A New Way of Thinking About Discipleship

Written by Doug Kampstra
December 7, 2022

There are seven paradigms we have long assumed to be true about discipleship and which may need to be re-evaluated and changed.

Our traditional understanding of discipleship requires a paradigm shift.

A “paradigm” is a “pattern” of thinking and understanding. A classic example is thinking of the world as flat. Columbus’ excursion to the “New World” challenged that paradigm and required a new way of thinking. Similarly, today’s realities are demanding a paradigm shift in the way we think about discipleship.

Below are seven paradigms we have long assumed to be true about discipleship and which may need to be re-evaluated and changed.

Seven Discipleship Paradigms to Re-evaluate 

Paradigm 1: We live in a Christian world — to — We live in a secular world. 

Alan Hirsh once said, “I found out the hard way, that if we don’t disciple people, the culture sure will.” And they have. Our culture has slowly changed from a Christian-leaning society to an indifferent-to-Christians’ society to an anti-Christian society.

Paradigm 2: Discipleship is an important ministry — to — It is the mission of the Church.

C.S. Lewis said, “The church exists for nothing else but to draw [people] into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became man for no other purpose.”

Paradigm 3: Discipleship is investing in me — to — Discipleship is investing in others.

In the past discipleship focused on my becoming a fully devoted follower of Jesus. Today discipleship is about investing in others as they become fully devoted followers of Jesus.

Paradigm 4: Effective discipleship uses an “attraction model” — to — Effective discipleship uses an “incarnation model” 

Disciplers go to where the people are and engage them in their daily life and everyday environment. Jesus said, “While you are going about your life, make disciples, baptize them in my name, and teaching them to do everything I taught you to do” (cf. Matthew 28:18-20). We must engage people in their world.

Paradigm 5: Discipleship engages Scripture for information — to — Discipleship engages Scripture for transformation.

Jim Putnam writes, “Far too many of us assume that discipleship is merely the transfer of information leading to behavior modification. But discipleship, at heart, involves transformation at the deepest levels of understanding, affection, and will by the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God, and in relationship with the people of God.” (DiscipleShift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples.)

Paradigm 6: Discipleship is a program — to — Discipleship is a lifelong journey of becoming more like Jesus.

Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher (Luke 6:40). That is the whole point of being a disciple of Jesus: we imitate him, carry on his ministry, and become like him in the process.”

Paradigm 7: Discipling is for those with the gift — to — Discipling is for the whole church 

Bill Hull writes, “All who are called to salvation are called to discipleship, no exceptions, no excuses!”  Since making disciples is the main task of the church, every church should be asking, “What is our plan for making disciples of Jesus? Is it working? If not, what are we doing about it?” (Conversion & Discipleship: You Can’t Have One without the Other).

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