What’s happened to real discipleship in America ... and how we can get back on track
It was a small gathering with a big name. The “World Apostolic Summit.” February 1999. Singapore. Thirty “apostles” from around the world spent three days answering the question: What do you feel God is saying to His church?
As usual, I was the youngest in the room and the only one wearing jeans. I was simultaneously inspired and intimidated as I listened to these spiritual giants talk about what God was doing in their nations. I felt like a lion in a den of Daniels.
When it was finally my turn to suggest what I felt the Lord was saying to His church in 1999, I said that He was probably saying the same thing He said in 1899, in 1599, in 999 and in 99: “Go and make disciples.” I wasn’t trying to be smart. But sadly, I was the only one in the room who mentioned anything about making disciples.
Why do church leaders spend time doing everything but making disciples? Why do we try every church-growth gimmick known to mankind, yet ignore the one strategy Jesus endorsed? Shouldn’t His last message be our first option?
Discipleship isn’t supposed to be complicated. Difficult sometimes, complicated never. Two thousand years ago, discipleship was so simple that a carpenter explained it to uneducated fishermen in one sentence: “Follow me and I will send you out to fish for people” (Matt. 4:19, TNIV). Those simple fishermen followed, fished and changed their world.
If modern discipleship is confusing or complicated, it is because we have strayed from biblical principles and the simple biblical process that Jesus lived and taught His disciples. Sadly, the fruit of this departure is glaringly evident today in the United States (see “What’s Going Wrong”).
For Jesus, discipleship was and still is top priority. Yes, He fed the hungry and healed the sick. But He always gave the 12 disciples His prime time. His final word to them before He ascended into heaven was a commission not just to be disciples, but also to make disciples. Like the original followers of Jesus, we are supposed to be disciples and we are supposed to make disciples. In others words, we are supposed to follow Jesus and we are supposed to help others follow Him.
Shhh ... Don’t Say the D-Word
Ever wonder why it’s so rare in the modern church to hear leaders talk about discipleship? Or why it’s even more rare to see a leader prioritize discipleship? We’ve gathered huge crowds, built massive buildings, published books, recorded CDs, preached on TV and radio, and exerted political power. We’ve had healing revivals, laughing revivals, crying revivals, repenting revivals, manifestation revivals and offering revivals. We’ve built faith churches, charismatic churches, nondenominational churches, megachurches, cell churches, house churches, organic churches and emerging churches. Yea, we’ve done it all during my 29 years in ministry, but have we made disciples?
Unfortunately, not very often.
The problem is that although most Christians agree that discipleship is important, even essential for Christian maturity, few understand biblical principles and even fewer apply a biblical process when it comes to discipleship. We seem to prefer random acts of ministry and call it being led by the Spirit.
Copying methods and models can often seem easier than understanding and applying biblical principles and biblical process. In the never-ending search for a perfect model, countless desperate-for-growth leaders copied David Yonggi Cho’s Korean cell model in the ’80s, Ralph Neighbor and Lawrence Kong’s Singaporean model in the ’90s, only to turn to Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven model or Bill Johnson’s miracle model ... or whatever the latest greatest get-big-quick method that’s come down the pike.
It’s time to stop copying methods and models, and instead start understanding biblical principles and biblical process.
Methods and models are unique to a particular time and location. Principles and process can be applied in every ministry context, at any time and in every nation. They are universal. The trick is to understand the principles and the process. Rather than copying something that worked at Saddleback or in Korea, why not discover the same principles that Warren and Cho discovered and do the hard work figuring out how to apply them in your community?