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Gospel-Centered. Life-on-Life.


A Culture of Discipleship

At Christ Church North Mesa we talk about our church being a “culture of discipleship.” The weekly worship service is absolutely essential in Biblical Christianity. But the Christian life cannot be reduced to this meeting and a few scattered minutes of alone time with God. Instead, discipleship (growing in Christlikeness) is better thought of as an environment: it is the air we breathe as Christians.

The Marching Order

Jesus gives us our clear marching orders in Matthew 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” This is the task of all Christians. We make disciples. We teach others the gospel and how to joyfully obey Christ from the heart. Christians are to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18). God uses Christians as instruments to disciple others.

How Jesus Made Disciples

When Jesus called his disciples he used the phrase “follow me” (Matt 4:19). After a Christian is born again and justified before God by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, he begins to “walk in the same way in which (Jesus) walked” (1 Jn 2:6). So, if we want to know how to obey Jesus’ command to disciple, is there a better place to look than the example Jesus gave us with his 12 disciples?

First, Jesus established relationships for the purpose of discipleship. It was obvious both to Jesus and to his disciples that he was discipling them. Jesus’ purpose in these relationships was their joy in him, God’s glory, and the advancement of the Kingdom.

Second, Jesus established official discipleship relationships that were different from his relationships with others. He cared about everyone, but he did not give everyone equal time and attention. Jesus is the perfect man, and he had an official discipleship relationship with 12 people. He spent even more intentional time with three (Peter, James, and John; see Luke 9:28, for example).

Third, Jesus lived ordinary life with his disciples. He had great love for them and was highly relational. He spent vast amounts of both quality and quantity time with them. Jesus’ preaching and teaching ministry was central (Mark 1:38-39, 2:2; Luke 4:43), but his relationship with his disciples was not merely formal instruction. They were able to observe his way of life. It was deep teaching matched with deep relationship. It was “life-on-life.”

Fourth, and related to the above point, the life that Jesus lived with his disciples was lived with gospel-intentionality. Jesus did not reserve his communication about deep spiritual issues to set times of preaching. He asked penetrating questions and started important spiritual conversations as he lived life with his disciples, to shepherd them into a deeper delight in himself (e.g. Matt 8:26, 16:13, John 6, etc).

How Paul Made Disciples[1]

The apostle Paul exhorted his followers to imitate him as he imitated Christ (1 Cor 11:1). Paul’s way of discipling was no different than the way of Christ. In 2 Timothy 2:1-2 Paul said to Timothy, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” What Timothy “heard from Paul in the presence of many witnesses” is the gospel (c.f. 1 Tim 1:11, 6:20; 2 Tim 1:8-14).  The gospel was at the center of what he entrusted to him. This is the content of discipleship: the gospel itself and gospel-centered obedience.

How did Paul entrust the gospel to Timothy? Through deep relationship and deep intentionality. The nature of their relationship was not merely one of information transfer. Paul regularly referred to Timothy with deeply affectionate language (2 Tim 1:2-4, 2:11; 1 Tim 1:2, 1:18). He loved spending time with Timothy and others he discipled (Phil 1:8, 4:1; Rom 1:11; 1 Thess 2:19-20), leading him to share with them both the gospel (content) and his own life (relationality) (see 1 Thess 2:8).

When Paul and Timothy spent time together, they were not simply hanging out and having a good time. They were on mission for the advancement of the gospel. Paul discipled Timothy for the purpose of gospel-multiplication. He wanted to help him to learn how to disciple others. There are four generations mentioned in 2 Timothy 2:2: 1) Paul, 2) Timothy, 3) faithful men, 4) others also. This is one of the ways the gospel has made its way down to us (in addition to the corporate worship service and public evangelism): through the faithful entrusting of the gospel, from disciple to disciple, generation after generation.

And Paul’s command for Timothy to pass on the gospel through deep relationship and high intentionality was not for Timothy only. David Mathis helps us here:

When Paul appeals to Timothy to engage in the grunt work of disciple making, he does not do so because Timothy is some kind of special apostolic delegate or has some unique gifting. There is nothing special or irreplace­able about Timothy. Rather, three times in the span of just a few verses, Paul appeals to universal truths about any healthy Christian in his call for disciple making. In 1:13 he tells Timothy to follow his pattern of sounds words “in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” In 1:14 he says Timothy should guard the gospel “by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us [and note the plural here!].” Then in 2:1 he tells him to be strong “in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Three things true of all Christians. So Paul appeals to universal Christian realities—faith and love in Jesus, Holy Spirit indwelling, and grace in Jesus—not to some­thing special or unique to Timothy, when he instructs Timothy in verse 2—and thus with him, all Christians—to make disciples who make disciples.[2]

Applying this at Christ Church North Mesa

So how do we seek to apply this at our church? We aim to practice both corporate and life-on-life discipleship. Corporate discipleship is discipleship and growth that God brings primarily through the Lord’s Day corporate worship service, in addition to other large gatherings. These times are absolutely essential for the health of the Christian and must never be de-emphasized or minimized. But we also must be living in gospel-centered community on a daily basis and participating in life-on-life discipleship. The early church not only attended large gatherings together, but also met in one another’s homes “day by day” (Acts 2:42; c.f. Heb 3:13) for discipleship and to live out the 30+ “one another” commands together. So what does life-on-life discipleship practically look like at Christ Church North Mesa?

First, we strongly encourage more mature Christians to establish relationships with same gender (see Titus 2) less mature Christians for the purpose of discipleship. These relationships most naturally occur in our community groups (though they are not necessarily exclusive to community groups).

Second, these types of relationships are life-on-life relationships. This means that the relationship is more than mere information transfer. The discipler should have affection and deep care for his/her disciples. The person being discipled should have opportunities to see the more mature Christian living his ordinary life with gospel intentionality.

Third, these life-on-life discipleship relationships are gospel (“good news”) relationships. The discipler isn’t merely training others to live a moral lifestyle (“moralism”), or learn a lot of good information (“intellectualism”). The purpose of the relationship is healthy Christian maturity, which means the person’s heart (or desires and motivations) must be discipled with the good news, since all sin comes from the heart (Mark 7:20-22; Jas 1:14-15, 4:1-2). The goal is to lead the person to learn to increasingly submit to Christ as Lord (with proper motivations), trust Christ as Savior, and enjoy Christ as Treasure.

Fourth, these life-on-life relationships are for the purpose of mission and multiplication. The goal is for the person being discipled to eventually become someone who turns around and disciples others (2 Timothy 2:2).

Fifth, we practice both proactive and reactive discipleship. Elders, and the rest of the church, must respond to needs that arise with loving biblical counsel and shepherding (reactive discipleship). Proactive discipleship is teaching and training on the front-end, before any immediate and pressing need arises in the life of the person.

Sixth, the pastors will always be looking to train men to become pastors. We seek to be very intentional about training men for the pastorship in the same way: through life-on-life discipleship. This will include passing on specific gospel content, along with living life together in a highly relational context.

Seventh, we aim for our culture of discipleship to be a within a culture of grace. Jesus is the only one who disciples perfectly. Because we at Christ Church North Mesa are all sinners saved by the amazing grace of Jesus Christ, we seek to give grace to each other in our imperfect discipleship. All of this is done for the glory of God, our joy in him, and the advancement of the gospel.


[1] Much of the ideas here are taken from David Mathis “What Next? Disciple a Few” Finish the Mission, eds. John Piper and David Mathis (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 169-181.

[2] Ibid., 176-177.