Let’s clear up the meaning of discipleship. A good way to clear up the confusion is to consider the suffix—“ship”.

Here are a few ways this suffix is used.

Internship—an internship describes a program a person is undergoing to learn a skill. Interns, as such persons are called, have mentors and guides that help them learn the skill. As interns, they may not act on their own. Their work is supervised. Their mentors provide consultation. A popular type of internship is a medical internship. In a medical internship, the intern is learning how to practice medicine. Once they have showed they are ready, then the intern is released on their own to practice medicine in their given field. Once released, they are no longer interns. They are no longer in an internship. They have demonstrated proficiency. Now, they go into the world to practice medicine.

Apprenticeship is another use of the suffix. An apprenticeship is when a person studies under another person to learn a skill or trade. Like the intern, the apprentice seeks to be proficient and skilled enough to one day no longer be an apprentice.

More common words include membership, leadership, and friendship. In these words, the term ship means “the practice of.” For example, the practice of being a member of a church. Or the practice of leading. And the practice of being friends. Each of these words implies doing something.

Discipleship, with Christianity, means to study the teachings of Jesus in order to prove proficiency so that you can go out into the world and be a disciple. It is the practice of being a disciple of Jesus.

But what does being a disciple actually mean? What are you learning to do?

Merriam dictionary defines a disciple as one who adheres to the doctrines of another and spreads that doctrine.

Applying this definition, a Christian disciple is one who studies the doctrines of Jesus and spreads His doctrine to others.

So let’s get something clear. Discipleship doesn’t mean you go to church, read your Bible, and say your prayers every day. Make no mistake, you will do those things as they are ways you study the doctrines of Christ, but they are not what it means to be a disciple. You are working toward something. Sharing what you learn is what you are working toward. You are working to do what Jesus did in proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God.

A close reading of many of the stories of the Gospels reveals this basic tenant of the faith. Jesus often told his followers and would be followers to go proclaim the Kingdom of God. A once demon possessed man was told to tell what God had done for him. He told a person who wanted to follow him, to go proclaim the Kingdom. He sent his disciples on more than one occasion to go announce the Kingdom has drawn near. His final instructions before his ascension were to go into the world.

Discipleship is to learn what Jesus did and then to go do it. It is the practice of being a disciple—one who adheres to the doctrines of Christ and spreads them. Overlooking this central truth of the Gospel is to miss the meaning of discipleship.


Toby Lofton

Pastor, Teacher, Author.

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