How Theology Is Essential for Healthy Disciples
Theology. Most refrain from conversations surrounding this subject because they believe it belongs in classrooms and colleges, not within conventional or conversational ministry. But what does it actually mean? In Greek, Theos (θεός) means God and logos (λόγος) means words. The term has its roots in ancient philosophy connoting “God talk” (θεολογία = theologia) or “talking about God.” More recently, -ology has come to be understood as “the study of,” so theology is simply “the study of God,” just as biology means “the study of living things.” Whether “talking about God” or “studying God,” most people practice theology. Blog posts from the past several weeks (August 2022) have touched on this reality—theology matters since even our children are little theologians!
As ministry leaders, we must not only consider how theology is useful in growing healthy disciples but also how we can demystify theology for people as an inseparable part of their daily lives. Theology doesn’t have to be intimidating and academic—it’s essential and practical.
Speaking of words that can be intimidating, disciple and disciple-making or discipleship often feel like a more advanced level of faith for those who have the time and energy to take things even more seriously than the average Christian. Like theology, disciple-making is not something reserved for trained professionals or select leaders. The word disciple simply means a follower, learner, pupil or apprentice. There is nothing complicated or mysterious about being a disciple. A disciple of Jesus is a person who has decided to follow Jesus, desires to become like Him, and is trained by Him.
The Great Commission instructs us to make disciples by teaching people to obey (not just to know) everything Jesus has commanded (Matthew 28:20). Disciples of Jesus are made by teaching people not just what the Bible says, but also how to obey what the Bible says. After all, information + application = transformation. If we want to return to Jesus-style disciple making, then we must shift from teaching information to teaching obedience.
Likewise, we cannot teach others to obey God’s commands unless we have heard and understood them first. A healthy disciple is one who is trained by and follows Jesus–not merely humans. New believers, and certainly seasoned Christians as well, have the potential to be led astray when looking to anything other than the Word of God for instruction. Theology, studying and talking about God, is the primary resource for healthy disciples. In this modern, technological world, multitudes of resources are at our fingertips to help us study God’s Word. But these resources have the potential to lead us astray if we become disciples of any author other than the Author of life (Acts 3:15). Making disciples and baptizing them in God’s name is impossible without “talking about God.” Theology is what we know to be true about God and how we turn that into common practices, language and rhythms. This is where the Rooted experience gives us common language, experiences and rhythms that allow disciples to talk about God in a shared journey, even while discovering and discerning God’s voice together.
That’s one last point about discipleship—it can be thought of in terms of learning to hear and respond to God. In the first chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus is referred to as the the Word (logos). Therefore, Christian theology is centered on knowing Jesus. He is God. He is the Word. Knowing the Word is indispensable for healthy discipleship. We can best grow in our relationship with the Word, Jesus, by spending time in community with other disciples who are immersed in the Word of God, Scripture. To create, cultivate, and grow healthy disciples we must be studying, discussing, applying the truth of God’s Word above all else. That is the true aim of theology, knowing God through His Word and growing in our relationship with Him as a disciple of Jesus.
Theology isn’t just helpful in this discipleship process, it is essential. We shouldn’t be anxious about studying, talking about, and implementing theology into our discipleship methods for we are assured, “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). It is true that theology is fundamental in generating healthy disciples. But don’t be afraid of the scholastic term, because after all, you’re already a theologian.
Joey Oswald is a 24-year old resident of First Christian Church in Canton Ohio midway through earning his Master’s Degree in Theological Studies from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.