Metaphors for Discipleship

March 1, 2023

Metaphors for Discipleship

If you were asked to give a metaphor for a disciple of Jesus, what metaphor would you give? Fill in the following blank, a disciple of Jesus is _____________. Why does this matter? It matters because the metaphor you think of shapes how you see yourself as a disciple as well as how you might engage in the discipleship process of another. Disciples of Jesus ought to have biblical metaphors at the front of their minds, so they may live like biblical disciples and seek to produce them as well.

The New Testament captures many discipleship metaphors for us to ponder and embrace. Not one metaphor captures all that may be said about a disciple of Jesus. Each metaphor delivers a particular strength, and only together do they express a fuller picture. Here are a few.

Fishers of Men

As John the Baptist is forced into prison, Jesus launches His ministry onto the public scene (Mark 1:14ff.). He calls publicly for repentance and faith in the gospel and then proceeds to call four fishermen to follow Him—Simon, Andrew, James, and John. Jesus does something unusual and amazing in this passage (among other things of course). First, He sought out His disciples. Rabbis usually waited for disciples to approach them in this time. But Jesus goes to them, calls them to follow Him, and then promises to make them into fishers of men (Mark 1:17).

What does this metaphor—fishers of men—teach us regarding discipleship? Fishers of men pictures active participation in the ministry of the kingdom of God. It speaks of disciples equipped to call other people into the kingdom of God like Jesus did.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Likewise, give a disciple personal attention and you bless him for a day. Give a disciple a net and you bless others for a lifetime. Let us not leave the fishing of people to leadership. Let’s all grab our nets and cast them for the Kingdom of God and lost souls.

Mark 1:17 - Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”


In His last days, Jesus engrains an important metaphor into the minds of His disciples. He is the vine and they are the branches. What does this metaphor teach us about discipleship? Branches on a vine visualize that Jesus is the source of a disciple’s continued transformation. Only by remaining (or abiding) in Jesus can a disciple produce actions or results that God desires. For those who do remain in Jesus, they can expect their entire life and witness to be transformed. For those who do not remain and reject Jesus, they will be cast out and destroyed. Being a true follower of Jesus is not a one-time event; it is an ongoing process of being faithful in fellowship to Him.

This metaphor of branches is given concrete understanding as Jesus progresses in this teaching. Branches are called to remain in Jesus (15:4–5), which is further described as remaining in His words (15:7), His love (15:9–10), and His commands (15:10, 17). Each of these helps us understand what it means to remain faithful in fellowship with Jesus. Remaining is indeed a mysterious experience, but one that is nonetheless practical.

John 15:5 - “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”


Jesus declares His disciples are the salt of the earth. What does this metaphor illustrate about discipleship? Before we answer this, let us begin with the substance of salt itself. Salt had multiple functions in the ancient world. It preserved food as well as added flavor. Accordingly, salt seems to depict a Christian’s righteous impact and preservation upon this world. Disciples are influential representatives of Jesus in this world. They are to live their faith in Christ and influence the world for Him.

As salt brings distinct flavor to any food it touches, so disciples of Jesus bring distinct characteristics and blessings upon society; ones given by the grace of God. May God bless us to be the gospel flavoring influencers He saved us to be. Stay salty my friends!

Matthew 5:13 - “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.”


Disciples of Jesus are asserted as light of the world. What are we to make of this metaphor? Simply, light provides visibility. In this case, disciples live the knowledge and truth of the Gospel for the world to see. Not so they can be patted on the back, but so that the world may glorify our Father in heaven. Disciples do not hide their transformed lives, but live them publicly for the glory of God.

Jesus intends the world to see His disciples in action—loving and serving. We notice people who act differently than mainstream culture. We notice people who speak differently too. The world ought to notice Jesus disciples. For they act and speak out of the grace of God given to them in Jesus Christ.

Matthew 5:14–16 - “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”


Keep these metaphors at the front of your minds as you walk with Jesus and serve Him. Their beautiful illustrations will shape your mind for the discipleship process and for the glory of God. Correspondingly, these metaphors are easy to remember and offer rich teaching.