Obedience Based Discipleship


Often, discipleship in Christianity is focused on gaining more knowledge instead of growing in love and faithfulness.  This causes us to pursue knowledge, thinking we will be faithful once we understand more.

The problem comes from an misunderstanding of the nature of discipleship. For many of us, when we think about discipleship, we picture a person sitting in a classroom with a book in front of them instead of people running a race or training for war.

Discipleship at its very nature is not passive, purely-mental learning. Instead it’s learning to obey what Jesus said and do what Jesus did. It’s going to the lost. It’s proclaiming the good news. It’s making other disciples. It’s serving others. It’s equipping the saints.  It’s sending others. It’s serving the poor. These are actions that reflect biblical truth, not lessons learned in a library.

Because of the tendency for us to understand discipleship as purely mental learning, we’ve stopped talking about discipleship and started talking about “obedience-based discipleship1.” It’s not that we don’t teach people what the Bible says. It’s that we teach people how to obey what the Bible says, which is the only way to build your spiritual life in a way that will withstand the testing that will come (see Matthew 7:24-27). Obedience to a truth is how we know you fully understood it.

Compare this with our current training strategies in the West. Often we teach people truth and hope that people perform them. When they show back up again, we teach them again, but this time something new, because they heard what we taught previously. There is an assumption that if they heard and didn’t ask questions, that they absorbed our teaching and understand. Often the exact opposite is true.

This tendency to sit and absorb instead of learn and apply is at the heart of why we don’t see movements in the West.  Movements move. There is a going, doing, action quality to them that makes them a “movement.” Our Western mindset allows us to come and sit and feel like a participant by hearing a teaching without ever necessarily obeying.  In order for us to overcome this in the West, we must begin to teach and model training among the churches in a way that provokes people to obey and rewards obedience.

Jesus isn’t after our mental understanding. He wants us to understand and use our mind, but He is after us loving Him with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our strength (Mark 12:30). He’s after the complete person. So we must train our hearts, souls, and strength to love and serve Him, and not just our mind.

This begins with obedience-based discipleship.

1We are certainly not the first group to adopt the phrase. In fact, it’s so widely used in discipleship making movements that its hard to pinpoint who first used the term.


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About traviskolder

Travis Kolder is a follower of Jesus, a husband, a father of five, an organic church planter, and a writer. He lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he serves as part of the Cedar Rapids House Church Network.

5 responses to “Obedience Based Discipleship”

  1. riverflowsdown says :

    Great post and I think your point on absorbing is great. It is hard to be obedient when you don’t understand. Questions are hard for new believers because they don’t want to appear ignorant. On the absorbing piece I heard it said “It must be caught not taught” You can’t tell someone how play ball, but you show them by letting them experience the game. I think Discipleship is the same.

    You guys actually do that in Cedar Rapids, from living life together feeding the needy at the park and doing missions outreaches at home and abroad. I think that is what makes you unique and an example to others.

    I myself can not learn by hearing or reading instructions well at all. I am a visual learner and learn best kinesthetically or hands on. I think I am not alone in that, many people are hard wired by seeing and doing.

    Jesus seemed to verify that, even with the way the Father interacted with him. We know scripture says that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, but how did that look. We know he studied the scripture but the hands on part, where did that come from?

    Here is a clue found in John 5:18-20 18,This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. 19,So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. 20,For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel.

    That is how Jesus became obedient, by doing what he saw the Father do.

    HERE IS A BIG DEAL. In the West we say “do as I say not as I do” The Father, then Jesus, and later Paul all taught in essence “do what I do”

    Thank you guys up in Iowa for following that example.

  2. tammy @ faithhopelovefood.com says :

    Great post and explanation on discipleship. I may share this with my church as we work to develop our discipleship program. Thank you!

  3. johnspencerwrites says :

    Love the phrase: “Movements move. There is a going, doing, action quality to them that makes them a “movement.””

  4. gunnarlarmstrong says :

    You have a lot of good points here. I think it is invaluable that you see walking out what you are learning as essential. You say that we tend to view discipleship as gaining knowledge. I think that comes from two roots. The first is that we tend to view relationship with Jesus as an intellectual exercise. We are more concerned with making sure that someone has a good intellectual grasp of the truth than we are with making sure that that person has actually experienced Jesus. Jesus is a real person, but we don’t expect to really know him — we really just expect to know about him. The second is that we really are too busy chasing the good life — wanting to be sure that we experience American life to the fullest — and we don’t have time to obey. And our churches tell us that we can have a good Christian life if we go to church on Sundays, go to a small group (or youth group) once during the week, and try to be involved in a ministry sometimes. I think our call is to be the church — walking with each other and serving with each — other all week. At least that is our calling — I know I struggle with it and am waiting for God’s timing, but that is my hope and vision.

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