Home Outreach Leaders Articles for Outreach & Missions Discipleship Is a Who, Not a What

Discipleship Is a Who, Not a What

I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Dallas Willard in The Great Omission: “The greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heartbreaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as ‘Christians’ will become disciples—students, apprentices, practitioners—of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from Him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence.”

I remember years ago hearing my friend Chris Hodges speak to a group of pastors. He said, “You can’t delegate prayer.”

If you get nothing else from reading this post, my plea and prayer is that you’ll grasp this: We need Jesus. We need to be in constant communion with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

No Substitute

Is it a good thing to do life together with others in a small group? Sure. I love my LifeGroup. They remind me that I’m not alone, that and we’re in this life together. But I know that the ultimate way I and the people in our church will grow is through prayer and reading Scripture daily.

You might be thinking this sounds too basic, too simple. Maybe it is. But as church leaders, I think we need to get back to the basics. We’ve been so big on programs for years—whether it be a discipleship program, Bible study, mission groups, Bible Study Fellowship, AWANA, small groups—you name it. We like to keep our people busy with church activities and rarely, if ever, do we point our people to Christ and encourage them to spend personal, quality time with Him daily.

This new revelation is causing me to rethink how I approach discipleship and spiritual formation at my own church. How often do we teach on spiritual disciplines and our devotional life, as opposed to how many times have I stood up front and pumped up our small group ministry?

Please hear me, I’m not abandoning small groups. I want our people to do life together in community. I also want our people to serve together because we are never more like Christ than when we serve. Christ was the greatest servant of all and so we join in a sacred bond with Him when we serve from our hearts.

I remember the first time I read The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives by Dallas Willard. My eyes were opened to how the fruit of the Spirit comes about in our lives. It’s not by working on each individual fruit, but by spending time with Jesus and allowing myself to become more like Christ.

Someone can sign up for and take every Bible study class available and attend every small group your church offers. But at the end of the day, the reality is he or she won’t truly grow without a healthy, vibrant relationship with Christ. And that relationship will only come through spending daily time with Him in prayer and His Word.

I’m realizing that we’ve got to point our people to a person, not a program, and that I have to be head over heels in love with Jesus, championing a devotional life that makes others want to spend more time with Jesus. My friend, Dr. Matthew Smith, once said, “Greatness cannot be achieved without discipline.” I couldn’t agree more. We have to run back to the simple discipline of daily quiet times with Christ. I guess you could say we need our “daily bread.”

This is how you and I and anyone in our church grows and matures. This is how we disciple. It’s always been about Jesus, and it always will be. No program and no movement will change that.  

Check out Greg’s newest book, Church Leadership Essentials: What Every Pastor Needs to Know

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Greg Atkinson is an author, speaker, consultant, and the Founder of the First Impressions Conference and Worship Impressions—both specializing in guest services and hospitality.