Systemic Issues in Discipleship

Systemic Issues in Discipleship

Is discipleship directional or about getting to a destination?

Do you ever “arrive” on this side of eternity? Or is it “a long obedience in the same direction,” as Eugene Peterson so aptly put it?

These are the types of questions and tension that I pose in my newly released book, No Silver Bullets: Five Small Shifts That Will Transform Your Ministry. As I’ve continued to think through, speak on and coach/consult churches on this direction/destination spectrum as it relates to discipleship, I’ve begun to notice something…


While most pastors and church leaders would agree that discipleship is directional by quoting passages like Hebrews 12:1-2 or Philippians 3:13-14, unfortunately, when you take a look at how discipleship happens in a typical church, we’re not practicing what we preach.

Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (?Hebrews 12:1-2, CSB)??

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14, CSB?)?

Our messaging and our methods do not align.

Since culture and normative behavior is highly shaped by what’s communicated, emphasized and celebrated, have you ever considered what your bulletin and announcements are saying to your church?

For example,

  • If your stage time and print space is always full of events, then you’re (subconsciously) saying that a healthy disciple is one that attends lots of events.
  • If you always find yourself promoting different classes and studies, then you’re (subconsciously) saying that a healthy disciple is one that studies.


Now don’t get me wrong, events, classes and studies can be very helpful, meaningful and lead to life transformation, but do they actually lead to maturity? Do they lead to maturity for everyone? How do you know for sure?

I’m not advocating or suggesting that the solution is to get rid of events, classes or studies! In fact, if your church isn’t offering any of those, that’s another issue.

Here is what I’m trying to say:

When we make discipleship all about attending events, classes and studies, we’re actually subtly celebrating and promoting a consumeristic approach to faith.

In fact, I’ll even go to the extent that we’re conditioning our members to see discipleship in this manner.

The solution isn’t to throw the baby out with the bath water. It’s to actually shift your messaging so that your congregation sees the events, classes and studies as pit stops, rather than as the destination.

And the only way that this can happen is to make the goal of your discipleship pathway self-feeding.

Next week, I’ll continue to discuss systemic issues in discipleship by addressing the problem of echo chambers.

If you want to learn how to develop a discipleship pathway for your church, how to really know whether or not someone is mature in Christ (from research), and more on the idea of self-feeding, then check out my book, No Silver Bullets: Five Small Shifts That Will Transform Your Ministry.

This article originally appeared here.