Discipleship isn’t some mystical process performed in classrooms or monasteries. It’s simply helping one another follow Jesus. And because we don’t just follow Jesus at church, but in everyday life, making disciples is meant to be carried out in all arenas of life. Real simple, real-life discipleship happens in the grocery store as well as the sanctuary, in the backyard as well as the Sunday school classroom.
Understanding the real-life context of discipleship demystifies the process and propels all of us into our God-given mission. That’s why discipleship isn’t about perfection; it’s about authenticity. Here’s the difference.
1. Authenticity offers hope.
Following Jesus isn’t about arriving at a destination; it’s a process of following ever closer this side of heaven. In fact, when we ask those who have walked with the Lord for a long time, we’re likely not to hear an “arrived” mentality, but rather a humble expression of continued realization of their sin. That’s the rubber-meets-the-road dynamic of spiritual growth: As we progress toward maturity, we actually see how much farther we have to go. The hope for a young person in a mentoring relationship isn’t so much in arriving at perfection, but in seeing older adults still walking, still pursuing, still going forward, still trusting in the grace of God even when tough times loom large.
2. Authenticity ensures that spiritual growth is nurtured in a community of faith.
We’re meant to grow together. That’s a little off-putting sometimes, since most of us grew up in a culture where the value of personal achievement was drilled into our minds from an early age. But make no mistake — God intends for us to grow in Christ together.
In fact, God exists in a community of three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And Jesus prayed that as His followers, we might be brought to complete unity. God indeed calls us to Himself as individuals, but when we’re born again, we’re born into a family where members are to help each other follow Jesus. And when we’re open and honest with each other, we nurture the family of God.
3. Authenticity ensures that the gospel is kept central.
Let’s say I’m mentoring a young man, but I never confess my own sin, show weakness, or acknowledge shortcomings. That person is likely to leave a conversation with me thinking, I wish I could be like Michael. But that’s counter to the goal of discipleship. The illusion of perfection has become a stumbling block for the very person I’m trying to help because I’ve taken the focus off Jesus and His work on the cross and put it squarely on myself. Ouch.
Through authenticity, though, you and I can point others back to the gospel time and time again. We can reveal when we are weak, Jesus is strong. When we fall short, He makes up for what we lack. When we stumble, Jesus is sure-footed. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Authenticity beats the drum of the gospel over and over again — and makes a powerful impact on others.
4. Authenticity paves discipleship as a two-way street.
Authentic spiritual mentors position themselves to receive from the relationship as well as give. Imagine how wonderful to see younger people discover spiritual truths we’ve embraced for years. Imagine the joy of helping others grow in Christ. And imagine how our own relationship with Jesus might be pushed to new heights as others share with us what they’re learning in the Word because of our guidance.
Make disciples is the imperative for each and every one of us, so let’s seize the opportunity to engage in authentic discipleship.
Michael Kelley is director of discipleship at LifeWay Christian Resources and the author of Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal and Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life. He holds a Master of Divinity degree from Beeson Divinity School and lives with his wife and three kids in Nashville, Tenn.