Main Menu

Our Blog

What's a mature disciple?

What's a mature disciple?

 If we made widgets, we would want to know the difference between a poorly made widget and a well made widget so that we could make the best widgets we could.  If we taught people to play the saxophone, we would want to know what it takes to play the sax well so that we could teach people to play the very best that they could.  In the church, we don’t make widgets and we don’t teach people how to play the saxophone, but are called “to make disciples of Jesus Christ.”  So wouldn’t it make sense that to do this well, we need to be clear about what it means to be a mature follower of Jesus Christ — as opposed to being an immature or baby Christian? 

Members of the Conference Committee on Congregational Transformation think it makes sense and have began talking about what it means to be a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ.  Quite a number of other persons have also added to the effort. What follows is an attempt to pull together the many thoughts of all these people and to present first a brief definition and then a more expanded description.  These aren’t finished products.  They are just where we are now in the dialogue.  I want to share these with the CT Blog readers and ask for your input.  The hope is not to say everything or to get everyone to agree on one definition 100%, but to pull together a definition that many congregational leaders might be able to say, “That’s pretty close.”  As you look at these, I urge you to comment back.  I also invite those of you whose congregations may have worked on a definition of mature discipleship to send it to me by email, with any supporting material you might be willing to include.

So here is the brief definition:

A disciple is a follower of Jesus Christ who is committed to:
¤   living in community with other disciples,
¤   becoming more like Jesus, and
¤   joining Him on mission in the world.

Before sharing the more expanded description, let me offer three comments by way of explanation.  First, because our denomination has agreed that the five practices of the United Methodist way of discipling are the key components to fulfilling our mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” it makes sense to use the five practices as an outline for talking about what it means to be a mature disciple.  Secondly, at General Conference the traditional membership vows of supporting Christ’s ministry through the local congregation by our “prayers, presence, gifts and service,” was expanded to include “witness.”  Consequently, “prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness” in the membership vows now corresponds to the five practices.  Thirdly, remembering the questions that Wesley encouraged disciples to ask one another in their weekly bands and class meetings, a question for each of the five practices has been offered.  Then 2-4 “essential expressions of mature discipleship” are included under each practice.  So, here is the more expanded description:

Radical Hospitality (Witness)
How are you receiving God’s grace in community and offering it to others as an agent of God’s reconciliation?
• Personally accepts the grace of God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ
• Gives and receives nurture as part of a local community of faith
• Seeks to reconcile persons to one another and to God

Passionate Worship (Presence)
How are you learning to abide in and faithfully respond to God’s loving presence in the world?
• Encounters God’s presence regularly, expectantly and responsively in corporate worship
• Seeks to grow in love with God through prayer, searching the Scriptures and responding with joyful obedience to the guidance of the Holy Spirit

Intentional Discipling (Prayers)
How are you hearing the Spirit call you to be more like Jesus in your attitudes and actions?
• Participates in an intentional discipling small group
• Seeks to understand Jesus’ teaching through the prayerful study of Scripture and the Christian tradition
• Seeks for her or his attitudes, values, behavior and character to be formed in Christ
• Helps others discover and take the next step in their faith-journey

Salty Service (Service)
How are you investing your God-given talents and opportunities serving others and God’s purposes?
• Becomes aware of the gifts, strengths, passions and opportunities with which she or he is uniquely blessed
• In light of these blessings, joins Jesus in responding to the needs of others through ministries of mercy, justice and earth-care

Extravagant Generosity (Gifts)
How are you trusting God to provide and sharing generously as the Spirit prompts?
• Lives within her or his financial means so as not to be enslaved by debt
• Gives proportionally and generously to God’s causes, as the Spirit urges, using the tithe as a Biblical guide
• Spends  100% of her or his resources in ways that honor God and bless others

As you mull this over and pray about it, what are your thoughts?  What needs to be added?  What could be said more clearly or concisely or faithfully?  If your congregation has worked on defining what it means to be a mature apprentice of Jesus Christ, please send me what you have developed.  I welcome your involvement in this important conversation.


Jeff Stiggins
Office of Congregational Transformation