5 Broken Views on Discipleship and How to Fix Them

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Discipleship is a big deal to Jesus—so why can't we get it right?

There is a lot of talk about discipleship these days—and it is about time. Jesus seemed to think discipleship was a big deal, putting it as the heart—and the verb—of the Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations.”

Yet, it seems discipleship has fallen on hard times in many churches in the West—for example, in English-speaking places like the U.S., Canada, Australia and England where there are Christians who are just not as desperate and committed as their sisters and brothers in the Two-Thirds World.

I would go so far as to say that our discipleship model is broken.

I would like to suggest some areas where we are broken and hopefully provide some solutions about how to fix them.

1. We equate discipleship with religious knowledge.

While I don’t think one can appropriately grow without seeking more biblical knowledge, many times believers reduce the discipleship process to, “Read this. Study this. Memorize this. Good to go.” This is unfortunate.

Instead, discipleship is to be more like Jesus. Christ-like transformation is the goal, as we are “to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29).

The point is not information, but Christ-like transformation. And, that means it is not about knowledge in general, but about knowing Jesus better.

Trying to be like Jesus, without the power of Jesus, dishonors Jesus.

2. We try to program discipleship.

Discipleship is not a six-week course. It requires both the pursuit of knowledge and intentional action. Too many offer a book or a class when what is needed is a life.

Instead, when Jesus made disciples, He brought them along as He ministered to people.

I’m currently discipling a new believer, and we’re actually doing ministry together—instead of me just telling him about it. The good news is that the research tells us people want this.

In fact, in a recent LifeWay Research study, we found that a large majority of those who have previously attended a small group of some kind, but who are not attending now, would consider attending a new group, but they want to meet with their group more often than just once a week for bible study. People are looking for meaningful, shared-life relationships, not just a discipleship class.

Ed Stetzer Ed Stetzer is President of LifeWay Research and LifeWay’s Missiologist in Residence. He has trained pastors and church planters on five continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Ed is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine and Catalyst Monthly, serves on the advisory council of Sermon Central and Christianity Today's Building Church Leaders, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN.

More from Ed Stetzer or visit Ed at http://www.edstetzer.com/

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  • good points

    Very good points 1st cor and 2nd cor are really a basic model for discipleship guidelines in an interactive way concerning when we come together. This article is a great start !

  • gracealoner

    You know what concerns me, it’s thinking that discipleship is all about doing a work project. It is thinking that doing is more important than knowing, that concerns me. Head, heart, hands. Head, heart, hands. Not to mention, another concern is the lack of emphasis on the power of the the Holy Spirit and a lack of emphasis on holiness and godliness. When I saw the title of your article I was wondering I was wondering if you were going to talk about how now in our day we were “breaking discipleship”, and substituting is for mindless moralizing and “doing”.

  • http://c-mog.blogspot.com/ Drae

    “Discipleship is not a Sunday event, it is a daily commitment.” and “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.” are two statements that need to be repeated. Somehow during my studies I became more and more obsessed with discipleship. Mainly because I didn’t see it happening and the fact that Jesus commanded that we do it. When I do jail ministry my idea is just not to bring them to Christ so that they can be saved my goal is to make disciples so they can go teach and help others come to Christ. I said it before and I will say it again…..Our goal cannot be just to make it to heaven, if that is the case then me miss the whole message of the Gospel and what God’s plan is for all.

    • gracealoner

      Amen.

  • TIN TUN

    Jesus is our Greatest Physician.He came into the world to treat all kinds of patients.The word of God is the best medicine for us.Jesus ‘s power will be surely healing unto our infections,diseases,sickness and,—————–
    Please visit at http://gerizim-vision-international,Myanmar

  • TIN TUN

    Ye are the salt of the world.(Mt.5:13) Salty
    S=Saved
    A=Adoration
    L=Loyalty
    T=Thanksgiving
    Y=York Of Christ is comfort for us
    Ye are the NaCl Of The World.
    N=Noble man & woman
    A=A Living creature with strong Faith

    C=Count your Blessings
    L=Living Water for our present to future day
    NaCi=Salt It is soluable in the water.
    Human Living Body = Water= Salt= Spirit
    So,we have to be a salt of God.Thus,we can be able to achieve unto Satan’s rotten flesh.
    More Information – http://gerizim-vision-international,myanmar

    • not mean

      I’m sorry, but that was the worst, most reachiness, most over stretched acronym I have ever seen. No offense.

  • GWC

    While I don’t always agree with Ed on everything he writes or says, this article was well received on my end and I agree with it. I am constantly asked “what is the next discipleship class/program going to be on”, Funny thing is for the past year my preaching and teaching has been on “Being the church and the body of Christ”, not just doing it. I appreciate this article greatly

  • Andrew Ojekwu

    Thats a good start!

  • Brian

    Jesus discipled the apostles. He is our example. They didn’t just hear about it, readt about, or study it. They LIVED it, the HELPED with it, and then the DID it themselves.

  • satish

    wow it was great insight on what real Christianity is all about , we r just not not fans of Jesus but we r followers of him ,
    satish davergave

  • Vincent Aja

    Nice one here Pastor Ed Stetzer. And another thing is that nobody is done with disciplining the New Converts until the New Convert were sent out to go and evangelize their community. We can see also how the Lord Jesus was able to use that 3 years of His earthly ministry to train the 82 of His Disciples and sent them to bear witness of the coming Kingdom (Mathew 10)(Luke 9&10).

  • Christopher

    Good Article ~ and to add a comment;
    I believe that ONE reason that we don’t see more discipleship going on, is that requires “discipline”, both on the part of those encouraging and raising up followers of Jesus, and those who actually want to follow Him as Lord. The modern evangelical church movement has created amazing programs and formulas for drawing people into the Church… and are happy when they come and “join us”. Yet SO many of these formulas that have attracted people to local congregations – end up treating them as consumers instead of disciples. Being “courted” and invited to engage in consuming a church product and program & dying to self as a new creation in Christ – are two radically different things.

    I fear that we’ve made it too easy to confess Christ as our Savior – but not as our Lord. And when “church” isn’t fun or novel ( or “relevant to MY families interests and needs…) anymore, it’s all too easy to move on to some other ministry or program that one might find engaging.

    Making disciples and being disciples of Jesus is hard work – rooted in spiritual renewal and life transformation that comes through growing in daily spiritual disciplines like: prayer, fasting, Christian meditation, learning the word of God, serving others, denying our old self as we exercise self control – all seeking to become Christlike. “Discipline” doesn’t seem to be much in vogue nowadays ~ hence, fewer disciples and fewer folks trying to encourage active discipleship in our local congregations.

    God help us to really BE disciples for Christ.
    Thanks for the exhortation and encouragement Ed.

    Blessings~

  • Josh McIlvain

    Is the study this quote refers to available online somewhere?

    “Recent research done by LifeWay Research indicates that 56 percent of pastors surveyed believe that their weekly sermon, or another one of their teaching times such as Sunday evenings/Wednesday evenings, was the most important discipling ministry in the church.”