The average Christian’s understanding of discipleship is incredibly inaccurate. Most Christians tend to think of it as something you learn from a course. But nothing could be further from the truth. Let me explain.

I’m a United Methodist. We have a program called Disciple Bible. The program was designed by a member of my staff, in conjunction with a United Methodist bishop. Disciple Bible was designed to introduce people to the basics of Christianity and connect them to their own special spiritual gift. Then the person was supposed to be handed off to someone who could help them find their place of service within the Kingdom.

However, since most Christians think of discipleship as something they can learn in a course, instead of handing people off to someone who could help them put their gifts to work in some form of service, the brilliant minds of my denomination decided that a Disciple Bible II, III, and IV should be created. If you tally up all the versions of Disciple Bible that have been created, a person could stay in the classroom forever and never put their gift into action.

We live in what I call a “data dump” culture. Just memorize some scripture and presto, we are disciples. Similarly, people attend Sunday School all of their lives and collect tons of data, but they never do anything with it. We have scholarly Christians who are full of data but who live lives that are void of any verbal witness to their friends or networks. Maybe it’s time to redefine “disciple” as apprentice.

An apprentice is someone who learns a trade for the specific purpose of putting it into practice – they implement what they know. The goal is not to memorize how to do something but to implement what one is learning in their daily life. Implementation is what’s missing in today’s understanding of discipleship. So it’s time we dump the word disciple in favor of a word that expressly renders the true intended meaning – and focus less on application and more on implementation, actually doing what Jesus taught. 

When Jesus said, “Go make disciples,” he didn’t mean for us to just memorize the meaning of the word. He expected us to help others follow him. You can’t do this in a classroom. Discipleship must be done in the trenches. Thus, we think the word “apprentice” is the preferred word in today’s data dump culture – someone who implements what they’ve learned by continual practice.

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Question: How do you think the true meaning of the word “disciple” has been muddled? What is your reaction to the term “apprentice” in its stead? Share your thoughts and reactions in the Comments section below.