What is a Disciple?
Updated: Mar 28
Author: Tim Cook, Lead Planter, 419 Ministries Canada and Church Relations, Maritime Christian College
What is a disciple and what is discipleship? It is important for church leaders to understand these terms in today’s context because being a disciple and making disciples is about having an eternal purpose.
I made a decision to follow Jesus in 2006 and at the time I wasn’t quite sure how I would answer the question: what is a disciple? I was also unsure what discipleship meant. Since then, I have been blessed to come alongside hundreds of churches and I have noticed that many would answer the questions about “What is a disciple?” and “What is discipleship?” very differently. The great commission is clear in that we are called to make disciples, but there is a second part of the great commission that speaks of teaching people about what Jesus commanded. I believe that the two go hand-in-hand because discipleship is connected to disciples making disciples.
Just before Jesus ascends back into Heaven where He now sits at the right hand of the Father, He says:
“All Authority in heaven an on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20) .
This scripture is packed with answers to the questions about what is a disciple and what discipleship is. The role of the church is to have disciples making disciples, and this is accomplished through discipleship. Some might describe this as offering classes to teach people more about the bible. Bible classes are good, but does this always lead to disciple making? Are we equipping disciples to go and make disciples that make disciples if we are only feeding them in a class?
Jesus certainly did preach and teach to the masses on many occasions, but it is notable that He spent most of His time working with the twelve disciples and even more with the inner three. He modelled what disciple making looked like and spent time with people in relationship. One of my mentors from Real Life Ministries Texas says “Relationship is the glue that holds it all together”. Proximity and time are the two ingredients for growing these relationships. That requires that we spend a lot more time with people than on Sunday mornings only or being in a class together.
Brandon Guindon, author of “Disciple Making Culture” , is the Lead Pastor at Real Life Ministries Texas and one of the adjunct professors at Maritime Christian College. He identifies four pillars that are required to create a culture where there are disciples making disciples. I believe these pillars will help us to better understand the definition of discipleship because discipleship is the process of growing spiritually as a disciple.
The first pillar is a sound biblical foundation, otherwise, what are we making disciples of?  The second pillar is intentional leadership, where disciples personally live out the life of a disciple maker and they teach the same to those they are discipling.  Many times disciple makers need to cut out unnecessary distractions in their lives. The third pillar is a relational environment where people have safe places to play and disciple making can occur naturally.  Real Life Ministries has created eight guidelines for small groups which help to make the group a safe place for discipleship to occur and to have disciples making disciples. In these relational environments, which we refer to as small groups, there is a sacrifice made by disciples so that disciple making can become a church family affair. It’s “life on life” and a relational disciple making model which Jesus taught and His disciples lived out. The last pillar is a reproducible process; there needs to be a system that trains disciple makers to live out disciple making culture.  Disciple makers will require training that helps them to multiply efforts by training them be disciples making disciples.
Fasting and praying for alignment in this disciple multiplying process is key. It’s important that the church body has a clear definition of what is a disciple, so there is unity in the body which brings freedom. Where the head goes, the body follows, therefore the head better be clear that the purpose of the church is to make disciples that make disciples. This requires that we have a clear definition of a disciple.
My wife and I are currently planting 419 Ministries Canada in Halifax, Nova Scotia out of Real-Life Ministries Texas. Our definition of a disciple is a person that is not only following Jesus, but is changed by Jesus and on mission for Jesus. Pastor Brandon shares that the definition is in the invitation. Matthew 4:19 says:
“And He said to them, “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people” (Matthew 4:19) .
To put this in context, after His baptism, Jesus is tested in the wilderness by the devil for forty nights and days. Then He hears about John the Baptist being in prison and decides to leave Nazareth and head for Galilee. Matthew 4:17 says:
“From that time on Jesus began to preach saying” Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17) .
Then Jesus is out walking beside the sea of Galilee and He saw two brothers named Peter and Andrew who were fishermen. In Matthew 4:19 Jesus says “come follow me”. What an amazing invitation! Because of our faith, we are invited to follow King Jesus, who is now sitting at the right hand of the Father. This is because we have faith in what He has done on the cross. Nobody is perfect, but because of what He has done for us, disciples can be seen as 100% in the eyes of God. We can accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour and let Him lead. We have the opportunity as disciples, to be in relationship with King Jesus and follow Him rather than trying to do everything in our own power.
Jesus called out to Peter, who was fishing, and invited him to be a disciple and to follow Him. Peter believed that Jesus is the Messiah and therefore he backed up his belief with his actions and followed Jesus. In John 12:26 Jesus says:
“Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honour anyone who serves me” (John 12:26) .
