Bible study. Preaching stands at the core of biblical discipleship.
Discipleship Happens Through Gospel Preaching
Discipleship is not centered on models, methods, marketing, and strategies. Disciples are made and strengthened through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Anyone can gather and engage in conversation about life, politics, parenting, and sports over coffee. Only through the gospel of Jesus Christ can true disciples be made and cultivated for the glory of God. How can we know about God’s expectation regarding holiness if people are merely talking about sports and the weather?
Today, the church is filled with hundreds of people who once upon a time called on Jesus’ name for salvation, but they’re not really interested in being a learner of Jesus. Instead, they want the benefits of Jesus without the rigors of being a student of Jesus. They want the joys of being a disciple without the work. John Calvin once said, “Something must be said about those who want to be called Christians but possess nothing of Christ except the title and appearance. They arrogantly glory in His holy name. But only those who have gained a true knowledge of Christ form the Word of the gospel have a relationship with Him.” 
Are you a true disciple of Jesus? Are you learning a proper discipleship model from the pulpit in your local church?
- Mark Dever, Discipling, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 35.
- John Calvin, A Little Book on the Christian Life, (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2017), 11.