The discipleship fad


From mullets in the ’80s to Spice Girls in the ’90s to Myspace in the noughties, fads come and go leaving little to show except perhaps nostalgia. 

Not wanting to be left behind, our Church has done its very best to keep up with the Fad-ashians. Slide projectors in the ’70s, red folders in the ’80s and satellite seminars in the ’90s (or songs from the Hills).

Two thousand years ago discipleship was not a fad but a way of life.

As texts give way to tweets, door-knocking is losing ground to “discipleship”. Almost every new initiative, poster, flier, Vimeo or Facebook post broadcast from official Church channels sings the anthem of discipleship—unity to make the EU green with envy. 

This new “fad” elicits three typical responses from members:

1. Google “discipleship”—where the top result points to a website by a prominent televangelist awaiting the imminent rapture caused by the terrifying ISIS.

2. Go with the flow—regardless of what we may or may not be doing, just slap the word “disciple” onto it and “it’s all good man!”

3. Go hide under a rock—when in doubt, safest option—this fad shall pass. Why? Because we either have no idea what a disciple is or most definitely don’t like what we think it means.

What about a fourth option?

4. Go read—abandon Facebook for a few minutes and switch to “The Book” for more than a Snapchat.

“As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers . . . casting a net into the lake . . . ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said . . . At once they left their nets and followed him” (Matthew 4:18-20).

A few verses later (Matthew 5:1) these fishermen are hashtagged “#disciples”. As Jesus departs for heaven, He instructs His followers to make discipleship viral (Matthew 28:19,20). But what did making disciples mean—back then?

Two thousand years ago discipleship was not a fad but a way of life. It remained so for almost 1800 years until the industrial revolution spawned education into an assembly line for the masses. The Greek word mathetes translated disciple did not mean a follower of Jesus. It was a word commonly used for a common apprentice in any common trade, profession or philosophy. In case you blinked, it was “common”.

The apprentice journey was an endless cycle involving:

1. Master invites potential protégé to follow

2. Protégé is apprenticed to master

3. Master trains apprentice

4. Apprentice becomes master

5. Go back to 1, repeat

An apprentice or intern is synonymous with the biblical “disciple”. There’s no magic or mystery to the word—which is why it has no introduction, explanation or definition in the Gospels—the locals knew what it meant.

While discipleship might be a trending buzzword in the Church today, it should be as common as Weet-Bix and haystacks. It’s something that our children should associate with normal everyday life. It’s a culture new believers should experience as natural when they encounter Jesus. Finally, it’s the heart of Jesus’ great commission—“go and make disciples . . .”

But why would I want to be a disciple of Jesus? And why try to make more disciples? In a nutshell, life is better and eternity possible with Jesus (John 10:10, 17:3).

Disciple-making involves the same basic elements that the common apprenticeship (discipleship) involved 2000 years ago, whether learning to fish for sardines or souls. 

How do we reclaim the long lost art of discipleship?

Step 1: Follow Jesus

Have you seen the bumper stickers, “Don’t follow me, I’m going fishing”? We can’t lead others to where we have not been. To make disciples who in turn make other disciples we must first have some knowledge, experience and success in the Christian journey. This by no means implies having attained perfection, but continuously taking daily steps towards a closer relationship with Jesus (Philippians 3:12,13). 

A person can begin making disciples as soon as they take that first step with Jesus (Mark 5:19). A disciple-maker simply invites others to follow them, one step at a time. I might not know how to sail a fishing boat, but if I at least know how to use a fishing rod, I can teach you that. Keep stepping forward with Jesus in your spiritual, personal, family, study or work life. Ask of God each day, “How can I know, experience and share you more?”

Step 2: Make friends

Who will you invite to follow you? No name comes to mind? This is one of the biggest challenges we face in our Church and community when it comes to discipleship. We don’t know anyone—much. Why would strangers follow someone they don’t know? You can’t catch fish if you’re not at/by/in the water.

We will never make disciples if we don’t develop genuine relationships with church members and those in the community. Spend time doing things you like with those who like them too (eg. eating, hobbies, sports, etc). Find excuses (eg. birthdays, anniversaries, public holidays or even Tuesdays) to celebrate, eat and be together. And if you don’t have time to fit in all those church programs, maybe reduce the number of them. Authentic, effective, lasting biblical discipleship occurs in doing life together not jug-to-mug spectator programs. 

As we live life with each other in church and in our communities, friendship and trust develop naturally. We then become aware how our faith experiences can be a blessing to others—which in turn leads to Step 3.

Step 3: Send an invite

An experienced minister once told a young person considering pastoral ministry: “Don’t answer if you’re not called.” While not all are called to full-time paid ministry, all are called to discipleship. The only problem is for most of us the call got lost in the spam folder. It was so general, vague and broad that our minds auto-filtered it as “junk mail”.

Jesus was focused (yes you, Pete), direct (follow me) and clear (I will make you a fisher of men) in making disciples.

And before you think that such clear, unambiguous language is the prerogative of only fully human and fully divine individuals, note that Paul (ex-hitman) made the same call: “Follow me as I follow Jesus” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

After taking one step with Jesus, we can then invite others to follow us in that one step. But we need to be focused, direct and clear. Be intentional about mentoring a young person in your local church. Offer to be a support and accountability partner for a new believer in their devotional life. Take church members with you to visit and pray for each other. Pray with a non-believer going through difficult times. Invite non-Adventist friends to experience a Sabbath with you. Run a version of My Kitchen Rules at home and show your work colleagues how to prepare delicious, healthy meals. And all the while bring your children, youth and fellow believers on the discipleship journey with you.

Apprenticeships or internships are not passing fads but part of everyday life—as should be discipleship. Follow Jesus, make friends, invite them to follow you. Why? Anywhere with Jesus is better than everything without (Matthew 16:26).          

If you would like to be discipled to disciple others, visit and register your interest for a two-week hands-on disciple journey with experienced disciple-makers equipping you to go light your world.

Cristian Copaceanu is director of Personal Ministries/Sabbath School/Stewardship for the Australian Union Conference.