Why Would Anyone Want to Be a Disciple of Jesus?

In the past couple decades or so, lots of churches have begun to focus on discipleship. There’s a recognition that we’ve largely assumed that if we simply focused on church growth, discipleship would just sort of… happen. We are realizing we’ve neglected Jesus’ explicit commission to “go and make disciples.”

And this renewed focus on discipleship is a good thing! But in our work with leaders, we’ve noticed that many churches dive straight into the work of developing a plan for discipleship without first articulating clearly WHY they’re doing this in the first place. The result is a whole lot of confusion and very little movement.

Why start with why?

Every three-year-old knows it’s important to ask why. It’s we adults that have trouble remembering how crucial it is!

Start With WhySimon Sinek addresses this problem in his book Start With Why. The basic premise is that while most organizations can tell you WHAT they do, and a few can tell you HOW they do it, very few can tell you WHY they do what they do.

What’s their ultimate purpose? Why do they get out of bed in the morning? What’s the point?

Sinek’s basic argument is that why we do something is far more important and powerful than what we’re doing or how we’re doing it.

So WHY be and make disciples?

It seems to me that lots of churches know that they should be focusing on discipleship (WHAT), and some churches have a plan for it (HOW), but very few churches can really talk about WHY discipleship to Jesus is such a big deal.

Why focus on discipleship in the first place? Why be disciples of Jesus? Why make disciples of Jesus? Is this just a new church growth strategy? Or have we really embraced a more fundamental theological shift?


The most obvious WHY for discipleship is that Jesus told us to do it. And while this is a decent motivation, Jesus’ commands are never arbitrary. There’s a reason he told us to follow him and make disciples.

The problem is the way we often talk about discipleship makes it feel like it is arbitrary, that it’s less of a vital thing and more of an extra-curricular activity, an add-on to the “main thing,” which is typically “getting saved.”

So what’s in your gospel?

So it all comes down to what we believe the “main thing” really is. What is the good news we are proclaiming? What is the gospel?

Heaven's gates

Can you hear the angels singing?

Let’s test it it out. If this is your good news…

God will forgive your sins and let you into heaven if you believe that Jesus died on the cross for you…

…then there is no reason at all to become a disciple of Jesus.

Indeed there’s no reason to involve Jesus in your faith at all. You’re not trusting a person, you’re just assenting to some facts.

Under this understanding of the gospel there’s no logical or compelling reason to become a disciple of Jesus. There’s no WHY.

A bigger gospel that leads to discipleship

But the gospel is so much more than forgiveness and heaven-when-you-die!

Disciples learning to live in the kingdom

Disciples learning to live in the kingdom

Let’s try it out. If this is your gospel…

You can participate NOW in the life of the Trinity, joining with him in what he’s doing right now on earth. Through Jesus Christ, life in God’s kingdom is available to you now. You can start immediately.

…then becoming a disciple perfect sense! 

Why? Because how else will I learn to live this new life? If I surrender to this gospel, I realize that I really don’t know how to live in God’s kingdom. I don’t know how to participate in the life of the Trinity.

But Jesus does!

So the way we enter life in God’s kingdom now is by trusting Jesus now to teach us and empower us to enter into this new kind of life. He leads us step-by-step into kingdom life.

Discipleship to Jesus is the natural way to say Yes to the gospel of the kingdom.

Keeping the gospel of the kingdom central

In other words, discipleship finds its WHY in the gospel of the kingdom.

But if we try to focus on discipleship while retaining anemic and truncated conceptions of the gospel, we’ll always fall flat on our face, because there isn’t a sufficient WHY to propel people through the sacrifice and effort that discipleship requires.

This is a drum we tend to beat a lot, but it needs to keep being said, over and over, until we really begin to change the way we preach the gospel. In our pulpits, small groups, dinner conversations, and neighborhood barbecues.

If we want to see a discipleship revolution take root in the North American church, we have to intentionally change the way we think and talk about the gospelI believe this is one of the watershed theological issues of our time, frankly.

If we can truly begin to preach and respond to the gospel of the kingdom, the one Jesus and Paul and whole New Testament preaches, it will naturally lead to discipleship, because the WHY will be obvious.

This work by Gravity Commons is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

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  1. Ben Sternke on October 17, 2016 at 10:05 am

    Hey Evan, really glad it resonated!

  2. Ben Sternke on October 17, 2016 at 4:13 pm

    Amen! Thanks Michael.

  3. Geoff Bynum on August 5, 2019 at 1:03 pm

    Great stuff Ben. This gospel of the kingdom has changed my life. It’s what I preach every Sunday in some form or fashion. It’s one of the things I’m grateful to my “tribe” – The Vineyard – for continuously pressing into as the actual gospel. I’m hopeful for the Church when I hear this articulated so well. Keep up the good work!

  4. Ben Sternke on August 5, 2019 at 2:56 pm

    Me, too, Geoff! And I came about it from a combination of Dallas Willard and George Ladd/Vineyard teaching about the “inaugurated eschatology” of the kingdom. Changes everything if you believe God is really present and at work in the midst of it all.

  5. Sally Howe on August 5, 2019 at 6:19 pm

    Yes Ben. Thank you for explaining very clearly the ‘gap’ that often exists in this new (in Australia too!) ‘it’s all about making disciples!’ Movement. Of course yes and yippee it IS, but if we don’t get the why that’s not going to get very far. Love your work God! Thanks Ben and GL people.

  6. Michael Wellhousen on July 6, 2021 at 12:08 pm

    Maybe I’m looking at this too simplistically, but isn’t the “why”, because you are in love with Jesus?

    I mean when someone significant in your life – who you truly love – asks you to do something – how long does it take you to act upon their request? How much thought (even the why) does it take?

    When we become a follower of Jesus – we have a new heart – a heart that is in love with God – the meaning and purpose of life is our new life – our life in love with Jesus – a sacrificial life – not our old life which is based on causation necessitating a “why”

    Doesn’t the Bible emphasize love as the “why” (bear with me if I misquote) — Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength – love your neighbor as yourself; If you love me you will keep my commandments; As the father loves me, so I love you; By this the world will know that you are my disciples if you love one another; This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for others. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you.

    I’m with you regarding cheap grace but I think the why of discipleship stems from the question Jesus asked Peter – do you love me?

  7. Ben Sternke on July 12, 2021 at 3:26 pm

    I agree, Michael! But why would anyone love Jesus? What’s so special about him? Why follow him? They’d need to hear the gospel of the kingdom! We can’t assume that people know the gospel of the kingdom or a Jesus who would be worth loving and following, so we must continue proclaiming this good news. That’s what this blog post is about. 🙂

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