The Art of Discipleship 

Abigail Clayton  

Contributing Faith writer 

Growing up in America, specifically in the Bible belt, most of us have heard of the term, discipleship. As Christians, some may think the act of discipleship is pretty obvious. However, we just might choose to put discipleship way down in terms of importance on our list of “Baptist sacraments”.  

I cannot help but think that maybe we are misunderstanding what it means to be a disciple and to disciple others. There are most likely misunderstandings, or in some cases a complete lack of understanding, when Christians discuss discipleship.  

I have been very fortunate to interview the new Director of Student Ministry on campus, Dr. Matthew Kearns. Dr. Kearns has worked with students in both a youth ministry capacity, and in collegiate ministry for the past thirty years. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a Bachelor of Science in mass communication/public relations. He then earned a Master of Divinity at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary before completing a Doctor of Ministry in discipleship, missions and leadership from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Even with all of these impressive achievements, I was most fascinated with his heart for discipleship.  

During our conversation, this fact was evident in the way that he showed genuine interest and passion for college students and for discipleship. He spoke with much wisdom and insight and shared with me some of the stories and experiences he has had while discipling others. 

It is my prayer that I can share some of his insights and the urgency that our conversation sparked in me about discipleship.  

The first question I asked him was a simple one, “What exactly is discipleship?”. The answer to this, according to Dr. Kearns, is that it is quicker to explain what discipleship is not. It is not about a book that you read, or a class that you take on how to mentor or pour into someone. It is not necessarily a list of rules and guidelines. As such, you cannot belittle discipleship by memorizing a formula and repeating that same process by plugging in new variables.  

Dr. Kearns went on to explain that there is what can be called, “informational based discipleship vs. obedience-based discipleship”. It is more organic than a simple formula, but it is also not as simple as a friendship. It is engaging in a relationship with an intention. The only way to go about this, according to Dr. Kearns, is by doing life together. The true model we should seek to emulate is that of Christ.  

The second question I asked was, “why is there a need for students to disciple, specifically at OBU?” His answer was a simple one, because we are commanded to.  

Matthew 28:19 is the passage where Jesus commands his followers to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy spirit”, right before He ascends to heaven. In the other three gospels He commands them to go into all the nations preaching the gospel.  

Here in Matthew, however, he includes discipleship into this command. There is simply no way to get around it. This is what we as Christians are called to, making disciples. What is interesting, Dr. Kearns pointed out, is that Jesus does not tell them how to make disciples. Jesus lived out the process of discipleship during his ministry. He lived out an example of a life of obedience to God. He taught them about who God is while he was with them. But how do you as a student learn how to do this?  

I continued to ask, “where can students be involved with discipleship on campus?” Dr. Kearns was hired officially on August 12, and so he has not been able to implement what he calls “on ramps” for getting involved with discipleship. He shared that in his experience discipleship takes a long time. It is a serious process that cannot be rushed. As time goes on there will be more opportunities, or more “on ramps” for students to participate in conveniently. 

The future of discipleship on campus could look many different ways, whether it be small groups, bible studies or something completely different in order to be involved in discipleship.  

Kearns talked about developing intentional discipleship on campus; however, in order to do that, it takes time. Jesus did not give us a specific formula to follow the call of discipleship. Of course, He was the Son of God. While we can seek to emulate what He did on this earth, we should also look to the people who have come before us and study what they say about discipleship. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in The Cost of Discipleship says this, “It is only because he became like us that we can become like him” (Bonhoeffer). Our understanding of the gospel is what spurs on our imitation of Christ, not just in how he poured into and led his followers, but how he loved, how he lived, how he obeyed and died, and then bid us to do the same.  

Why, after reading the bible, after learning about the life and person of Jesus, would we think that discipleship, or Christianity for that matter is going to be easy. It may be simple, but it is not easy.  

Dr. Kearns shares a quote in a book called Master Plan of Evangelism by Dr. Coleman. It states, “knowledge is gained by associating, before it is understood by explanation”. He then talked about Acts 4, when the disciples were on trial, and they recognized that they were uneducated men. The only accusation they could level at these men was that they were doing the same thing, loving the same way that Jesus did.  

Dr. Kearns shared that he had experienced “knowledge is gained by explanation, and then you go and do it”. The crucible for learning, according to Dr. Kearns is how Jesus took a rag tag group and turned them loose, to fail, and then to come back and discuss what happened. When we act in the former, “it can sometimes discourage obedience, because we will never know enough”.  

Finally, I asked him “How would discipleship impact our student body and our culture on campus, if we were to take it more seriously. Discipleship is such an important thing in Christianity. Dr. Kearns states that if we, as a student body, as Christians, become more intentional about this, his prayer is that it will be “an impact of multiplication”.  

His prayer is that this sparks revolution, or revival. This is something we so desperately need. He states that if you are “not experiencing multiplication in your life, to the next generation, you may be misunderstanding the gospel”.  

Kearn says, “We do not obey Jesus to prove our worth”, Christ instructs us to follow Him. This takes a tremendous amount of faith, which we cannot achieve without deeply rooting ourselves in the word of God, in prayer, and in fellowship with God. By getting to know more about God, and by acknowledging how beautiful, and how amazing it is, our hearts cannot help but to love him more, and this is proven by our obedience. This is what differentiates Christians from non-Christians, if you love God, you will obey his commands. This is why we seek to share the gospel and to disciple other

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