Often, a “disciple” is defined as a “student.” We should be careful, however, because our notion of student does not adequately capture what it meant to be a disciple during the time of Jesus. In the New Testament, the word most often associated with disciple is follower. In the ancient world, a disciple or student would literally follow their teacher. Rather than spending a single class period together each day, the disciple spent extended time with the teacher, learning from both the words and the life of the one they followed. A life of discipleship suggests a life lived in relationship with the teacher as one literally follows the footsteps of the master.
1. (John 10:10; Mark 8:34-38) Is the life of discipleship mostly a life of joy and abundant life, or is it mostly sorrow and hardship? Do we gain life, or lose it?
2. (Luke 14:25-35) In this passage, Jesus has some very challenging words about discipleship. What does he mean when he says we must “hate” our family and our life if we want to be his disciple? Shouldn”t we love our family?
3. In the New Testament, we often think of “the twelve” when we hear the word disciple. There were, however, others who were receptive to Jesus but who did not travel from place to place with Jesus. Are there different “levels” of discipleship? Are there different levels of commitment that may be required to be a follower of Jesus? Who are disciples in the Old Testament?
4. (Acts 1:10-11) All of the twelve disciples (with the probable exception of Judas Iscariot) were from Galilee. This meant that they belonged to a distinct subculture within Judaism. Why did Jesus select this group of men? Could he not have done a better job of modeling diversity and inclusiveness? Why didn”t he include any women among the twelve? Why not more men from Judea?
5. Was Jesus selective in choosing his twelve disciples, or did he simply accept those who were willing to follow? Were the twelve the best men available, or the twelve who made themselves available? Do we find any common characteristics that the disciples shared?
6. (John 6:53, 60-71) Did Jesus ever “disfellowship” a disciple for poor behavior or incorrect belief? How does one cease being a disciple of Jesus? Did Jesus make life as easy as possible for his disciples, or, as it sounds in this passage, did he make life difficult for them?
7. If tradition is correct, most of the twelve disciples of Jesus died violent deaths as martyrs. Today, there are many followers of Jesus who are persecuted for their beliefs. What is our responsibility to them?
8. (John 13:34-35) According to Jesus, what is the mark that we are his disciples? If love is the sign that we are disciples of Jesus, can someone be a “Christian” without being a disciple? Can someone who has no knowledge of Jesus be his disciple?
9. What are the key habits or practices of discipleship?