I love this article by Carey Nieuwhof about discipleship in the church today. He has poignant insight about how the church has missed the mark on discipleship in many ways, and he provides thoughtful suggestions for moving forward. I appreciate his diagnosis when he writes:
I agree that often Christians in the West are immature. I agree our walk doesn’t always match our talk.
But I also think the average North American Christian is about 3000 bible verses overweight.
The way many leaders approach maturity is to assume that knowledge produces maturity. Since when?
It’s wonderful that people understand what they believe, but knowledge in and of itself is not a hallmark of Christian maturity. As Paul says, knowledge puffs up. Love, by contrast, builds up. And some of the most biblically literate people in Jesus day got by-passed as disciples.
The goal is not to know, but to do something with what you know.
Discipleship is one of those things the church really can’t afford to ignore. It can look really different depending on church culture and methodology, and be adapted and implemented in a variety of ways to suit our context….but we can’t afford to overlook it.
By the way, when I’m talking about discipleship, I’m talking about a lifelong process of FOLLOWING Jesus, INTEGRATING our faith into every area of our life, and MULTIPLYING our impact for the kingdom of God as we pass our faith on to others.
When we disciple people, we want to help them deepen their faith as a follower of Jesus in such a way that it translates to actively applying and integrating what they’ve learned into their day-to-day actions and decisions. Eventually, as disciples draw closer to the heart of God and start to learn and care about the things that God cares about, they’ll have a natural outflow of wanting to serve, and begin investing their lives into others, thus multiplying the impact of discipleship.
The importance of discipleship will never go away.
Here are 7 reasons I think discipleship is essential:
1. A lost culture
The values of western culture continue to move further and further away from how God designed life to be lived. Accepted attitudes about money, sex, power, and human dignity have never been further away from what God has communicated about his design for human flourishing. The church has to respond not by telling people they are wrong (because they stopped listening a long time ago), but my showing how the life that Christ calls us to is actually a life worth living. The answer is not to shout more loudly, but to live more authentically like Christ.
2. A generation gap
These statistics from the Barna group should make us take a long and hard look at what we’ve been doing, and what we need to change to reverse these trends:
- 5 out of 10 in their fifties and older attend church weekly.
- 4 out of 10 thirtysomethings
- 3 out of 10 twentysomethings
- 6 out of 10 spiritually active teens left the church in their twenties
3. A loss of literacy
Biblical literacy is at an all-time low. Fewer and fewer Christians are regularly reading the Bible, much less memorizing or meditating on what they are learning. Christians used to be “people of the book” and now we are people of bite-size social media theology and feel good sayings. (Read more here and here)
4. A promise of God’s presence
(Ready for some good news yet?)
In the Great Commission in Matthew 28, Jesus promises to be with his followers in their disciple-making endeavors. “Surely I am with you always.” Sure, we know that God is always with us because of that whole omnipresent thing, but there is an assurance that we will get to partner with God in a unique way in the work of discipleship. Not many other enterprises come with that guarantee.
5. A reminder of God’s goodness
When we walk through life with someone we are investing in, and as we continue to point them to Jesus, we have a front row seat to the work God is doing in our disciple’s life. Few things in life will bring greater joy than the living reminder we see before us of God’s active presence and goodness. You will most likely be changed just as much as the person you are discipling!
6. A fulfillment of God’s command
God has clearly left this task for his followers to do.
Do you really believe Jesus was serious when he said, “Go and make disciples”?
There’s not a lot of wiggle room here that I can see. Less memorizing. More doing.
7. An example to follow
Jesus bet his life’s work on discipleship. Robert Coleman puts it this way:
“His concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes, but with the men whom the multitudes would follow.” (From The Master Plan of Evangelism)
Jesus discipled 12 men for 3 years, and entrusted them to carry on his his message after he left this earth. Jesus didn’t build a structure, or create a 5-year program strategy. He discipled. He instilled his life into a few close followers and trusted that they would then pass it on to others, who would pass it on to others. If we want to be like Jesus, we need to follow this example. We need to disciple.
I’d love to hear your thoughts! Why do you think discipleship matters?