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Discipleship as Spiritual Parenthood,

Updated: Mar 20

Insights from Discipling in a Multicultural World by Ajith Fernando


May 4, 2023

Natalie Kim



Discipleship is a lifelong commitment to learning - learning through faith in God, learning to become more Christ-like, and always being led by the Holy Spirit. In other words, discipleship is like an apprenticeship where we learn and practice following the way of our Lord Jesus Christ.


What does discipleship look like in a multicultural context? Here, learning takes place in an unfamiliar setting among people of different worldviews, values, and lifestyles. How are we supposed to disciple others who are coming from different cultures? Ajith Fernando, in his book Discipling in a Multicultural World, offers a model of disciple-making based on the biblical principle of spiritual parenthood. This can be seen in scripture through the relationships between Jesus and his disciples, Paul and Timothy, and between the apostles and the churches of the New Testament.


Discipleship as a Learning Relationship


Fernando describes discipleship as "an affectionate relationship of caring between people who see themselves as having a parent-child relationship."¹ A Christian's transformation is more than their stance on a particular belief or subject. God works in every person in a very personal way and he also works through his church, the body of Christ. The fact that believers are adopted into God's family reminds us that discipleship is a relational commitment in the covenant community, which is the context of discipleship.


There is never one-to-one discipleship apart from Christ and his body. This group identity as Christians and discipleship in the context of a covenant body is often neglected in more individualistic cultures. We must remember that discipleship happens only through the covenant relationship with the Lord and his body. We must foster a sense of belonging and promote unity of the body of Christ despite our differences.


Discipleship as a Learning Process Toward Transformation


What kind of growth are you expecting to see in your discipleship journey with other people? It's important to understand your learning goals and specific changes that you want to see in your relationships.


Fernando highlights three areas for growth which include character, understanding, and ministry capacity.² He elaborates on the process of these areas in part two, "How Christians Change." When discipling others, we have to learn their cultural backgrounds because culture shapes our way of thinking, doing, and feeling. Fernando argues that teaching must incorporate culturally appropriate methods and styles.


Discipleship always involves reading and studying God's word and praying, all of which God uses to transform our lives individually and collectively. We must be aware of the fact that people of different cultures can understand and experience transformation differently. Discipleship is a learning process that shows how the gospel transforms lives in a multifaceted way, the way God desires. This may look remarkably different across cultures, from person to person.


¹ Ajith Fernando, Discipling in a Multicultural World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 27.

² Fernando, Discipling in a Multicultural Word, 121-122.





Natalie Kim is training coordinator and curriculum designer at CultureBound. She has led culture courses for long-term missions. Currently, she is directing the Culture Tree Project for TCKs. Natalie earned her EdD in intercultural education from Western Seminary.


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