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4 Issues of Discipleship in the Church Today



Introduction


Discipleship is the primary mission of the church to a lost and dying world.


"Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey the commands of Christ." - Matthew 28:19-20

Seeing new followers come to saving faith and begin the beautiful journey of becoming more like Jesus Christ in his character and nature is the goal. Transformation in the lives of God's people from one degree of glory to the next into the image of Christ is what the early church sought with an unquenchable thirst. Somewhere along the way, the church started thirsting for other things. Hunger for matters other than spiritual maturity and progress surfaced to become primary over life-change. Over time, the shifted focus led to a few areas of discipleship to break in the church today. Here's the present reality. When it comes to discipleship in the church today, there are some broken parts. What are they? Here are at least four.



1) Overly Intentional


Many well-intentioned disciplers, leaders, and pastors in the faith fervently pursue progress for others in their discipleship journey. Let me begin by saying this is a good and right desire. The intentionality is evident and needed. However, at some point along the process, over-intentionality birthed impatience. Discipleship that births impatience invents an unnatural discipleship process. An unnatural discipleship process microwaves filet mignon and forgoes the delayed gratification required to make and mature devoted followers of Jesus Christ. Impatience and instant gratification in the disciple-making process produce half-baked, dependent followers reliant on spiritual milk when they should be eating solid food. Overly intentional discipleship can often manifest through aggressive accountability partnerships that can be overly invasive to what otherwise might be more private matters in a person's life. The accountability partner usurps the role of the Holy Spirit and poorly plays that part to the recipient's spiritual detriment. The result is a feeling of threat instead of safety that shortens the accountability partnership and shortchanges the discipleship process for both.


As overly intentional discipleship relationships form, it births another problem, which takes us to the second issue of discipleship in the American church today….



2) Spiritless Formation


Microwaving the discipleship process manufactures an even graver issue for disciple-making.


An unnatural, sped-up discipleship process attempts to make disciples without the Holy Spirit's leading.

There's a beautiful song by Chris Renzema titled "I Don't Wanna Go." The lyrics state the following:


"I will go where you go, I will stay where you stay. Cause I don't wanna go if you're not going before me."

It seems that many intentionally advantageous pastors and disciplers go before the Holy Spirit to make disciples at a pace God never intended. As a result, disciples are being made into someone else's image and not what the Holy Spirit intends.


Here's a micro-example:


When discipleship is hurried, the recipient then has unnatural and rushed expectations for others' spiritual progress bred into them because that's what was modeled for them. Discipleship is more caught than taught. What's modeled to them is what they remember and reproduce even more so than the content communicated. Rushed discipleship reproduces discontentment, impatience, and eventually anger when discipleship results aren't what they expected. Instead of fruits of the spirit cultivated into the disciple, the fruits of Satan are born: discontentment, impatience, brashness, harshness, and anger.


Missing the Holy Spirit's leading for an individual's spiritual formation makes monsters of our disciple-making.

Missing the Holy Spirit's leading for an individual's spiritual formation makes monsters of our disciple-making.  The Holy Spirit is our primary discipler.  Overly intentional discipleship drives into the opposite ditch of passivity – the sin of control.  Attempting to control another’s spiritual formation ejects the Holy Spirit from the equation and douses the discipler in sin.  Move at the pace the Holy Spirit desires.  Be slow to speak. Ask questions that draw deep waters from the disciple. Ask and trust the Holy Spirit to work on the disciple in your absence.  Rarely do spiritual families spend the majority of the day or week with one another.  On average, it will be a few hours for the entire week.  In the discipler’s absence from the disciple, trusting the Holy Spirit makes the most sense.


Marvel at the Holy Spirit’s miraculous work in another.  Ask Him to work, convict, counsel, and comfort.  Trust Him.  He ensures far more than a discipler can over to a disciple. If you refuse to do this, then the next broken part of discipleship in the American church is revealed….



3) Results-Driven Discipleship


Another broken part of discipleship in the church is a results-driven church culture that feeds into the unnatural spiritual formation of disciples. Instead of maturing followers within a local church, the results-driven, metric-measuring, and rushed reproduction of disciples make a monstrosity of what was originally intended to be majestic. Making disciples is impossible without the Holy Spirit. Paul makes this crystal clear in 1 Corinthians 3:6, quoted below.


"I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth."

 

When church leaders discuss groups ministry and discipleship at a top-tier governing level of leadership, questions such as these arise:

 

“How do we close the back door of the church?” 

 

“How can we get people to be more generous?”

 

“How do we get people more committed to be here for Sunday worship service(s)?”

 


These questions shoot at the wrong target.  In addition, they are driven by an unbiblical motivation. 

 

  1. Discipleship is not the back door to keep people from leaving a local church.  It is a by-product of the primary purpose. 

  2. Discipleship is not the vehicle to increase giving for the next fundraising campaign. However, it is a potential secondary outcome. 

  3. Discipleship is not the mechanism to butts in seats and bills in the bank for a bigger worship service.  People may value these more as a result of proper discipleship.

 

Results-driven discipleship focuses on butts in seats (Sunday worship service attendance), bills in the bank (giving), and busybodies working (program gathering vs people growing ministry).  Statistics that are important to measure and consider become elevated to a place they shouldn’t be.  They are almost worshipped in a sense.  Results-driven discipleship looks heavily at the quantity and secondarily celebrates the quality.

