6 Traits of a Mature Disciple by Kyle Rohane
Discipleship is a lifelong journey. When we hear Jesus’ Great Commission to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19), we can be tempted to think Jesus is only talking about evangelism. But Jesus doesn’t stop there; he continues, “and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (v. 20). Not only are we called to introduce people to Jesus—we’re also told to grow them toward a mature faith.
Over and over, New Testament writers stress the difference between immature and mature disciples. Paul tells the Ephesians that Christ equips his people to grow from infancy to spiritual maturity (Eph. 4:11–14). He laments that he cannot yet walk the Corinthians toward deeper elements of faith because they’re only ready for “milk to drink, not solid food” (1 Cor. 3:2). Peter encourages his readers to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).
For ourselves and for those under our spiritual care, we cannot settle for undeveloped faith. We must encourage those in our ministries when we see signs of maturity, and we should develop those areas where their faith remains immature. So what does a mature disciple look like? Here are a few areas of maturity that we should ask God to grow in others and ourselves:
A mature disciple SERVES OUT OF LOVE.
Scripture is packed with directions for how we should treat our fellow human beings. In Zechariah 7, the prophet chastised God’s people for going through the religious motions—fasting, sacrificing, and celebrating—one minute, then treating others poorly the next. Their worship was selfish. God wanted them to “administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.”
This gets to the heart of service in a mature disciple’s life. Immature disciples may serve others when it’s convenient or when it makes them look and feel good. But mature disciples follow Jesus’ example by transforming into continuous servants. They serve others by taking God’s love for people and making it their own.
A mature disciple APPLIES GOD’S WORD.
While new disciples may start reading the Bible out of a sense of obligation, a read-it-because-that’s-what-good-Christians-do approach to Scripture rarely leads to tangible growth. Christ-followers can certainly benefit from immersing themselves regularly in God’s Word, even when they don’t really feel like it. That’s a habit worth forming. But it’s not enough. Many unbelieving Bible scholars read the Bible regularly and study it diligently but remain skeptical of its claims and unchanged by its contents.
As disciples mature, they should start taking Jesus’ words in Luke 11:28 seriously: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Mature disciples read the Bible less and less out of Christianly duty and more and more out of a deep love for God’s revelation. They trust it completely and let it shape their lives, just as James instructs in James 1:22: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
A mature disciple JOINS IN A COMMUNITY OF FAITH.
The journey of discipleship should not be taken alone. The minute we are adopted as children of God, we become spiritual siblings of millions of other people who are on the same journey. Immature disciples might think they can walk the path of discipleship alone. They say things like, “My faith is between God and me. I don’t need to join a church because I get more out of alone time with God.” Yet whenever Scripture describes the life of a disciple, it’s in the context of a community of faith. Paul addresses the members of the church in Corinth as “mere infants in Christ” (1 Cor. 3:1) because there is jealousy, quarreling, and disunity among them. Mature disciples seek unity and community with other growing disciples.
A mature disciple PRAYS SELFLESSLY.
When we are still immature in our faith, our prayers sound an awful lot like a Christmas wish list. We focus on ourselves—the things we want and need. These prayers of supplication aren’t inherently bad. God is our protector and provider, and Jesus directs us to ask God for “good gifts” (Matthew 7:11). But with these simple prayers, we are only dipping our toes into the ocean of a more mature prayer life. Mature disciples use prayer to praise God for his blessings and for who he is. They thank him for his past faithfulness, ask him to bless and heal other people, and confess when they’ve disobeyed him and hurt others. In short, the prayers of a mature disciple aren’t selfish; they’re selfless.
A mature disciple SHARES HIS OR HER FAITH STORY.
The Good News of Jesus Christ is the greatest gift we can receive. Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, his followers are adopted as God’s children. We are made holy, receive the Spirit, and enter into eternal loving relationship with our Lord. Immature disciples recognize these truths in their own lives. Mature disciples follow Jesus’ instruction to share his Good News with others: “Go into the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). As mature disciples reflect on the transformation in their own lives and Jesus’ influence on their journey, they yearn for those same things in others’ lives. So they share the gospel and its influence on their story of faith with those who need to hear it most.
A mature disciple HAS A MENTOR and MENTORS OTHERS.
When you think through your own faith story, you can probably picture one or more people who took a personal interest in you, taught you the ins and outs of a life of faith, and led you down the path of discipleship. They probably had others who did the same for them. In fact, there’s a chain of disciples leading disciples that reaches all the way back to Jesus and his first 12 followers. They left behind lives of comfort and safety to become disciples of Jesus—following him, learning from him, and imitating him (Matt. 4:19–20). But from the very beginning, Jesus made it clear that their discipleship was not for their benefit alone. He called them to “fish for people,” to reach out and grow other people as followers of Christ.
As disciples grow spiritually, they should follow the disciples’ example by actively looking for a mature Christ-follower to guide them toward Christ-likeness. But that’s not all. For this chain of discipleship to continue, mature disciples should also look for less mature disciples to mentor through the highs and lows of their discipleship journey.