“Where does discipleship lead?” or “The disciples became apostles”

sending disciplesDiscipleship is often treated today as an end in itself. And to a certain extent, I’ll agree with that. When we worship, pray, study Scripture, fast, do works of mercy and works of piety, etc., these activities are the point. They’re means of God’s grace and ways we honor God, so we do them.

But it’s also important to note that the disciples became apostles! The primary designation for this bunch throughout the gospels is disciples. Once we get to the book of Acts, though, their primary designation becomes apostles. [There are no hard lines here. We see “apostles” in the gospels and “disciples” in Acts.]

That shouldn’t be surprising. When Jesus calls the disciples, he says, “Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people.” At Jesus’ discipleship call, he tells them their roles will change. He will send them. They will end up going out to make disciples.

It’s not just that the disciples will be inwardly transformed – becoming people who know God differently, who pray and read Scripture and do good deeds and avoid evil. They will be sent to reproduce themselves with more disciples!

When we call people to discipleship today, do we tell them we are calling them to send them? My experience is that we too often simply call people to be disciples. We say something to the effect of, “Come, follow Jesus… so that you can keep following… and keep following… and keep following.” And keep following we must! But that isn’t all.

If this is all we call people to, many will imagine themselves going to Bible studies and learning new interesting things, and perhaps applying small bits of those in their lives from now until they die.

But do they understand that they are called to be sent? Do they understand that a call to discipleship inherently includes preparation to become apostles and pastors?

By “apostles and pastors,” I don’t mean to suggest here that all Christians must become career ministers, who draw a paycheck from a church or missions organization. Quite the opposite. Many of the early Christians remained as carpenters, fishermen, and tent-makers, yet spread this radical revolution across the land. Many of the unheralded heroes of the early Methodist movement continued on as plant workers, yet served as the pillars and backbone of local churches as class leaders (see my post “Re-evangelizing America…“)

What I mean to suggest is that Christian engineers and landscapers and business(wo)men must see themselves as people sent to be apostles and pastors. That these people see themselves as the pillars and backbone of the Christian movement today. That these invest themselves as seriously as they can in their own discipleship, because they know it leads to a sending.

Disciples, are you treating your discipleship as if you’re being prepared to be pastors and apostles, leading others to the Christian faith and/or discipling them in that faith? We need you!

Career pastors and preachers, when you call people to discipleship, do you say, “And I will send you out to fish for people.” Is that your expectation of disciples? And are you investing enough in them to make that a reality?

[I want to be careful here not to contradict my post “When ‘missional church’ gets too outwardly focused.” I think there’s a place for what I said there and what I say here. I was addressing one problem in that post, and a problem on the opposite side in this. If you think I’m just contradicting myself, call me on it.]

12 thoughts on ““Where does discipleship lead?” or “The disciples became apostles”

  1. Some will suggest that “apostles” are only those who saw Jesus, or only the 12 chief disciples of Jesus. I’m not sure it’s necessary (or best), though, to see it that way. Barnabas is called an apostle. And John Wesley believed people were still called to apostleship, which is a big selling point to me. (See https://teddyray.com/2012/07/03/john-wesley-never-heard-of-a-traveling-pastor/)

    I agree that not all are called to be apostles. That’s why I list pastors, too. (You could extend this and use the “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers” of Eph 4:11). But when Jesus called “disciples,” he did it with a purpose of sending, preparing people to baptize and teach, to be witnesses to the ends of the earth. It’s hard to find a biblical understanding of discipleship that doesn’t include that sending, whatever word you assign it.

  2. The titles have become blurred in the church.
    “disciple” means “learner, pupil, devoted follower,” the word “apostle” means something different. The English word “apostle” is a transliteration of the Greek word apostolos, “ambassador, delegate, messenger,”from the verb apostello, “to send away or out.

    The 12, minus one, where called to lead.
    The rest were in training. They are the “babes” Paul talks about.
    Wesley’s Notes
    3:7 Ever learning – New things. But not the truth of God.

    1. D – I’m afraid I can’t decipher a lot of your post. Not sure what 3:7 refers to, and I’m not sure if you’re trying to rebuke by “not the truth of God” or do something else.

      Whatever the case, you’re correct that “disciple” and “apostle” are two different words. And I haven’t made the case here that they’re the same word. I’ve made the case that Christ called the disciples to be “learners, pupils, devoted followers” so that he could send them as apostles. And that we too frequently assume that discipleship is an end without the rest of the calling.

      1. Sorry about that
        The 3:7 is from Timothy
        The passage is a reflection on the state of the church.
        It is not a rebuke.
        It is to clarify for all what the terms are meant to convey.

        You posted:
        “Some will suggest that “apostles” are only those who saw Jesus, or only the 12 chief disciples of Jesus. I’m not sure it’s necessary (or best), though, to see it that way. Barnabas is called an apostle.”

        I think the answer is found in Acts chapter one.
        When the Council met and the question of who would fill the vacant spot was discussed the only requirement was:
        21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to
        the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

        23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias.

        Evidently Barsabbas and Mattias were disciples of Christ elevated to Apostle and filled the requirement laid down.

        Luke 10

        6 He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.”

        17 Then the seventy[e] returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.”

        Isn’t that interesting.

  3. I had to do a little re-research for that question.
    Thank you for asking or I would not have done so.

    Barnabas was from Jewish parents and he was a Levite.
    Clement of Alexandria & Eusebius say Barnabas was one of the seventy Disciples. That would fit the requirement recorded at the Council of Jerusalem. (A male and one who followed Christ from the beginning)

    It is obvious from Acts 14 Barnabas defended and stood with Paul.
    The crowd was impressed. With what they saw.
    “Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker.”
    The name:
    Joseph or (Yosef) meaning “he will add”.

    The original Aramaic is unattested, but it may be from (bar naviya’) meaning “son of the prophet”, though in Acts 4:36 it is claimed that the name means “son of encouragement”.

    In answer to your question, I have no feelings one way or the other as to why Barnabas was chosen. He just was.

  4. Hello Bretheren,

    My name is Andrew, I am in an active discipleship through Clavary Capels in California. I was called to some type of ministry by The Lord 8 months ago. My question is, wills discipleship lead to being a Pastor? I Earnestly desire to serve God and have a call to ministry but I am still unsure what that position may be. I would like to be a Pastor and actively pray I could have an internship through my church to one day be a pastor. What is the purpose for Discipleship under a pastor hold? Is it just to teach younger Christians or is it to help groom us to do Gods work? Any answers you have are most helpful.

    1. Hi Andrew,

      I think some of this depends on your definition of “pastor.” I think we’re all called and gifted to offer ourselves in service in the mission of God. I’m calling the role of a “pastor” anything that is serving your community to help them grow in discipleship and union with God and one another. Will that lead to a career as a pastor, or to being the lead pastor of a particular community? Perhaps. But not necessarily.

      Regarding your role in future pastoral ministry… I’d advise you to ask those questions of your pastor or other denominational leaders.

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