A Working Definition

By DiscipleshipJournal • Discipleship • 7 Oct 2012

There are so many things I want to write about discipleship but a good idea would be to start with a working definition of “disciple”.

Two Words
In a very crude overview, We get the word disciple from a Latin word discipulus. This was the word chosen to translate the Greek word mathetes which was deemed equivalent to the Hebrew word talmid. Both words are most simply translated as “student” or “learner” (though some important details are lost in translation–I’ll save that for a later post)

Sadly, this simple definition carries a lot of cultural and experiential baggage that stops us from understanding the full extent of what is involved, since for us a student/learner is primarily concerned with accumulating cognitive information and practical skills.

(One of my frustrations with what passes for “discipleship” today is that so often it has been reduced to that: information and skill accumulation… But more about that another day.)

Being a disciple is so much more than mere accumulation.

Two Relationships
In a student-teacher relationship a student aims to know what the teacher knows (or what the teacher requires that you know!). A conscientious student would seek to learn everything they can about their subject that the teacher knows. Knowledge and skill is transferred from the teacher to the student.

In the disciple-rabbi relationship a disciple aims to be what their rabbi is. A disciple was not content knowing what their rabbit knows, but wanted to learn everything they could that would help them be like their teacher—learning what He learned, memorizing what He memorized, doing what He did, living according to His instructions.

A disciple’s life was about imitating their rabbi. This was not just blind imitation, becoming robotic clones of the rabbi. It was grounded in a deep relationship with the rabbi and understanding a lot of the “whys”. They wanted to know who they were, what they believed, why they did what they did, learning the underlying principles and motivations and modelling their life after them.

The Spectrum
There are good students and bad students.  The same is true with disciples–there are good disciples, bad disciples, and everything in between.  For many of us, we’ve seen more bad disciples than good and that too clouds our understanding of what a disciple is.  When looking at the discipleship process we are looking at a “good disciple”.  What does a fully discipled person look like?  What are we aspiring to be, and what are we aspiring to lead others to be?

A Working Definition:
And so, while trying to keep it simple, a working definition:

A (good) disciple is someone who is entirely invested in becoming like Jesus.

We all fall short of being perfect disciples, but let’s resolve to become more like Him and to pull one another along as we become like Christ.

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