The Call for Discipleship, Part 1

Thin, metal trellises adorn the concrete columns at the entrance of the Dowd YMCA. Each trellis
supports a live plant, providing structure and direction for the vine to grow. I have enjoyed seeing these
on Sundays – each one is a simple yet distinct reminder of the purpose and ministry of the church. Let
me explain.

The trellis is a framework – the administrative side of the church which establishes programs, models, teams, classes, and outlets for ministry to occur.  For instance, Redemption’s new discipleship plan - it provides guidance, goals, and guardrails to catalyze the act of discipleship in the local body. However, the trellis is not a substitute for authentic, intentional ministry.  Ultimately, the trellis is built for the support and stability of the vine as it grows through evangelism, discipleship, and spiritual care for the body.  

The vine is symbolism for the lifeblood of the Church.  It is the work of Jesus, and it is Jesus himself. We are each branches of the vine of Christ, and we can do nothing apart from him (John 15:1-5).  Watering, pruning, and caring for the vine can be summed up as “growing people who are disciple-making disciples of Christ”. The ministry of disciple making is rather simple, but is often over-complicated in action.  It is hard work, requiring much of each of us, and often leaves us frustrated and confused as to why there is seemingly little to no progress being made in the lives of those being poured into. In order to see success, many revert back to tangible programs and classes (aka the trellis) to affirm their purpose and be comforted.

This is a sobering fact that many churches face today – a beautiful, well crafted trellis that has a withering, dying vine.  It is here that we must begin to consider the necessity of discipleship.

I want to discuss four parts of our walk with Jesus (the commission, the cost, the yoke, and the joy), and how each is important when contemplating discipleship.

The Commission of Discipleship

And Jesus came and said to them, 

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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.”  - Matthew 28:18-20

It all starts here.  After the resurrection, Jesus came to His disciples and commissioned them with one final task.  He entrusted them with reaching the world with the Gospel, and explained that the work Jesus had started would continue through the disciples after His departure.

The Great Commission is not simply a calling; it is a command.  It was given to all generations to go out unto all the nations. It is a not meant for a select few while the rest of us enjoy a life of ease.  Paul affirms the absolute need for followers of Christ to go and share the gospel:

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?  -Romans 10:14-15

The word “preaching” in Greek did not mean having to stand on a stage and preach to the masses, but rather to simply proclaim and be a herald of the Gospel. We must proclaim the Gospel to those who have never heard it, for many may never believe and will be condemned to suffer eternally unless they hear the good news.

But the crux of all of this is the last sentence.  They must be sent.  We are tasked with raising up the next generation of disciples who will be sent out to share the good news.  Alas, such a commission comes with a price. To fully understand the implications of such a command, we must understand the cost of pursuing Jesus.

The Cost of Discipleship

Jesus speaks often and bluntly concerning the cost of the following him (Luke 9:23, 9:57, 14:26, Matthew 16:24, 18:16, Mark 10:17).  This calling, to pick up our cross daily, to put the hand to the plow and not look back, to “follow me”, is not for the faint of heart.  

Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes it well, saying “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die”.  

Come and die.

Put to death the things of the world. Destroy the idols that have a grip on our hearts.  Leave behind much for the sake of following Jesus. Experience persecution and worldly condemnation.  Christ promised the disciples in Matthew 10 that they would face and endure much by following him. In this, it is important to remember that “whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Concerning discipleship, this may require you to live a life of inconvenience. The commitment to proclaim the Gospel and pour into new believers may cost you time and energy, and may leave you feeling exhausted and weary. 

It is here that the gritty but beautiful work of disciple-making happens, for when we come to the end of ourselves, we realize our desperate need for Jesus.

As we come to understand the true cost of following Jesus, it will unavoidably begin to shake our foundation. Loosening our grip on the world is painful since we have held so tightly to it for so long, and being stretched thin as we labor intently and continuously for the Kingdom leads to questioning the purpose of it all.  But Jesus does not leave us here. He calls us to him, to find peace and rest in the midst of exhaustion and frustration. It is here, in our weakness, that we begin to see the gracious love, kindness, and strength of Christ.  

The yoke and joy of Christ is wholly important in the context of discipleship, and thus part two is dedicated to those.


Alex has been attending Redemption Church since 2016.  He is the First Impressions Director and is a part of Center City Community Group.