The importance of discipleship in college
Discipleship is a word that seems to float around churches and Christian circles. It is a word that connotes different things and sounds important in conversation, but also a term that is often misunderstood and therefore devoid of any real meaning.
In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus commands His people to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.” Jesus had disciples Himself, men who believed His teaching and followed Him during His time on earth. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus repeatedly called ordinary men to leave their everyday lives and follow Him; everyone from the top tier of society to the bottom. After His ascension, the Holy Spirit moved early Christians to take the Gospel to different places all over the world, and the early church spent daily time together “devoted to the apostles teaching” and praying together. A deep, Gospel-centered community was a pillar of the life of Jesus and the function of the early church. Even though all of these things are true, the word discipleship is not mentioned in the Bible. The term disciple is used, but that refers to those who believe in and follow Jesus.
Today, we can believe in and follow Jesus as they did, and being a disciple just means being a follower of Jesus. But what is discipleship? What does it mean to be in a discipleship relationship? What does it mean to “make disciples of all nations” as Jesus commanded? There are countless programs, conferences, and books on the methodology and importance of discipleship— but today, according to Barna, only 28% of professing Christians claim to be in meaningful discipleship relationships. In an increasingly individualistic culture, forging meaningful, deep relationships with people does not happen naturally—and the negative effects on the individuals and church bodies cannot be overstated. Discipleship is simply this: teaching, leading, and demonstrating to others what it means to think, act, and speak as a follower of Christ.
The Church is full of people who came to know Jesus as Savior, yet were never taught what it means to actually follow Him. Thousands of people in our local churches are trying to survive on one sermon a week spiritually and an hour sitting in a church building who eventually settle for knowing and growing very little or stop believing in Jesus altogether. This is not God’s design for His people. We are created to learn and grow and strive towards holiness together, with our community to lead, guide, and support us.
In college, this is particularly vital as people determine the trajectory of their lives— they determine what will be important to them, what will motivate them, what will be a significant part of their daily life and what will fall away. If a student goes into this season with little emphasis on Scripture and is never taught what it means to be a faithful follower of Christ, they will most likely leave college with no concern for what the Bible has to say about how they should live. If church involvement and service are not a priority in college, they will likely not be a priority after graduation. And, if discipleship and active growth in the Lord are not a part of their lives, there is a good chance they will become part of the 72% of Christians, according to Barna, who are not engaged in any meaningful Christian relationships and are therefore spiritually unequipped for the challenging realities that await them.
Campus Ministries at Charleston Southern exists to bridge this gap in young people’s lives. Elevate, the campuswide worship service that meets on Thursday nights reaches broadly to the campus to connect students to intentional discipleship relationships both on and off campus. One of these on-campus opportunities is Render, the women’s ministry on the campus of CSU. Render is fully student-led, and exists to reach women in the gap between their home churches and their (hopefully) new local church in Charleston. At the beginning of the semester, women of all ages can apply either to lead someone in a discipleship relationship or to request a leader. These leaders are invited to be trained and debriefed on what discipleship requires of them and what it should look like with a college student.
Pairings are created and distributed along with biblical content for them to read through together, and for a whole semester, women of all stages of college life read the Bible together and develop intentional relationships. One example is Reaghan and Liz. They were paired together when Reaghan was a freshman, and they read through the Bible together the whole semester— and they haven’t stopped since. Through Render, they have developed a deep friendship that continues over years. Relationships like this are what Render does best. Discipleship rhythms are established that hopefully will continue for the rest of their lives, and women will be sent out all over the world with a heart rooted in Scripture and eyes fixed on pouring into others.
Even though Render is exclusively a women’s ministry, Charleston Southern offers many places where all students can seek genuine discipleship relationships.
Samantha Arp is a junior English with a writing emphasis major. She is a Fall 2022 intern in CSU’s marketing and communication office.