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What Is the Definition of a Disciple?

What is the definition of a disciple? What does it take to become one? The answer is both simpler and more complicated than you'd think.

Contributing Writer
Updated Aug 18, 2022
What Is the Definition of a Disciple?

What Does it Mean to Be a Disciple?

A disciple is a follower of God through Jesus Christ. Disciples are fishers of men. They are into saving souls and proclaiming the gospel. In Matthew 10, Jesus instructed and sent forth his twelve disciples. He gave them power against unclean spirits and cast them out. They were to heal all types of sickness and disease. Greg Laurie gives more details about what being a disciple entails:

Are you a disciple? Just because you are a Christian doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a disciple. Every disciple is a believer, but not every believer is a disciple.

Jesus gave us the definition of a disciple in Luke 14. Three times in this passage, He said that if we do not do these things, we cannot be His disciples.

First, Jesus said, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (verse 26). A statement like that is shocking, but let’s understand what Jesus was saying. He obviously was not telling us to hate in the traditional sense. Rather, Jesus was saying that your love for God should be so strong, so intense, that all other loves would be like hatred in comparison.

Second, Jesus said, “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (verse 27). If you want to live life to its fullest, then you must deny yourself and put Christ first. You take your goals, desires, dreams, and aspirations, and you present them to God. And ultimately you will discover that God’s plans for you are always the best.

Last, Jesus said, “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it? . . . So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (verses 28, 33). You must count the cost to follow Jesus. Yes, it costs to follow Jesus. But it costs more not to follow Him.

Jesus called us to go and make disciples (see Matthew 28:19). But it takes one to make one. Taken from “Are You a Disciple?” from Harvest Ministries (used by permission).

How do we make disciples? First, you need to be saved and confess that Jesus is Lord. Next, get baptized. Most Christians do. John the Baptist baptized Jesus. Read the Bible so that you may know the character of Christ. It is great to shoot from the hip and provide real-world experience, but the Bible says, “If I be lifted up from the world, I’ll draw all men unto me” (John 12:32).

People are searching for significance. Flesh and blood have failed them enough. We cannot be anyone’s Saviour. Only Jesus can be our Saviour. We need to read the word because it builds up our faith to witness. People respond to the word of God because it is truth. They also expect those who call themselves disciples to be prepared.

The next time you go to church, notice the call to discipleship. After the pastor delivers the word, they open the doors of the church for people to be saved, join the church, or transfer their church membership. The preached word is one of the most consistent means of bringing new Christians into the body of Christ. It is a means of making disciples.

Some churches have a year-long program to teach new members how to become disciples. They may do this through a Sunday school class for new members, or they may have a new members class or cohort. They teach the principles of their denomination and what it means to be a disciple. They teach what their particular denomination values and is based on. They also tell you what is required. Others may do this through a Bible Study. It is customary for disciples to go through a period of teaching, as referenced in Acts 11:26.

Disciple discipleship characteristics include self-denial, renunciation, perseverance, and brotherly love. In Jesus’ day, his disciples had to forsake their former lives and follow Him. Obedience is required. Taking up the cross is required, and you must have the ability to suffer persecution at times.

Read Matthew 10 as Jesus instructs and sends forth his disciples. He warned them that they would be delivered up to councils or brought before governors and kings for his sake. He told them they would be hated above all men for his sake but endure to the end and be saved. If they were persecuted in one city, they would flee to another. There are rewards to being a disciple. You will bear much fruit (John 15:8). You will have the light of life (John 8:12). You will receive honor in heaven (John 12:27).

Do We Make Disciples in Small Groups?

Most ministries encourage people to attend Sunday School or Bible Study. This is a way for people to interact on a small scale with other Christians, especially if you are at a larger church. I have heard testimonies of people who started their ministries with a small group of people, and it grew.

I have heard of those who say they attend ministries with small groups or cells. What works for you best as a Christian? If you attend a local church, I encourage you to make sure your church sanctions these events. Unfortunately, people do get misled by those who seek followers but may not be placed there to be the pastor or group leader.

Attending seminary or Bible college is also a means of becoming a disciple. You are gathering with a group of believers who are studying Biblical topics. I took a seminary class once and found it to be very enjoyable. Most of the people in the class were ministers or those aspiring to increase their knowledge of the New Testament. Everyone was having an enjoyable time trying to debate others on various issues. You could tell that people were very enthusiastic. I think I grew as a disciple while taking that course.

Do We Make Disciples One on One?

