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5 Broken Views on Discipleship and How to Fix Them

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.

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is a professor and dean at Wheaton College where he also serves as Executive Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, has earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates, and has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He is Regional Director for Lausanne North America, is the editor-in-chief of Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited in, interviewed by, and writes for news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He is the Founding Editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum used by more than 1.7 million individuals each week for bible story. His national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates. He serves as interim teaching pastor of Calvary Church in New York City and serves as teaching pastor at Highpoint Church.