A hallmark of the autumn season in the mid-Atlantic region is geese migration. If you look up into the sky on a crisp fall day, you’re likely to see a flock of geese flying in an arrow-like pattern toward the south. In this formation, most geese fall in behind a single goose at the head of the flock. The geese at the very back of the flock follow the geese right in front of them, who are following the singular leader at the front.

In a similar way, as disciples, we look to the leader of the flock, Jesus, as we follow Him and point others to follow Him as well.

A disciple, or a follower of Jesus, is someone who has been made alive by the grace of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Discipleship, then, means helping one another know and follow Jesus together. God has given us one another in the local church to link arms and march onward together in the same direction, toward our final and full rest and joy in Jesus forevermore.

In this post, we’ll consider a model for fruitful discipleship, discuss discipleship in a fallen world, and look together at the way forward for building discipling relationships in the local church. In fact, in the Bible, Paul illustrates for us a model of this type of edifying, God-glorifying discipleship in 1 Timothy.

What do we see there?

  1. Discipleship requires using words! Paul spares no words to explicitly teach Timothy throughout his two letters. Discipling relationships ought to consist of living life side by side, and not to consist of less than using our words to encourage, instruct, warn, and admonish one another.
  2. We must be people of the Word. Paul encourages Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:6 “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith of the good doctrine that you have followed.” Knowing God’s word by regular reading and study, not only individually but in the context of Christian community, is vital for healthy discipleship to flourish in the local church.
  3. We ought to be – or become – comfortable with telling of the grace we have received in Christ. Paul tells of his salvation in Christ in 1 Timothy 1:12-17 as he plainly explains his own previous opposition to Christ, then of the mercy shown to him by the Lord and the purpose for this mercy being God’s glory and honor. Testifying to others of the Lord’s faithfulness to us, personally, displays His patience and kindness toward us, and gives Him the glory as we point others to the transforming, redeeming work He has done in and through our lives. At Citylight, participating in the Gospel for Life class (offered once a year usually in the fall) is one way to learn how to do this.
  4. Discipleship means boldly encouraging one another to keep on in the faith. Paul says to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:16, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” There are many trials and temptations along the walk of faith. But the encouragement of brothers and sisters in Christ helps us – and them – to hold on to Jesus to the end.
  5. Prayer is vital for our discipling relationships and necessary for the thriving of the local church. 1 Timothy 2:1-7 highlights the priority of prayer when Paul says regarding the local church, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” God gives us the means of prayer to commune with Him and to join in the work of what He is doing through prayer. James 5:16 encourages us here, saying, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
  6. We ought to love God’s good design for the local church, especially in regard to gender roles and God-given authority of leadership. Paul highlights the nature and order of gender roles and the overview of authority given to those in the church as he fleshes out in 1 Timothy 2:8-15:

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

As we read this passage humbly and with a desire to be shaped by the Spirit we can come to recognize that while modern cultural efforts would claim that the church must modernize or risk becoming obsolete, God’s design for the local church, and specifically for men and women, is to be highly desired and sought by believers. But why? Since Genesis, God has made his good plans for all things clear, including the flourishing of the church. Therefore, because we want what God wants, we want to love God’s good design for the local church.

Coming away from these six implications, some of us might find ourselves feeling incredibly emboldened to chart ahead. However, others of us might feel discouraged because this feels far from where we are. Here’s the hard but good news: In a fallen world, we all experience obstacles to discipling others. If discipling relationships feel foreign to you, you are not alone. If you feel ill-equipped for this calling, you are not alone. If it feels like you just need to “get it together” before you can disciple others, you are not alone.

The truth is there will never be a “right” time to make the commitment to invest in discipling relationships. Most of us feel very busy most of the time. Relationships can be messy. They are not efficient, and loving others is hard. We often feel unqualified. We feel like we need the investing in of others.

Here’s the really good news: In Christ, there is a way forward! Earlier we talked about God’s good design for the local body. That good design includes you, being made alive in Christ, having been placed here in the local church at this time, to be a critical and functioning member of the body. You are the femur that makes the leg walk; you are the phalange that makes the hand grip; you are the ligament that makes the joint hold together.

The bottom line is this: God’s people need you, no matter how messy, unqualified, or imperfect you feel. Most of us feel the same way about ourselves.

What’s more, getting started in a discipling relationship can actually be remarkably simple. Invite another believer in the local church to get together every other week, or even just once a month, and open up God’s word together. This can make a huge impact for the good of one another and have an eternally (literally!) positive impact. All that’s left from here is to take initiative and just do it! You can read more about discipleship at Citylight on our discipleship page.

Our God is with us, and so let’s be a flock of believers that moves toward one another out of the immeasurable love with which we have been loved in Christ. Having been made alive by the gospel of grace, let’s be a people who spur one another on to follow Jesus as the head of our flock until we reach our final home with God forever.