I once believed that the moment a person emerged from baptismal waters they were a disciple. I now understand that immersion on a profession of faith does not automatically make an individual a disciple. While all disciples are Christians, not all Christians are disciples.
Discipleship is a decision. Becoming a disciple means listening to the Teacher, emulating his life, and knowing and doing what is important to him. It is recognizing Jesus not only as Savior but as Lord.
The process of Discipleship -- and it is a process -- is one of growth in Christlikeness. There is no such thing as a stagnant or nongrowing disciple. Growth may be slow. Progress may falter from time to time, but in spite of setbacks and failures it is ever upward. Each day the disciple should be more transformed into the likeness of the Master.
How does an individual become a disciple? By faith one evidences complete confidence in the Master Teacher by reforming his life, acknowledging (confessing) the Sonship of Jesus, and enrolling in the school through baptism into Christ (Matthew 28:19-20). Arising from the baptismal waters, the disciple's schooling begins. In a university, a student may pay the matriculation fee and submit the necessary documents to enroll, but if he never attends class or fulfills the assignments he can hardly be called a student. A supposed believer who initiates a discipleship relationship with Jesus who refuses to learn and apply the Master's teachings can hardly be called a disciple. As Jesus said, "Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do the things I say?"
Many there are who enrolled in the school of Christ who refuse to study his text, heed his lessons, and fulfill the assignments.
Having said that, let me point out that when a church's leadership focuses more on methodology and technique than the Teacher and the text, something is wrong. Believers look to their leaders for examples of what it means to be a disciple. Where once ministers and church leaders centered ministry on biblical truth and sound doctrine, they today build on leadership styles and scientific church growth methodology. A desire to fulfill the Great Commission requires more than being seeker friendly and practical preaching. It means registering new students in the school of Christ. It means convincing those new students that it is important to study at the feet of Jesus. Jesus was more than conversant with God's Word, so should a disciple. Jesus not only lived the truth, he was the truth. Disciples need to live the truth as well. Just as the student rises no higher than his teacher, so the average church member becomes no more spiritual than those who lead.
I would call upon those who lead in Christ's body to study God's Word more than their books on leadership. I would challenge them to dig into the text more than they study demographics. I call upon them to preach more expository messages than topical tripe. I plead with them to restore sound doctrine drawn from God's Word than evangelical generalities that skirt biblical truth. I would call all of us back to God's Word rather than what works!