But, What Is a Disciple?

Many highlight ministries for the work in making disciples, but do we actually define what a disciple is?


John Stonestreet

One quote in Steve Garber’s excellent book on education, The Fabric of Faithfulness, has always stood out to me. It comes from a Duke University graduate and offers an important observation, an indictment really, about higher education.

“We’ve got no idea of what it is that we want by the time somebody graduates. This so-called curriculum is a set of hoops that someone says students ought to jump through before graduation. No one seems to have asked, ‘how do people become good people?’”

In other words, simply amassing a large collection of classes, buildings, resources, books, and other so-called “hoops” does not an education make. What’s missing in the whole enterprise is an idea of what an educated person would look like if the process worked.  

This “thinking with the end in mind” is just as necessary for any church, Christian school, or other Christian organization committed to discipleship. On most of our websites, we use language to communicate our commitment to discipleship, but how clear are we on what a disciple is? Do we have a clear enough vision of what a disciple looks like in order to contextualize and guide all of our programs, books, sermons, teaching series, small groups, and other discipleship tools that we so often employ?  

Imagine launching a new computer company but not having an answer to questions such as, “What kind of computers will you make? What will they look like? What will be unique about your computers compared to others? What kind of functionality will they have?” To respond to these questions with, “Well, I have no idea, but I bought a bunch of computer parts, and I’m going to put them together” would be absurd. (And, there’s a Johnny Cash song that comes to mind…) 

This is why a Christian worldview is so important. The Biblical vision for discipleship only makes sense within the larger Biblical vision of reality. In other words, discipleship is far more than having a sense of spirituality, or a sense of meaning and purpose, or a set of Christian habits, or even “feeling close to God.” Discipleship is living life under the rule and reign of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is sovereign not only over how we ought to behave but over the entire cosmos.

In The Faith, Chuck Colson wrote, “Orthodox Christianity, alone among worldviews, provides a stop to the inertia of time through the renewal of the soul and the regeneration of people that transforms cultures.” Chuck understood that disciples are those who have been transformed by the renewing of their minds so that they actively engage the world around them with the heart and mind of Christ. They see others as Christ does. They seek to obey Christ in every area in which He has authority, which is every square inch of His creation.

Twenty years ago, Chuck Colson created a program to replicate this vision of discipleship within Christian communities everywhere. Through the Colson Fellows program, Christians would think deeply about life and the world through a Christian worldview, and seek to follow the Lord in every aspect of life and culture. Rather than a Christian faith turned exclusively inward, the Colson Fellows program turns faith outward. 

Underlying the Colson Fellows program is a framework that begins with understanding reality in light of the full scope of the Biblical account of reality. This account can be understood in four chapters—creation, fall, redemption, and restoration—and it stands in stark contrast to other worldviews. So, Colson Fellows dig deeply at the Christian worldview, and they study the alternatives. This is an essential step if we are to, like the men of Issachar, “understand the times and know what to do.”

Another critical part of the Colson Fellows framework is understanding the Biblical doctrine of the imago Dei as the fundamental identity of human beings. This is particularly critical to understand in light of the crucial issues that confront followers of Christ in this cultural moment. A deep dive into this idea enables the kind of response we need to have as Christians, one that goes beyond mere reactionism and outrage.

Finally, every Colson Fellow, after spending a year in a committed learning community, articulates a plan for living out what they’ve learned. Each of these plans is built along the lines of intentional Gospel-shaped questions that connect the reality of the Kingdom with the calling we have to our cultural moment. 

This year, nearly 750 people have been studying with us in 60 different learning communities across the United States and beyond. Lord willing, they’ll be commissioned as Colson Fellows at the Wilberforce Weekend in May. And when they are, by God’s grace, they will be committed to their Lord, to His truth, to loving their neighbors, and to His church. 

Applications for next year’s Colson Fellows class, which begins this summer, are currently being accepted. For more information, visit


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Altering Images, Altering Speech, Altering the Imago Dei
John Stonestreet | BreakPoint | August 30, 2017

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