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Are ‘Disciple’ and ‘Leader’ Synonymous?

It is a curious question and one that I have wrestled with for sometime now. It is also an important question because the words or terms we often use carry with them significant meaning based on deeply held convictions. Therefore if one uses the wrong words one can communicate the wrong message, and communicating the wrong message can lead to unhealthy conclusions that smother any potential influence. For example there are certain cultures in the world where I dont call myself a Christian because in certain parts of the world the term Christian conjures up a stereotypical image of people in the West who have waged wars on certain Arab people throughout history. Unfortunately in the minds of some, not all, of my Arab friends the term Christian is simply a western term that means something far different than what the Bible teaches. I therefore refer to myself as a follower of Jesus, and often take the time to explain what that means. Only after a relationship is established do I try to redeem the term Christian in their minds.

This brings us to the terms disciple and leader and their subsequent meanings. My desire here is to get the terms right so that we get the influence and message right.

The word disciple taken from the Greek mathts and is used to refer, in a broad sense, to followers of a teacher such as Jesus and Paul (Matt. 10:24; Luke 14:26-27; John 4:1; 6:66). The term was also used to refer to the twelve apostles who followed Jesus. While the previous information can be found in any Bible dictionary, those who have been rescued by God would find it stale, wooden, and lacking any description of the deep devotion felt by the true Christian. For as disciples of Jesus Christ we find in Him the answer for the nothingness inside us, and once rescued we love, obey, worship, proclaim and will even die for him. The disciple would rather have one minute experiencing Gods grace than a lifetime of anything else. As Oswald Chambers has already written:

Discipleship is based on devotion to Jesus Christ, rather than to on adherence to a belief or creed. If any man comes to Me and does not hate he cannot be My disciple. There is no argument and no compulsion, but simplyIf you would be my disciple, you must be devoted to Me. A man touched by the Spirit of God suddenly saysNow I see who Jesus is, and that is the source of devotion.

Now our attention turns to the idea of leadership. How should disciples of Jesus view leadership? Certainly the Scriptures emphasis on leadership and developing leaders cannot be ignored. Consider the airtime given to Moses and Joshuas relationship, Jesus and the twelve, and Paul and Timothy. Paul even tells Timothy that aspiring to positions of leadership in the church is a noble task. Thus leadership is not something to be looked down upon by Christians, but rather it is sought and even desired, while at the same time filtered through the Bible. J. Oswald Sanders wrote, Leadership is influence, the ability of one person to influence others to follow his or her lead. While not all will have the same amount of influence, all should cultivate their gifts to influence.

In conclusion, are the terms disciple and leader synonymous? Here is where I land: Every disciple should develop and exhaust their gifts to their fullest potential in an effort to have maximum influence for the glory of God. Thus every disciple should lead with the understanding that influencing others is part of the Christian journey. But every disciple doesnt lead. Therefore a failure or unwillingness to lead is to fall short of full obedience to Godand thus must be categorized as sin.

-Brent Crowe

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