Disciple is a Verb? 3 Insights for Clueless Folks Like Me

Today’s post from Kari Patterson is part of the blog series Discipleship: Re-Imagining Our Calling From Christ. To receive future posts from the series in your inbox head HERE. Engage with the writers and community of readers using the hashtag #DiscipleshipBlog.

I was 18 when I first heard “disciple” used as a verb. 

It baffled me at first, but I quickly determined to get with the times and find someone to “disciple” me. I picked a godly woman and penned the following letter:

Dear Elisa,

I heard about this cool thing called “discipling.”  I don’t know what it means, but will you “disciple” me?  I’d really appreciate it. Thanks.

Love, Kari.

That was it. I had no idea what I was asking, but this simple letter was my best clueless effort at entering into a life of discipleship. This was before email, so I sealed the short letter in an envelope, dropped it in the mail, and waited.

friendshipA week later a fat envelope arrived. She responded by saying that the only way she would “disciple” me (she too used quotations) was if we could be friends. She then proceeded to share, page upon page, her entire testimony. In my mind, she was the most perfect woman I’d ever met. But here on these pages were highs and lows, joys and sorrows, strengths and weaknesses.

Human frailty and complexity.

I stared at the letter in disbelief. 

First, she wanted to be my friend?  I, a lowly and unworthy college freshman, riddled with fears and insecurities, befriended by this beautiful, angelic woman? Perhaps I had expected her to send me assignments, Bible verses to memorize, books to read, projects to complete. I had been waiting to see what she would require of me, or what curriculum we might use. Surely there was a program, right? But instead she only asked for relationshipThat’s what discipleship is.

Real discipleship is an intentional relationship for the purpose of growing in Christlikeness. So, what did she teach me? Here are 3 quick thoughts, with a link to additional thoughts if you’re hungry for more:

  1. To make disciples, my whole life must be an example. In 1 Corinthians 4:15-17 Paul says, “Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me.”  Later in 1 Corinthians 11:1 he exhorts them, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” Paul models his whole life after Christ they can model their life after him. Discipleship is not a program, it is a whole-life endeavor.
  2. I cannot teach others what I do not know myself. A teacher is primarily a learner.  If I want to teach others, I must identify myself primarily as a learner, one who goes through things, learns, gleans, and then hopefully is able to help others along the way.  More is caught than taught.
  3. The most effective discipleship takes place living life together.  Jesus didn’t have little one-hour meetings scheduled with his disciples.  They didn’t go through a workbook. He lived life with them!  He ate with them, drank with them, ministered to others with them, and performed miracles in front of them.  His life was given to these men. This was his method.

{Want more? Twelve more discipleship insights here}

Discipleship isn’t separate from life. All of life is discipleship. Although some relationships have a more intense focus, all of life should and can be an intentional journey of building relationships which edify, encourage, exhort, sharpen, and draw us close to Christ. We can disciple everyone in our lives by simply being intentional and striving constantly toward a more gospel-centered, Christ-adoring, self-sacrificing life of love and devotion to God.

A wise woman once looked me in the eyes and said, “Kari, you pursue Christ full-steam ahead, and others will be caught up in your wake.”

May others be caught up in yours, for the glory of God.


Kari Patterson weaves words together with little ones on her lap and Legos on the floor. She juggles the hats of church-planting wife, homeschool mom, conference and retreat speaker, writer, friend, daughter–occasionally dropping them all on her crumb-covered floor. (It’s ok, really.) Her life’s passion is a quotidian revolution: Embracing this dirty, dusty, sacred life, living every mundane moment for the glory of God.