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Is Discipleship the Same as Disciple Making?

By Joe Showalter

I frequently hear people use the terms ‘discipleship’ and ‘disciple making,’ and sometimes I wonder what they really mean. The term that I hear most frequently is discipleship, and sometimes I think people actually mean disciple making when they say discipleship. Other times, I think they’re using the term discipleship as something totally distinct from disciple making.

One of the three core visions of CMC is discipleship, and this summer at our Annual Conference in Delaware we’re going to be focusing on that theme. I’d like to pose some questions to be thinking about before then. And in case you have to miss all the various discussions and input at Conference, I’ll plan to write some further reflections later this summer so you’ll at least know how I answer the questions I’m asking here.

We of course want to go to scripture for our definitions of these two terms. If you’ve read much of the story of Jesus, you can probably think of some things he said that help us define the two words. Things like:

  • “Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people.”
  • “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
  • “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”
  • “…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”
  • “Here are my mother and my brothers” (pointing to his disciples).
  • “…those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”

Here are some questions about these two terms that I think are worth thinking about:

  • How did Jesus distinguish between discipleship and disciple making?
  • When does discipleship start in a person’s life?
  • When does disciple making start in a person’s life?
  • What activities are involved in my discipleship? My disciple making?
  • How do I know if I’m being faithful in discipleship? In disciple making?

Why does it matter? Jesus sometimes framed these as life and death issues, so it only makes sense for us to think deeply about them. If these two terms are not synonymous, we ought to understand the distinctions between them. I hope we can all learn new things as we explore them together this summer.

To think through some of these questions, come to Joe’s talk called “Discipling vs. Disciple Making” on Thursday evening of the CMC Annual Conference this summer, during Taste of Missions.