I have been in many settings with church leaders where the question was posed, “What is your church doing for discipleship?” I am grateful that church leaders are asking questions about the church’s fundamental mission—making disciples. After all, a church can excel at anything and everything else, but if the church fails to make disciples, she has wandered from her fundamental reason for existence.
But the question almost always needs to be answered with a follow-up question: “What do you mean by discipleship?” People could mean at least one of these five common and current views:
1) One-on-one mentoring
Some churches want to step more and more into “one-on-one mentoring.” The struggle will be scalability as developing leaders for small groups is already challenging enough. While a one-on-one mentoring model can be utilized, it would be a mistake to view discipleship as limited to that approach.
2) New believer follow-up
Some church leaders think “new believer training” when they hear the word “discipleship.” While pouring into new believers must be important to a church, discipleship is the lifelong process of becoming more and more like Jesus. It does not end six to 12 weeks after someone is born into the kingdom of God.
3) Education classes
Some church leaders think “knowledge” when they hear the word “discipleship.” And so to them a discipleship problem means an information problem. The solution, then, is to provide more classes where people receive information. While disciples yearn to know more about Jesus, to dwell in His Word and to feast on teaching, Jesus defined disciple-making as “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded,” not merely teaching them everything I have commanded. Thus, discipleship is much deeper than merely information.