What is your definition of “discipleship”? In general usage, a disciple is one who follows the example and teachings of another person. In the Christian context, a disciple is a follower of Jesus Christ, one who seeks to practice his teachings and make them a part of her or his life. Living out the teachings of Christ is generally called the act of discipleship.
Several years ago, I joined my colleague Mark Tidsworth in training church leaders to use coaching principles to help others to grow as disciples. We called the process “Disciple Development Coaching.” Both Mark and I have a rather comprehensive view of what it means to be a disciple. Our concept (and I think the belief of many others) is that discipleship encompasses all of life—not simply our spiritual practices but the way we care for God’s gifts to us, act in our relationships with others, and pursue our vocational callings.
In a recent conversation, someone challenged me that coaching a person to be healthier was not a “discipleship or spiritual concern.” Eating properly and getting adequate exercise was not “discipleship.” My friend’s idea of discipleship was much narrower than mine. He saw discipleship primarily in terms of one’s spiritual devotion and development, especially as it relates to the church.
If I were to adopt such a view, my discipleship coaching would change in several key ways.
First, I would only talk with some clients about activities that, at most, encompass one day of their week. Even if they are regular attenders of worship services, pray every day, and read the Bible daily, what my friend calls a “spiritual concerns” would take up very little of even the most conscientious person’s time.
Second, topics like financial accountability, use of time, and being a responsible and productive worker would not be our agenda.
Third, meaningful discussion of relationships with family and friends would not take place because these are not “spiritual concerns.”
Fourth, we would never talk about following a healthy lifestyle or reducing one’s stress because these are not “spiritual concerns.”
In reality, when we coach a person in their development as disciples, all of these things and more are fair game. God has created each of us as whole human beings. When one enters a relationship with Christ, the entire person becomes (or is becoming) a disciple. So the way that I use my finances for personal and family needs is just as much a spiritual concern as whether I tithe and support Christian causes. If I give ten percent to Kingdom causes and squander the other ninety percent, what does this say about my Christian commitment?
If I don’t take care of my body and fail to set proper limits on the use of my time and become ineffective or sick, how useful am I as a disciple?
If I fail to exercise a Christ-like attitude in relationship with family and friends, what does this say about my comprehension and practice of the Christian faith?
One biblical passage sums up this idea very well: “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” (Romans 14:8, NIV)
In every area of our lives, we are called to be disciples.