 

Discipleship isn’t a vehicle to reach metrics; it’s the goal of a Christ follower.  Butts in seats, bills in the bank, and busybodies at work, are meant to create opportunities for making disciples. Walking in the ways of Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Bible to become more and more like Jesus Christ in his character and nature is the end-zone of Christianity.

Discipleship isn’t a booster shot to programs, numbers, and finances. It was never intended to serve these outcomes. That’s a backward mentality. Programs, numbers, and finances are biblically intended to serve discipleship. Putting the cart before the horse accomplishes little and provides much less to celebrate.

 

What’s broken in the American Church today? Result-driven discipleship focusing most on the quantitative outcomes over the qualitative ones. Quantitative outcomes reveal another discipleship issue in the American church today….



4) Broken Budgets


How a church sets its budget says what's most important to its mission. It's all too common to hear a church has a broken budget. What do I mean by a "broken budget?" They have a massive portion of the budget for matters, not about discipleship, and the discipleship budget is minimal. The overall church budget reflects an unbalanced and clear favor on other areas that were non-essential or extra throughout all of history. While the primary efforts of disciple-making are neglected in funding. Here are a few real-life examples:


  • A church spends $5,000 on a new soundboard and allots $500 for the annual discipleship ministry budget

  • A church drops $20,000 on an outreach event and allots $2,500 for their annual groups ministry budget

  • A church invests six figures into a week-long summer camp for teenagers yet provides less than $5,000 for the entire year's worth of discipleship of those teenagers, of whom many become new believers.


This differs from a plea to spend an equal amount on these ministry examples and discipleship. A more involved consideration is required to determine whether proper discipleship infrastructure is adequately funded. Figuratively speaking, constructing massive front doors to the church without enough rooms (figurative, not literal) to accommodate everyone coming in is purely irresponsible stewardship of souls entrusted to a local church by God. For your context and local church, determine what is missing to accommodate new people requiring discipleship adequately. Do you have the capacity to make more disciples if you bring in hundreds of new people? The question isn't, "Are you prepared for God to 'SAVE' a mass amount of people?" Instead, the question is, "Are you prepared to 'STEWARD' the mass amount of people God may entrust to you?" Can your budget accommodate adding more people? Are you adequately staffed? Do you have enough group leaders, teachers, and volunteers being prepared?  Is your plan reactive or proactive in stewarding the souls that are saved with your newly constructed wider front entrance?

I have worked with churches nationwide for consulting and coaching purposes, it is clear broken budgets are more prevalent than not. At times, comparing the fractional overall discipleship budget to everything intended to get people to discipleship is astounding – heartbreaking describes it more accurately.

 

Broken budgets do hurt and hinder the discipleship process to souls already entrusted to a local church.  A re-evaluation is in order.

 


What's Next?


So, where do we go from here? What must change?

 

The American church today needs to begin asking different questions,

 

“What programs in our church serve to make disciples?  Which do not? Which programs serve to make busybodies?  What ministry programs create opportunities for disciple-making and which distract, remove, or steal opportunities for discipleship?”

 

Should churches stop asking, “How do we get more people here?” No, not necessarily.  I would challenge churches to ask this question after the discipleship (soul-stewarding) questions.

 

“When God brings people to your church, how will you faithfully steward these souls to become all that is meant for them in Christ? What budgets, ministries, and programs do and will you offer to prioritize growing people and not gathering for programs?”

 

These are difficult questions to ask and answer. Honestly, they are even harder to implement, but it’s worth it. Bath these conversations in prayer. Trust the Holy Spirit. Be patient with one another in discussion. Don’t blow up foundations that you can build a discipleship culture on.  Honor the past, and look to the future.

 

 

What should you do now?

 

1.     Break broken budgets for better discipleship.

 

2.     Lead gospel-driven discipleship with results being secondary.

 

3.     Give room for Spirit-filled formation.

 

4.     Be intentional and not controlling in the discipleship process.

 

 

Pastors, leaders, and disciplers must cease disciple-making from a heart of discontentment and hurry. Process over results must become the emphasis. Patience must be primary. Prayer for the Holy Spirit to lead the discipleship process is needed. Eyes to read and react properly as we see the Holy Spirit leading and transforming another into the image of Christ. Having steps, tools, and time available to meet, encourage, and resource disciples as we notice God giving them growth is the unhurried waiting on the Lord approach the church desperately needs.


Let the Spirit lead. Leave results-driven, impatient, unnatural, and microwaved discipleship behind. Lift up the Lord's work in another. Watch, wait, and celebrate the gift of spiritual transformation in others as God works. Model patience, gentleness, and contentment, and reproduce a reverence for God in his people and watch him bear the fruits of the Spirit in people's lives.


[1] Ephesians 1:3, 11 [2] 1 Corinthians 12:12-26; Ephesians 4:11-16



 


AUTHOR

Adam Erlichman

Consultant and Author at Build Groups in Dallas, TX. Adam has served as a Discipleship, Groups, Young Adult, and Youth Pastor at several churches. Author of the 4-time best-selling "For Everyday Christians" series. Now exclusively available for purchase on Amazon. See more about Adam's consulting services on the following topics:



 

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