In principle, how does discipleship work?

Discipleship works most essentially through instruction and imitation. Discipleship works best through love. As we lovingly instruct younger believers in the way of godliness and live commendable lives, they grow in Christlikeness by imitating our life and doctrine (see 1 Tim. 4:16).

Instruction: The Bible calls pastors and parents to instruct those given to their charge (Proverbs; Gal. 6:6; Eph. 6:4; 1 Thess. 4:8; 1 Tim. 1:18, 6:3; 2 Tim. 2:25; 4:2). It also calls all believers to instruct one another (Rom. 15:14).

Imitation: Christians are imitators, first of God, then of each other. We grow in God’s grace by listening and imitating. Consider the following passages:

  • “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1);
  • “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7);
  • “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:9);
  • “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings” (2 Tim. 3:10);
  • “Beloved, do not imitate evil, but imitate good” (3 John 11).

Love: People will imitate your life even when you don’t love them. But a leader who leads with love presents the best picture of Christ, and people will follow you best when you love them.

Friendship: In a sense, discipleship is simply friendship, but friendship with a Christ-ward direction. What do friends do? They imitate one another. In discipleship, we befriend others to grow in Christlikeness and to help them grow in Christlikeness.

How to be a disciple? (i) Listen and watch how older Christians work, rest, raise a family, deal with conflict, evangelize their neighbors, persevere through trials, serve in the church, or fight against sin. (ii) Imitate them!