Over the next few weeks, I will discuss five reasons why discipleship isn’t happening in many churches.
- Untraveled Territory
- Unknown Destination
- Unrealistic Expectations
- Unexpected Benefits
- Unorganized Priorities
The home I grew up in backed up to a wooded area. Tall tales of monsters and evil men that resided deep within the darkness circulated throughout the neighborhood. As a child, I never ventured into the woods unless I had an adult with me. Every Easter my father, grandfather, uncle, and I, with walking sticks in hand, would embark on an adventure into the forest. The dense underbrush coupled with towering trees created an eerie atmosphere. The initial part of the trip consisted of aggressively pruning shrubs and stepping on branches to create a path, but once we made it into the heart of the forest, it gave way to a large expanse of paths and trails, which I began to explore. While adventuring, I discovered an opening that led me back home, or so I thought.
Focused on the task at hand, I was unaware that I was walking alone. “Dad!,” I cried, “Where are you?” “Johnny, Paw Paw!,” I screamed, “Are you here?” I frantically looked around, but my family was nowhere to be found. Discouraged and scared, I did what any seven year old would do. I cried. Immediately, my father appeared from the brush saying, “Robby, we’re right here. We were just playing with you!” My father then led me on a new path out the woods. His leadership paved the way for me to follow.
I learned a discipleship principle through that event: You can’t lead someone on a journey you’ve never been on. My dad knew the woods well. I didn’t.
Unfortunately, many believers, even pastors, haven’t been given the privilege of being discipled by another person. Mike Breen, leader of 3D Ministries, an “organic movement of biblical discipleship and missional churches,” is helpful in highlighting the disconnect found in most churches: “Maybe you’ve grown up in church. Maybe you’ve even gone to seminary. Maybe you lead a church, small group or Bible study. Maybe you’ve read every Christian book there is to read from the last 50 years. Great! It means you have an outstanding informational foundation. But you still might need to be discipled in the way that the Bible understands discipleship.”[i]
Could it be that believers minimize discipleship in the church because they never had the privilege of being discipled? It is difficult—nearly impossible—to lead someone on a journey on which you have never been.
Jesus’ command to make disciples was not a theoretical expectation. The years of investment preceding the mandate made it a reality. The command was not realized in Jesus’ words but in his deeds. He not only encourage great discipleship, he was the Great Discipler!
Similarly, Paul, expecting Timothy’s full support, sketched out the same roadmap in the final letter to his spiritual son in the faith: “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:1-2).
This single verse describes four generations of discipleship. Paul discipled Timothy, and, likewise, Timothy is to disciple faithful men who, in turn, disciple others. But it should not be lost that all of these men, by the example of Christ in both his life and death, are being discipled.
One of the first verses of scripture that Dawson Trotman, the founder of Navigators, called me to memorize was 2 Timothy 2:2. He said, “This is like a mathematical formula for spreading the gospel and enlarging the church. Paul taught Timothy. Timothy shared what he knew with faithful men. And the faithful men were supposed to teach others also. And so the process goes on. If every believer followed this pattern, the church could reach the entire world in one generation. If the church followed this pattern, we could reach the world in one generation. Mass crusades in which I believe and to which I have committed my life will never accomplish the Great Commission; one-on-one relationships will.”[ii]
Did you catch that? Discipleship is the plan for reaching the world with the Gospel. A common misconception is that the ability to “make disciples” is a gift of the Spirit that only elite, super-Christians are expected to possess. It’s not. All believers have been given authority to disciple by Christ (Matt. 28:18), and all Christians have been commanded to disciple (Matt. 28:19-20)!
You can’t do anything about not being discipled in the past, but you can begin to invest in the lives of others and pray that others will invest in you. However, before people will do what you ask, they will watch what you do. Pastors you can’t expect your people to do something you aren’t doing. What group of men are you meeting with once a week for prayer? With whom are you studying the Scriptures? With whom and to whom are you holding yourselves accountable? Think about what a church member of mine said: “Your talk talks and your walk talks, but your walk talks louder than your talk talks.” Your walk speaks volumes about the amount of discipleship taking place in your church.
So, leaders, to use a quote commonly misattributed to Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world!” The men, women, and youth of your congregations look to you for guidance. Jesus stood as an example for the walks of Paul, Timothy, and all the brothers and sisters in him throughout the ages. Likewise, pastors are to be prime examples of disciplers, made in the image of the Christ.
If you aren’t seeing discipleship take place in your church, it may be because you aren’t involved in discipling relationships.
An anonymous poet said it best:
“I’d rather see a sermon, than hear one any day.
I’d rather you would walk with me, than merely tell the way.
The eye’s are a better pupil and more willing than the ear.
Fine counsel is confusing but example’s always clear.
The best of all the preachers, are the men who live their creeds.
For to see good put in action, is what everybody needs.
I soon can learn to do it, if you’ll let me see it done.
I can watch your hands in action, your tongue too fast may run.
The lectures you deliver may be very wise and true.
But I’d rather get my lessons by observing what you do.
For I might misunderstand you And the high advice you give.
But there’s no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.
You can’t change the path you’ve been on, but you can change where you’re heading.
If these ideas resonate with you, here are three options for you:
- REACT. Do something.
- RESPOND. Leave a comment on this post.
- REPOST. Repost this link on Twitter, Facebook or your blog.