A Call To All Pastors To Start Taking Discipleship Seriously

A Call To All Pastors To Start Taking Discipleship Seriously November 23, 2022

discipleship

I have spent a lot of time in formal and informal ministry. I have been a youth pastor, have worked for various ministries, lead various ministries, and have been a consultant on discipleship for many years. The reason I have dedicated so much of my life to discipleship is that I believe it should be the primary function of every church around the world. Instead, in many churches discipleship has been relegated to a simple “program” indistinguishable from any other program within the Church; and that is if it exists at all.

The only purpose, of any church, is discipleship. It is to train Christians in the ways of Jesus.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Modern approaches to discipleship are largely all the same. They often consist of some type of curriculum or book with a leader who tries to help individuals understand what they are reading. This approach to discipleship has mostly been ineffective and nowhere near resembles what Jesus asked of his followers. I have watched many pastors struggle to find adequate ways to disciple their people. In fact, Churches spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on things related to discipleship. The primary reason for failed discipleship within a church is that the modern notion of discipleship is severely flawed.

The only thing the aforementioned model of discipleship accomplishes is creating automatons. It’s a subversive form of indoctrination that stamps out paper Christians who are taught what to think instead of how to think.

Here me on this: poor discipleship is one of the leading causes of people leaving the Church. People don’t want to be indoctrinated, they want to know how to search for their own truth. What they don’t want is to be told what to believe and then given arguments for why they have to believe that. If indeed your beliefs reflect Scripture, then you should not have to worry about whether or not the individual being discipled comes up with that conclusion. If they are taught how to think properly, then the pastor should not fear.

The Solution is Simple

Believe it or not, there is a simple solution to the problem. But don’t be fooled by its simplicity. Although its simplicity is almost common sense, Its difficulty lies in what it requires. It requires us to drastically change our ecclesiology. It requires a pastor who is willing to be brave and not afraid to initiate change. It requires a pastor who cares more about the calling of Jesus than conforming to the expectations of their congregation. It requires a pastor who is willing to allow the wheat to separate from the chaff. The result is worth it – followers of Jesus.

Many pastors and church leaders I have worked with over the years and many more that I have had conversations with are unwilling to make the commitment necessary to truly make disciples of Christ. Their response is almost always the same: “I don’t want to lose people, and changing our church to be discipleship focused will not go over well with some people within our church.”

However, if you want a Church that follows Jesus and is making a significant impact in your community for Jesus, why would you not do everything possible to make that happen? It is why you went into ministry in the first place, is it not? Imagine having a discipleship initiative that is so effective it is a revolving process that once implemented is like a fine-tuned machine that needs very little from the pastor.

 

Step 1: Understanding what Success Means

What does it mean for a Church to be successful? For many, it has to do with “butts in seats”. I mean most of us will say that it’s not about how many people are in your church, but how many times have you gone to a conference with other pastors and one of the first questions they ask you is, how big is your church? We do this because even on a subconscious level we believe the amount of people in our congregation has something to do with success.

However, this is very far from the truth. Then other people go the opposite extreme and think that you can’t measure success in ministry because of all of the intangibles. These individuals are also incorrect. Instead, the ability to measure a successful ministry is based on participation. Take a baseline survey before you start a new initiative to see what percent of your church participates in various ministries before your initiative (the base is usually around 80/20), then subtract that from the percentage of participation after the initiative. If the number is positive then you are doing something right – even if the population of your church decreases during that time period.

 

Step 2: Understanding That Jesus Deconstructed

When Jesus told his disciples to go and disciple, he expected them to disciple others as he had discipled them. Jesus perfectly modeled discipleship, and yet very few churches actually imitate this model. Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi, which means that how he discipled his followers is wrapped up in those rabbinic traditions.

With that said, Jesus was also different from traditional Rabbis in what he taught. Jesus did teach theology, but it was a “lived theology”. A reconstructed version of Judaism. What this means is that he taught a concept or idea and then provided the example of what was meant by that idea in what he did. This is because in Jesus there is no differentiation between who he was and what he did – he is the Word of God. This indistinction has to be the culture that is established within a church. The only way that can happen is through the coordinated effort of discipleship and preaching.

Where discipleship changes is in the fusing together of information and praxis. The two must become one in order for transformation to take place.

It may sound strange to say that Jesus deconstructed, but that is EXACTLY what he did. Consider every time he encountered the religious leaders. Let’s use the stoning of the unfaithful woman as an example (although, you could use any of his encounters with the religious leaders). A woman is caught in adultery and the religious leaders are about to stone her for her sin. This is a completely acceptable punishment under the law. At the urging of the religious leaders, Jesus becomes involved. He then says “let him who is without sin cast the first stone”. This is a deconstruction of the law that granted the Jewish leaders permission to stone the woman.

You can also see how Jesus deconstructs through his teachings. Consider the beatitudes, which is a deconstruction of the Law. Jesus reimagines what it means for us to follow the Law, not only through this teaching but also through his life (as stated in Matthew 5:17).

“Do not think that I have come to abolish Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

A fear of deconstruction has been introduced into the Church. This is largely the result of conservative evangelicals spreading misinformation about what it is. They often use scare tactics as they do for much of their beliefs in order to keep people under their influence. But, deconstruction is not to be feared as it is the example set forth by Jesus himself.

 

Step 3: Understanding how to Implement

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of implementing anything new is how one should introduce it. The answer: slowly. Here are the steps to consider in establishing a new discipleship program.

 

  1. Find a good resource. Something that includes all of the elements described above. I have written a book that includes everything you need for Jesus-centric discipleship. I have also included a leader guide on the website as well. SEE HERE. I will also be offering to make a Zoom appearance for groups of 5 or more, to answer any questions you might have. There are also additional resources on the website such as resource links and a leaders guide.
  2. Take a look at your congregation and create a baseline percentage of the church’s overall involvement.
  3. Create a trial group to experiment with. Picking the right people is important. Try to find a mix of individuals who are at various stages of their faith journey.
  4. At the end of the experiment survey your group to find out what went well and what didn’t. After evaluating the survey you can implement changes for the next group.
  5. Find a new leader – preferably from the first group to lead the next group.
  6. Repeat.

This works! And it changes lives. Read some of the reviews HERE.

The great thing about this approach is that the pastor is able to create something that fits the needs of their congregation. Good luck and please reach out through the website if you have any questions. This is not just a shameless plug. I believe in this and I have seen it change lives.

Make discipleship your new initiative for the new year and begin to see lives change. 

 


 

You can view my UNenlightenment YouTube Channel HERE
You can view my  UNenlightenment Podcast HERE
You can follow me on FaceBook HERE

You can purchase the book UNenlightenment HERE.

About Eric English
Eric is a rogue philosopher, theologian, author, podcaster and ninja. He is a father of three, husband of one, and a poet unto himself. Eric’s main areas of thinking are in philosophy (specifically, Soren Kierkegaard), theology (Narrative Perspectivism), and culture. Eric also hosts the podcast UNenlightenment.  You can read more about the author here.
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