Earl Roberson: The Discipleship Interview

Today I continue my 2013 Discipleship Interview Series with Earl Roberson. Earl now serves as associate vice president for church resources here at LifeWay after serving several years with Student Life in Birmingham, AL.


Discipleship is such a broad term, often a junk-drawer term that has been used to describe many things. How do you define it?

Discipleship in its purist form is following and imitating the example Jesus set for us in His time here on earth. Being a disciple to me is twofold: 1.) The growth and maturity of a Christ follower both personal and under the guidance of mature believers and 2.) Following the example of Jesus in being a servant whose ultimate reason for living is to reproduce/multiply more followers of Christ. Both go together as we become disciples making other disciples.

Knowing that God is the Great Initiator, the journey of discipleship begins upon a person’s response to Jesus’s call to follow. Upon receiving God’s Spirit in us a personal journey begins, a journey made available to us, that teaches the believer how to follow Jesus in light of the Gospel and His Spirit alive in us. This is where the church body comes into play. Paul set an example of how to be honorable, pure, and faithful in living and ministry (Phil. 4:8). He urged his brothers to keep their eyes on “those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Phil. 3:17). These Scriptures urge us to interact and spur on Christian development in those who become Christ followers. It is a journey both personal and affected by accountability from fellow believers. In view of what Jesus did for us and the awe and wonder of the magnitude of an invitation so life-changing, we are prompted to “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 answer in obedience (Matthew 28:16-20).

When thinking or training on discipleship, what passages are anchor passages for you?

One particular passage that is an encouragement and a call to arms for me is II Timothy 2:1-2 “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” To me this scripture shows the basis of multiplication, but also verifies that we do not act alone, but are strengthened by the Spirit living in us.

One other scripture that is short and sweet and unmistakably clear is I Corinthians 11:1 “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” The concept stressed here is how God set us in the Christian life to progress so much by imitating other Christians. Though we are flawed, through grace we are used in alignment with His will.

Is there such thing as “fully-discipled” in this lifetime?

In my understanding of the definition of disciple, there is no such thing as “fully-discipled.” That implicates a finishing point upon which our progressing and maturing is at some point complete. I do think there is a point when we become mature and confident in our knowledge of the gospel and the Spirit living in us to call others to imitate us in the Christian life. This is much like Paul did in Philippians 3:17 where he calls others to follow his example of commitment to Jesus as Lord. The key here I believe is humility, being confident that the leadership you are conveying points always to dependence on Christ and the cross.

Pastor and author Tony Evans says discipleship is:

  1. Process of spiritual development.
  2. Occurs within an environment of loving accountability
  3. Progressive movement toward maturity.
  4. Process of discipleship repeats itself.

In light of this interpretation I believe our movement toward maturity is never complete and always deepening. This in turn spurs us to call others to follow us or imitate us in the commitment we have to Jesus as our Lord, remembering that it is not us, but God that will open their eyes to see his glory and saving grace.

In your mind, is discipleship one aspect of church ministry or the totality of all a church does?

Discipleship is the supreme aim of what the church should be doing. In essence, when you break down who we are as a church body, small groups, worship, youth ministry, events, and programs, the buck stops with the individual believer who is either just existing or existing with a purpose. That purpose to a follower of Christ should interpret into reproducing new believers through the life we are living. To quote David Platt’s Follow Me, “Every disciple of Jesus exists to make disciples of Jesus, here and among every people group on the planet. There are no spectators. We are all born to reproduce.” The imperative to us in the Great Commission is to call individuals to commit to Jesus as Lord and Master of their life.

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