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The Centrality of Discipleship

They left everything to follow Jesus. They sacrificed careers, family time, worldly possessions and aspirations. They followed him, believed in him. Then, the impossible happened: their Lord was crucified. Everything they had imagined for the future, gone, just like that.

Except, as you know, the story didn’t end there. Three days later, their women had a strange report. Not only was Jesus not in the tomb where he was buried, he was alive. Gloriously, incredibly, resurrected!

Imagine how sweet those next few weeks must have been for the original disciples as they repeatedly encountered the risen Christ. The deepest longing of their hearts, fulfilled. So many questions, answered. Their previous hopes replaced by even more incredible realities.

And then: the last meeting. Jesus prepares to ascend to the Father, leaving his disciples for the final time. They are soaking up every moment, hanging on every word. At last, Christ speaks his parting instructions and final affirmations to his faithful followers: “All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Go and make disciples.” This simple instruction was to be the central job of the Church moving forward, a strategy encompassing the twin missions of evangelism and spiritual maturity that produces more of the same. Today, churches use the term “discipleship” to mean a variety of things, from general spiritual growth to church engagement to one-on-one meetings following a specific curriculum.

But to Jesus’ audience, “disciples” were the followers of a specific rabbi. They would often live together, devoting their lives to following him around, absorbing not simply his teachings but also his way of life, ultimately seeking to replicate, a process many Christian thinkers today observe more closely matches our term “apprenticeship” than anything else. The hallmarks of this “Jesus-style” discipleship is that it’s personal, relational, intentional, and produces fruit.

But… is this necessary? As modern people, might Sunday church gatherings, the Christian publishing industry, and seminaries suffice? Consider the surprising conclusions Barna drew after surveying thousands of church-goers. They found that Christians in a “discipleship community” (defined as those who receive spiritual mentorship and also provide that to others) do best across a startling range of outcomes, including:

  • Their relationship with God bringing them satisfaction and impacting their daily lives

  • Belief that Christians have a responsibility to invest in others, backed up by action

  • Increased prayer & word time; passion & joy in following God

  • Thriving Christian relationships characterized by deep vulnerability, trust, confession, encouragement, and support during hard times

  • Are outwardly focused, reporting close relationships with others in their neighborhoods and at work

Barna’s conclusions match what we see in every day. It has been our experience that as we engage with the pastors of some of the most thriving churches, the leaders of the most effective nonprofits in our city, and some of the most powerfully kingdom-minded leaders in the marketplace, that they have been personally discipled or spiritually mentored at far higher rates than average.

If we want to see our city, indeed our culture, transformed, then we need to see more Jesus-style discipleship. People who have been invested in personally, intentionally, and relationally tend to catch a vision for doing ministry. They tend to replicate. Not always – it’s not guaranteed! – but it’s the most effective strategy the Church has. We shouldn’t be surprised. It was the Lord’s command.

The Columbus Discipleship Network provides inspiration, equipping, and community for disciple-making. In the last 9 months, we’ve had over 100 people representing more than 60 churches and organizations join our monthly lunches. At these one-hour gatherings, everyday followers of Jesus can have their vision refreshed, practical skills honed, and develop community relationships to help provide support and encouragement for biblical, Jesus-style discipleship.

If you are a practitioner of discipleship or just curious to get started, we’d love to have you join us for the journey as we learn together! Find out more about us, register for an upcoming gathering, discover inspirational stories, and access helpful resources at


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