We make disciples one on one by working with a mentor or leader. After Jesus was resurrected, he spoke again unto his disciples. He challenged them to make disciples of all nations. His words are listed in Matthew 28:18-20. Jesus reminded them that all power had been given to him in heaven and earth. As they make disciples, Jesus will be with them. So, they do not have to feel alone; they can press forward with full power and strength.

If you are a Christian, people are watching you. They are watching to see how you act under pressure. They are watching to see how you treat others. Others want to see if you are who you say you are. Many are trying to decide to get themselves right with the Lord and grow. Some are backsliders. Sometimes, we make coming to Christ harder than it really is. We simply have to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and He died on the cross to save our souls. We must repent regularly because we miss the mark from time to time.

Some people like one-on-one mentoring, and some do not. When I joined a Baptist church in college, they paired me up with another Christian. The intent was to have someone mentoring me in being who Christ wanted me to be.

Many married couples help each other grow in discipleship by praying together, attending church services together, reading the word together, and challenging each other to grow. I have seen instances where couples have attended seminary together or participated in some online Biblical studies. It is important to do these things together so that you come under the same word.

What Is One Thing We Can Do as Disciples? 

Again, one of the things Jesus calls us to do as disciples is to make disciples of all nations. We need to not only seek opportunities to grow spiritually with other believers but also offer Christ to others by witnessing to them. Not everyone has the same means of witnessing. Some people are a part of prison ministries. Others visit senior citizens’ apartments. Many work with youth. A suitable number of churches or organizations canvas neighborhoods and leave literature on cars or at homes or apartments. Some people use social media to witness to others.

Try not to offend people when you witness to them. Sometimes, I ask God to show me how to witness to people. You do not want to always come across as a know-it-all. You also need to be as wise as a serpent. The Bible says, “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). God will search the hearts, try the reins, and give to every man according to his ways and according to the fruit of his doings (Jeremiah 17:10).

Make sure you have studied the word and know it before you start witnessing. You will often witness to people who already know Christ and know the Bible better than you. They may even have attended seminary or some Bible college. They may also have a closer relationship with God than you and spend much time praying. Some may be operating in various gifts that give them an edge in witnessing.

Often, the Holy Ghost will give you a cue on when to witness. Sometimes, witnessing can be as simple as answering a question. After answering the question, that may be the end of your witnessing at that time. I remember when I first started teaching school. I taught first grade. While we were working on math, a student asked a Bible question. I believe it was clarity about whether or not “Thou shalt not steal.” was a commandment. I was encouraged to answer the question and could tell God was listening to see if I would answer the student’s question. I answered his question, and then we continued with our math practices.

Sometimes the children we teach are not attending church. You may be the only Bible they read until they become adults and can take themselves to church. It is important to be fair to all children if you are in a teaching environment. They may decide to come to Christ because of the way you presented yourself to them. You did not come on the scene as a Sunday school teacher in their classroom. You were prepared with your lessons. You were fair. You cared for all students.

We have no idea what people are going through before they get to the job. We do not know what children must go through before they get to school. If you see people at the grocery store, you do not know what sacrifices they made to purchase what they are purchasing. Always be on your best behavior and let your light shine. Try to be kind. You do not know what types of spirits they deal with in their families, on their job, or out in the community.

COVID-19 has changed the game on how we operate. People are more careful because of the disease and are more cautious about how they interact with people. With these new procedures, it is important to respect people’s space. You might have to witness someone wearing a mask, and that is okay.

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Small Group Network

Dr. Sandra SmithDr. Sandra Hamer Smith is a Christian and wife to Sylvester Smith. She has one stepson, Greg. Smith lives and resides in Memphis, Tennessee. The University of Memphis alumnae has been in education for about 20 years after receiving the call to teach. Dr. Smith primarily teaches language arts. Prior to education, she worked in local and national television news for 13 years including positions as an overnight news anchor, reporter, and assignments editor at two local network affiliate stations. Smith was also a freelance correspondent for BET news. Dr. Smith has freelanced for the Tri-State Defender newspaper and Contempora magazine.  She is the author of the self-published novel GLORY…THE HAIR.  Smith is also a playwright and poet. The Tennessee native is a member of Temple of Deliverance COGIC, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc, Omicron Delta Kappa, The Golden Key International Honour Society, and Kappa Delta Pi.


This article is part of our Christian Terms catalog, exploring words and phrases of Christian theology and history. Here are some of our most popular articles covering Christian terms to help your journey of knowledge and faith:

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