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What Is a Disciple?

Our (then) 4-year-old grandson, Caleb once asked his dad, “Dad, what’s a disciple?”


How would you have answered him? In words that a small child can understand, what essentially is a disciple and how to you become one?


Our son Nathan thought about it for a moment and said, “A disciple is… well… a disciple is someone who loves Jesus and… err… decides to do what Jesus wants. And it is not just for a little while; it has to last a whole lifetime.”


Caleb nodded to show that he understood pretty well - after all, he was 4, (very nearly 5), so his dad said, “Do you want to be a disciple?” “Yes please, daddy.” So right there and then they prayed a simple prayer together.


Christian leader Nic Harding once said, “A disciple is not just someone who is becoming more personally mature, it is someone that is becoming more personally mature and who is making other disciples.”


So dad said, “You know what, Caleb? The very first thing a new disciple should do is go and tell someone else. Who do you think you should tell that you’re now a new disciple of Jesus?” Caleb looked up and saw his elder sister sitting at a table doing some colouring. So he ran over, told her what he’d just done and said, “Do you want to be a disciple as well?” Emilie said, “Yes please.” And so, a little awkwardly perhaps, and with a little bit of hesitation, they said a little prayer together and Emilie chose to live as a disciple of Jesus too.


The word disciple in our Bibles is translated from the Greek mathétés, which literally means a learner or apprentice. The fundamental building block of being a disciple is this; you’ve got to be teachable. Mouldable. It means that for the whole of our Christian life we should consider ourselves as wearing (and needing to wear) spiritual L-plates. The most effective and attractive Christians I know never stop being curious. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Jesus said we should become like children; did he mean insatiably inquisitive and always growing?


Jesus chose twelve disciples and they were constantly misunderstanding him, failing miserably and sometimes getting things badly wrong. At times, you can see that they exasperated Jesus. Reading the Gospels, it sometimes seems like they couldn’t pour water out of a boot even if the instructions were written on the heel! But, to their credit, they never stopped asking Jesus questions (even if some were a bit daft). They never stopped learning. In the end, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it finally all sank in - and they turned the world upside down.


Jesus never said, “If anyone wants to be a Christian they should say a quick prayer, start going to church and join all the rotas.” He actually said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must say ‘no’ to themselves, take up their cross every day and follow me.”


Of course, praying prayers of commitment, gathering for Sunday worship and having a well-organised church are all important and I don’t mean to belittle them. But they are just derivatives of the one essential thing. The heart of the matter is learning from Jesus, and keeping going, whatever the cost.


So how much of a disciple are you? On a scale of 1-10, would you describe yourself as teachable or stubborn? Like mouldable clay or hardened and brittle? This week, are you learning or coasting? Are you sharpening others or and helping them to reach their potential or being a bit passive? Are you motivated to tell others, and invite them to join you on the discipleship adventure? Let’s never stop learning to do life Jesus’ way.


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