Jesus leads and we follow, which means a disciple is following Jesus.
In Matthew 4:19, Jesus also says, “I will make you”. King Jesus is not a dead man or somebody who has just vanished without a trace because Jesus is alive. We have faith that He rose from the dead just like He said He would. He has the power to rise from the dead and He has the power to change us. A disciple is changed by Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit that lives in us. A disciple chats with Jesus through prayer, reads God’s Word, and hangs out with other disciples. A disciple has a relationship with God and with others as we become children of God and our character changes. You can tell when somebody is being changed by Jesus as they grow in love for people and for God. Who wouldn’t want to be changed in that way?
Notice that Jesus says He will make His disciples fishers of men. Let’s keep in mind that Peter’s fishing crew had just brought in a mega catch of fish thanks to the instructions that Jesus had given them, which you can read about in Luke chapter 5. I think Jesus was using language that these guys could clearly understand. He is telling his disciples to fish for people. Jesus is asking His faithful disciples to fulfill His great commission and make disciples of all nations. This is the mission that Jesus came to accomplish. He came to make disciples that would make disciples, which is why the role of the church, a body of believers who are following Him, and changed by Him is have disciples making disciples.
A faithful disciple makes a head level decision to follow Jesus. Luke 9:23-26 says:
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:23-26) .
Jesus is calling disciples to deny themselves, to share their faith and to save their life. This is an eternal purpose, and it just doesn’t get any better.
Jesus is calling disciples to be changed at a heart level. When we make a decision at the head level to follow Jesus, then our character can be changed as it moves to our heart. Disciples start to love God and others more through the power of the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul describes it this way in Romans 12:1-2:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2) .
This can take some time as it’s an ongoing process but look what Paul says in Ephesians 3:16-19:
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:16-19) .
Who wouldn’t want to be a disciple filled to the measure of all the fullness of God?
Disciples are called to be on mission with their hands because we are so thankful for what God has done for us. Disciples stay close to God through worshipping, praying and reading His Word. This is what propels a disciple to be on the mission of making disciples, and the good news is disciples don’t need to do all this alone. A disciple is following Jesus, changed by Jesus and on a mission for Jesus and we get to do this in relationship with one another as a church.
At Maritime Christian College, we desire to come alongside the local church to help them be filled with disciples making disciples. We offer a level one and level two disciple making certificates, which are designed to raise your game as a mature believer who makes disciples that makes disciples. You can take one course at a time and work towards a level one certificate, which is a total of five courses. You will receive foundational theology from world class disciple makers on how to become disciples making disciples. You will receive practical hands-on mentoring and peer coaching to ensure that the knowledge you gain is applied with a quick start approach to apply your learning immediately.
The program is designed for:
A person who has experience at leading a small group of up to twelve people or is interested in starting one.
Someone who is looking for a better approach to help people in their group grow in their spiritual maturity.
A person who wants to give people in their group the Biblical foundation combined with the practical hands-on coaching to help them make disciples who, in turn, make disciples.
Someone who takes the Great Commission seriously but doesn’t know what to do next.
We also offer a unique Master’s Degree in Disciple Making and Ministry Leadership.
What you will learn:
Foundational theology from world-class disciple makers on how to become a disciple who makes disciples.
How to use the message and methods of Jesus to Learn and apply Jesus’ model of intentional leadership in your own life as a disciple maker.
Insights and cutting-edge practical application on how to build unified ministry leadership teams with a healthy culture focused on making disciples.
How to engage cultural issues facing the church in these precarious times.
The courses are asynchronous, which means that you can do the work on a day and time that works for your calendar. We use a learning management system called Populi which allows you to work virtually alongside your classmates all week long. We have enjoyed having disciple making students from all over the world. Begin your journey by logging onto: www.mccpei.com/disciple-maker-certificate for info on the discipleship certificate or https://www.mccpei.com/master-of-arts-in-disciple-making-ministry-leadership for the masters program.
In my role as church relations, I would be happy to assist you with registration as well as applying for a bursary. In many instances, we are able to award students a bursary that might pay for up to half of the class registration fee. You can reach me at email@example.com.
Discover Our Disciple-Making Certificates
 Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™
 Guindon, Brandon. Disciple-Making Culture Nashville, HIM Publications, 2020.
 Ibid, 29-63
 Ibid, 75-101
 Ibid, 111-139
 Ibid, 149-183