November 20, 2012 — 4 Comments

(Christian Accountability–Part III was first published on 9/6/2011)

My first seminary degree was a Master of Religious Education. I learned that most adults retain about 5% of what they hear in a lecture, perhaps 10% of what we read, and possibly 20% of what we see and hear in an audio-visual presentation. Retention increases to around 30% when we see something actually demonstrated. When we participate in a lively discussion we retain even more of the material. If we actually put new information into practice studies show that average retention increases to around 75%. However, if we really want to increase learning we will make teachers out of everyone. Research consistently reveals that we remember approximately 90% of what we teach to others.

If our mission in the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ, perhaps we should use his teaching and training  methods. Of course, he occasionally sat down to teach the multitudes in a lecture fashion. But he spent most of his time demonstrating, discussing, and using what educators call “praxis.”  Praxis is the process by which a lesson or skill is actually put into practice. Jesus didn’t send his disciples to seminary for several years before he sent them out to minister to others. He encouraged them to “get their feet wet” as soon as possible. He used OJT (on the job training). He hung out with his disciples 24/7. They all lived together in an accountable relationship where Jesus served as their coach and mentor.

Is it any wonder that the church today is so ineffective at making disciples? Our primary methods are preaching (lecture), reading, and some discussion. However, even the discussion is often what I call “pooling our ignorance.” It’s more about expressing our opinions about various issues than about how we can become better disciples of Jesus Christ. There is little or no accountability in our current disciple-making methods.

Disciples are made by a process of praxis within accountable relationships. How would this work within the context of our churches? There are actually several ways this is being done by many Christians today. The best example is probably among the growing movement of churches that are known by various names: Simple Church, House Church, Organic Church. But it can also happen within our more traditional churches. Among United Methodists it  is done under the name of “Accountable” or “Covenant Discipleship.” There are various methodologies in addition to the Covenant Discipleship  method promoted by the UMC Board of Discipleship. Neil Cole describes a very successful process in his book Organic Church. Frank Viola has written extensively on the subject. In his book House Church Manual William Tenny-Brittian explains  what he calls “Journey Groups.” These are small groups who gather not to impart knowledge, but rather for the purpose of “self-discovery and accountability.”

There is no one way to make disciples. But surely most of us in the church can agree that our current methods are ineffectual. Perhaps its time to test some new wineskins. To mix our metaphors a bit, we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water, but perhaps we can find better ways to nurture the baby to maturity. There are a lot of wonderful things going on in churches throughout our country and around the world. But, there is so much potential to do so much more to make a difference by making disciples

Dr. Gary Thompson


I am a retired United Methodist pastor. I write adult curriculum for the United Methodist Church and have been doing so for over 10 years. My passion is helping the Christian Church more effectively fulfill its mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ and to help individuals identify and fulfill their God-given personal mission.

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  • Nolan Morris

    Dr. Thompson, thanks for sharing your insights on discipleship. This particular post is encouraging and challenging to me at the same time. A group of men from our adult bible fellowship class have recently started a small group that meets once a week in the middle of the week. I have been cognizant of that fact that we need to be focused on discipling each other (“as iron sharpens iron…”), but have been convicted of the fact that we should be actively engaged in discipling some of the younger men in our church. We have also been talking about reaching our neighbors. You have convinced me that I need to be the first to take the step of purposefully engaging my neighbors and asking my brothers to hold me accountable to that task. I plan on sharing this with the group tomorrow morning.

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