I believe more and more churches are working harder at what most churches call "discipleship" (which I define here as leading believers to obey everything Jesus commanded), but many churches still struggle with this task.
Perhaps one of these reasons will help you to understand where/how your own church might work to improve your discipleship process:
1. Many church leaders—pastors included—have never really been discipled. To be honest, I started pastoring before anyone really invested in me with intentionality. The result was that I raised up a church family that I was unprepared to disciple—and their lack of discipleship became obvious. I fear I'm not the only pastor with this kind of story.
2. In many cases, we find more reward in reporting new believers. Some denominations, for example, ask for reports about new converts. Some give recognition to congregations that apparently evangelize well. We pastors sometimes like to report our own numbers, too. What we seldom report, though, is the number of believers being intentionally discipled in our congregation. The number is often low, and the "reward" for strategically reviewing this number is equally low.
3. Discipleship is tough, tiring, messy work. To disciple well means that you have to walk with someone in his or her faith. You have to be willing to encourage and lead through defeats and victories. You have to be patient but persistent. Sometimes, it's just easier not to do it all.
4. We've reduced discipleship to a series of courses. It's not "life-on-life" guidance; it's completing a number of courses (and sometimes earning some kind of certificate). As an educator, I'm not opposed to courses as part of discipleship. I would simply argue that courses alone are not enough to produce devoted disciples of Jesus.
5. We leave little room for struggle and growth in new believers. Instead, we expect them just to "get it" and grow in Christlikeness almost immediately. When they don't get there quickly, we too often judge them before we help them. I'm struck by the fact that we might grant grace to the new believer on the mission field who struggles leaving his worldview and habits behind, but we give little grace to our new believer neighbor who faces the same kind of struggle.
6. We don't always preach the high demands of the gospel. When we fail to talk about things like Jesus' requirement that we deny ourselves and take up our cross (Luke 9:23), we preach a watered-down gospel. When we do that, nobody even sees a need for someone else to walk with him or her in discipleship.
What reasons would you add?
Chuck Lawless is dean of doctoral studies and vice president of spiritual formation and ministry centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where he also serves as professor of evangelism and missions. In addition, he is team leader for theological education strategists for the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
This article originally appeared at chucklawless.com.
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