I remember when I first heard the word, “discipleship.” I was sitting in the basement of a country church crammed into a small room with bird-egg blue cinderblock walls. I was 10 years old as I listened to the teacher talk about how my relationship with Jesus was supposed to flourish and grow because I was just like Peter, John, Matthew and the others, I was to become a disciple. I was freaked out.
Looking back, I realize that most of the churches and para-church organizations to which I have been a part, actually had the same style of discipleship programs. Nowadays, the pendulum has swung back to the same place…The “new” hot button in current Christiandom is…wait for it…discipleship.
But is it working? Some churches rage that discipleship is exploding within the membership, but it actually takes closer scrutiny AND more than a six-week preaching series to start, much less develop disciples.
“For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?”
It isn’t working.
The issue is that there is a massive misunderstanding about what a true disciple of Christ today. I thank God for those who teach, sing, write, and proclaim discipleship for what it is: a lifetime of grappling with self and reckoning the power of God’s Spirit and Word in daily life. Here are some of my observations:
1. You can’t shame people into becoming a disciple. You can only model it.
Preachers are world-class guilt projectors. They teach that the sure-fire way to heat up a lukewarm life is to make God’s people have a sense of “less than”. Guilt is a tool that is employed to make the laypersons drive home toward loving Jesus, pressing “God-buttons” in order to get people to love Jesus more and to give more money, serve, etc. I know this because I have been a guilt-producing-preaching slob at times. After years of wearing the listeners out (and myself), I came to a realization…
Shame and guilt does not work in the long term.
The shame dies off quickly. The problem is that you can’t shame people into a love affair. Throughout history, the Christian church has been able to control people in ways that governments have failed. History has revealed that shame will ultimately backfire, for the person and the one trying to play the Holy Ghost.
2. “Fired-up” does not mean “journey-ready.”
The church is filled with two extremes of fire today: bottle rockets and forest blazes. The first represents someone who comes to Christ and lights up hard and fast, only to burn out when the rubber meets the road and the excitement ends. The second relates to someone who is growing deep roots in the Word and Spirit, a person who is still long enough to learn how to truly apply salvation in daily life and make a difference in others. This fire starts small and grows in intensity.
Statistics of new believers studied in the last 25 years have seen that the number of “fired-up” Christians between the ages of 28-32 who bail out of the faith is gigantic. Part of the fallout has come because the church has heaped all sorts of heavy loads of responsibility and “service” on people in their 20’s. Maybe this has happened so that the church can appear “young and hip” to the community.
Responsibility and service are never a substitute for sitting down to receive a deposit of the work of the cross in one’s life. Its’ no wonder that the Old Testament priests were prepared for the ministry during their 20’s and were not allowed to enter the priesthood until they turned 30. Even Jesus followed this model. I was not ordained until after years of proving myself in ministry in issues of character, knowledge and adaptability in regards to people skills.
Before you throw rocks at me, understand what I am saying. History has proven that many amazing movements of the Spirit have been kindled off of the flames of youthful expression and fresh fire. We are seeing that many of these “modern” movements quickly become fraternities and sororities that implode into pockets of “us” and “the rest”. When evangelism is left to the winds of the Spirit, instead of a concrete approach to disciple-making, the result will be just another clique with the same t-shirt and recording projects, with little impact outside of that newly-created box.
You cannot cram principles down the throat of people and grow them into disciples, no matter how cool or up-to-date sounding they are presented. Disciples are never mass-produced, they are hand-crafted, one relationship at a time. I have tried every trend the church has come up with, and my own heart always comes back to the simplicity of being a follower and learner of Christ. The enemy has planted a seed in the modern generation of Christians that if we don’t attach to a “fresh” revelation, then we are out-of-date believers. That is why have people flying 747s while our pilot’s licenses are only for ultralites.
A person does not become involved in “discipleship making” by attaching to a subculture of social mores popular ideals. Jesus’ greatest confrontations were from leaders who followed the law “principles” by crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s. The love affair was not there, and those who were bottle rockets were never heard from again. Ask Judas.
“Discipleship is not an offer that man makes to Christ.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship