Discipleship Culture

Forming the heart of a disciple

Edmund Chan says about discipleship strategy:

It’s all about a certain type of person, radically committed to a certain kind of purpose, who through a certain kind of process, reproduces a certain kind of product.” [1]

It is that term “a certain type of person“, that gets my attention.

Given that people are so radically different in every way, how do we legitimately describe a certain type of person we are looking to develop?

Over the years I have created various models to define what a disciple is, some better than others. Rightly, I was determined to ascertain what type of fruit our branch of the church might be producing (John 15:5). But wrongly, the models tended to prioritise things we can observe such as beliefs and practices – externals like baptism, lifestyle, service and spiritual disciplines.

Unsurprisingly, a fully healed and spirit-empowered ex-drug addict will have little in common in terms of language, habits and aspirations with that of a suburban professional from the bible-belt. External definitions are generally too prescriptive.

Eventually I concluded that a disciple is someone growing to become what Jesus would be like if Jesus was them. This recognises that we each have a different context, history, personality, and diverse assignment to fulfill – yet can all aim to live out the heart of Jesus uniquely.

My old definitions had failed to focus on what truly mattered – the unseen, indefinable heart. The heart is the wellspring of life, everything we do flows from it (Prov. 4:23). If we get the heart right, then the externals take care of themselves.

We will never adequately measure the human heart. Nor should we. After all, it is God’s job alone to do that. My job as a Christian leader is not to measure hearts, it is to build them – to focus on getting the inputs right, thus ensuring the outputs are as they should be.

And so, when considering the valid question “Who is this certain type of person I am making?“, it is the developing facets of the heart that I need to define.

How would you boil down the elements of the heart that you need to focus on building in the people of your church? I would expect everyone’s list to vary. Some would include generosity, or justice, maybe even humility and sacrifice.

I had a list too, but it never quite seemed complete. So, I went back to the scriptures looking for the most fundamental and vital elements of life with God. I found only a small number of core elements in there that transcend time, culture, gender and status.

Therefore, my list is short. Very short.

They are things that mattered in the very beginning, still matter now, and will matter forever. These few heart-elements are for me the “radicalis”, the root of all things. Many of the other specifics we might emphasise are derivatives of these central themes.

Paul spelled them out in 1 Cor. 13:13:

“And now these three remain: FAITH, HOPE and LOVE.”

I will flesh them out in subsequent articles, but let’s unzip these words succinctly now, and see if you agree.


Faith – an active reliance on God

We were not regarded as human beings until the breath of God joined with the material dust of the earth (Gen.2:7). We are meant to live from God, not merely for Him. It is intrinsically woven into us to rely on the presence and provision of God for our identity, purpose, security, and provision. Without them we are merely dust.

In our New Testament context, we can do more than rely on God to make everything right one day, as Old Testament believers did. Now, with the breath of God within us again (John 20:22; Acts 2) we are able to draw continually on Him through intimate relationship. We must build within our people a deep understanding and experience of dynamic faith.

How do you define faith? What might your definition include and exclude? For me, it’s all about a continual leaning into God and a reliance on His grace. It is our beginning and end (Romans 1:17).


Hope – an expectancy of a better future

Way too many of our church-folk are handcuffed to their past. They have tried and failed too many times – replicating the stats of unbelievers for rates of divorce, depression, and general dysfunction. Being stuck in a Romans 7 mindset of inevitable failure, they lose hope.

And yet we are Romans 8 people – no longer obliged to the old nature (Romans 8:12). We need to build people’s hearts to regain hope, fixing their eyes on their promised glory and available transformation. So much grace is available to us in the present, but few grasp it because they lack tools and hope to overcome.

Would you put hope in the same short list of indispensable elements with faith and love, as Paul has? How would biblically optimistic hope change the culture of your church?


Love – an overflow of the heart of God

Paul said that love was greatest of the three. Jesus and the Torah would agree (Mark 12:30). But that in no way infers that love can stand alone. If we over-reach emotionally, giving without personally receiving – then love too can exhaust itself.

Love is all about giving and receiving through dynamic connection with God and people. It is also about appropriately valuing people, as well as one’s self. When working right, love reaches-in to cherish God’s people; reaches-up to exalt God; and can’t help but to reach out to a broken world.

Can you imagine the fruit of people driven by a heart of faith, hope and love?

Could it be that simple? Is there something missing? Dwell on that for yourself, but whatever you do, find an answer to the question: What am I making?


  1. Chan Edmund. Radical Discipleship – Five defining questions. (Covenant Evangelical Free Church. 2015)
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