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What Should You Do When Discipleship Goes Off the Rails?

What is a disciple? Some people say that a disciple is someone who is “following Jesus together as their Master and Teacher so that they may become just like Jesus.”

Years ago, Walter Henrichsen said that Disciples Are Made Not Born. Jesus himself said that the job of the church was to make disciples, so Henrichsen’s statement still seems quite relevant. But the question still remains, what is a disciple? 

I’m convinced that discipleship doesn’t take place for so many of us simply because we have no idea what we’re shooting for.

In other words, discipleship doesn’t happen because people don’t have a clear picture of what the target is.

Let’s cut to the chase and, for the sake of time, agree that making disciples means we’re focused on helping people become more like Jesus. Jesus himself said that disciples obey his commands (Matt. 28:20), and St. Paul famously speaks of being conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29) as we present ourselves holy before God (Rom. 12:1). A Christian disciple is someone who follows Jesus as Lord. Somewhere along the line, discipleship has gone woefully wrong … and our churches are suffering because of it. 

So, here are five ways that we can get back on track:

1. Making disciples must be pneumatic. 

Followers of Jesus are “born of the Spirit” (John 3:1-22). We must keep in mind that our missional praxis of making disciples is completely ineffective if we believe that we are working by ourselves! I’ve yet to meet a person who is on mission with God who disagrees with this, but it is so vital that it must be repeated.

In addition to being pneumatic in the soteriological sense, making disciples is pneumatic in the ongoing relational sense. The Spirit must be at the center of our discipleship making.

How else can we effectively baptize people into the Trinity, right? How else can we effectively teach people to obey Jesus’ commands? How else can we effectively build up and equip Jesus’ followers? In Kyle Strobel’s fantastic Metamorpha: Jesus as a Way of Life, he writes of the relationally transformative work of the Spirit by reminding us that “the Spirit is the agent of change in our lives, and because we often fail to relate to and interact with him as such, change remains elusive.”

So what does this look like? I have a young man that I’m currently in the process of discipling and there are some key formational practices that we are doing together that include reading Scripture together, praying together and doing ministry together.

I’ve increasingly become aware of the necessity of leaning into and looking toward the guidance of the Holy Spirit. So when we get together to hang out, we are both doing our best to be sensitive to what the Spirit wants to do in our meetings. What is it that he would like us to address? How can we be discerning of his presence and work?

Those are the types of questions that we both are keenly aware of because we both have come to the conclusion that making disciples is pneumatic.

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Luke Geraty has been lead pastor of Trinity Christian Fellowship for the past six years and is a member of the Society of Vineyard Scholars. Interested in missional theology within the rural context, Luke loves all things espresso, hockey, hip hop, and fly fishing (what a weird combo!). He and his wife have four children. He blogs regularly at ThinkTheology.org.