What is a Disciple?
Years ago, I received an invitation to meet with several national discipleship leaders. If I mentioned their names, you would know them. Most of them had written extensively about discipleship for decades and led national disciple-making ministries. Honestly, I’m not even sure why I was in the room. I felt like a kid invited to sit at the adult table for the first time.
Once the meeting started, the conversation turned to making disciples. The question came up, “How do you define a disciple?” Everyone jumped in like a pack of dogs on a bone, and soon the conversation turned into a heated debate. Before long, sharp words were being tossed across the table like verbal bombs. I couldn’t believe what I saw. Here were the top minds in North America on discipleship, and we couldn’t agree on a simple definition.
Same words, different language
Finally, Bill Hull stood to his feet. His six-foot-seven frame towered over everyone who was seated. Bill had pastored churches for years before serving in denominational leadership. However, over the past three decades, he has probably been the most prolific writer and speaker on the topic of discipleship. His works are the gold standard for understanding biblical disciple making.
Everyone in the room had the highest respect for Bill, so when he raised his hands in a gesture to quiet the crowd, the room fell silent. “Gentlemen,” he said in a calm tone with a gentle smile, “we are using the same words, but we are speaking a different language.” He was right.
Everyone was using the word “disciple” but meaning something different. I find that to be the case just about every time I gather to talk about disciple making with pastors. Everyone agrees that we should make disciples. Everyone agrees that churches should produce disciples, but not everyone agrees on the definition of a disciple.
So how do you define a “disciple”?