Full disclosure: I think leaders and pastors fall into the trap of focusing more of their time on building ministries than making disciples.
It is not that leaders and pastors don’t think discipleship is essential, but the reality is that discipleship does not pay the bills. The commitment to discipleship is time and energy-intensive, ultimately taking time and energy away from the ministries we are paid to oversee. As a result, discipleship takes a back seat to most everything else.
Recently, I’ve been working through Devotional Classics as a part of my daily rhythm. After reading “The Cost of Nondiscipleship” by Dallas Willard, I found this reflection on the essay from Richard Foster:
“Perhaps the greatest malady in the Church today is converts to Christ who are not disciples of Christ – a clear contradiction of terms. This malady affects everything in church life and in large measure accounts for the low level of spiritual nutrients in our local congregation.”
As someone passionate about discipleship, words like these make me wonder how my neighborhood would look if I took discipleship more seriously. Likewise, how much different would cities look – worldwide – if their churches took discipleship seriously?
The last command Jesus gave his followers in Matthew 28:18-20 was to go and make disciples. And in Matthew 16:18, we learn of Jesus’ conversation with Peter about building the Church. This distinction between disciple-making and church-building is often overlooked and I think it is helpful for us to remember they are not always the same thing.
Making disciples is our job; building the church is Jesus’ job.
In his book, Building a Discipling Culture, Mike Breen says it like this:
“If you make disciples, you always get the church. But if you make a church, you rarely get disciples.”
I believe this is THE tension at the heart of today’s church leaders and those who find resolve are witnessing life on earth as it is in Heaven.
- In this tension, I have wrestled with how my house and neighborhood would look different if I got serious about discipling others.
- In this tension, I have wrestled with how churches would look different if pastors and leaders made discipleship their main focus rather than focusing 100% of their attention on programs and the weekend experience.
- In this tension, I have wrestled with how communities would look more like the Kingdom if churches took discipleship seriously.
- And in this tension, I have wrestled with a simple solution that pastors and leaders could implement immediately to have a sustainable kingdom impact:
- Invite a strategic group of people to imitate us as we imitate Christ.
- Send them out to do the things they have seen us do.
Let me explain.
Inviting a Strategic Group
In 1 Corinthians 4:15-17 Paul is telling the church that they have countless “guides in Christ.” In the original Greek, the word ‘guide’ is paidagōgos which literally translates to ‘tutor.’ He goes on to state that what they are lacking is ‘fathers’. When Paul says ‘fathers’, he is talking to the people about lacking someone they are so close with they can model their lives after. Paul says that, through the gospel, he has become that father, and, then, Paul invites them to imitate his life as he imitates Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1.)
If we are honest, not much has changed. In a world of podcasts, recorded sermons, and written devotions by incredible bible teachers, there is no shortage of ‘guides in Christ.’ However, there is a shortage of leaders who are brave and vulnerable enough to invite a small group of people to imitate their lives as they imitate Christ.
What does it mean to invite someone to imitate you as you imitate Christ?
Ultimately, it means giving them access to every part of your life.
- Inviting them into your home to see how you imitate Christ in the way you love your spouse and children.
- Inviting them into your relationships to see how you imitate Christ in serving, loving, and praying for friends.
- Inviting them into your conflicts and when someone is wronged to see how you imitate Christ when praying for those who might feel like adversaries or speaking hard truth in love.
- Inviting them into your finances to see how you imitate Christ in how you steward the things you have been given.
- Inviting them into your physical routines to see how you imitate Christ in taking care of the temple.
- Inviting them into your spiritual rhythms to see how you imitate Christ when it comes to spending time with the Father.
Integrated into all this witnessing is the invitation for your strategic group to go and do likewise in their own lives, just as they’ve experienced you to do. This particular invitation will eventually mean your strategic group will extend the same invitation of discipling others to their own strategic group. And, thus, the impactful work of discipleship grows.
Sending Them Out
In Mark 6:7-13, Jesus sends the disciples out to do the exact things they had been watching him do: proclaim the good news, heal the sick, and cast out demons.
In the same way, once we have journeyed with the people we are discipling for a season, we have to send them out to do the things they have been watching us do.
Sustainable Kingdom impact, built around discipleship, only happens when there are disciples making disciples.
Simple math says that if a senior leader invites eight people (staff, elders, key volunteers, etc.) to imitate them as they imitate Christ, and then sends each of them out to replicate the process with six others, who, then, send each of their six out to replicate the process with four others, the result is 248 people being discipled.
Will they get it right the first time, every time? Absolutely not. We know from Matthew 17:14-20 that there was a time when the disciples were not able to do what they had seen Jesus do and cast the demon out of a child. Just like Jesus’ disciples, the people you are discipling will still need access to your life because there will be times when things do not go according to plan.
Discipleship is a journey and not a destination.
So, leaders and pastors, are you ready to be brave and vulnerable? Are you ready to live out the good, the bad, and the ugly of your life, in front of a strategic group of people?
Ready or not, your church/ministry needs you to take discipleship seriously. And if you’d like to talk more about what this could look like in your context, I would love to help in any way I can. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll set up a time to talk.
Tips for getting started
- Saying yes to discipling people will mean saying no to other things. Take some time to look at the list of your weekly tasks and decide what items you need to stop doing or let someone else do.
- Pray and ask the Lord to put the names of eight strategic leaders you could disciple on your heart.
- Invite those eight to imitate you as you imitate Christ and give them access to your life needed to do that.