In my last blog I stated that “Making disciples is not about a church program. It’s not ONE of the things the church does. It is THE thing. Jesus’ last words to his followers were, “Go and make disciples.” So if this is the mission of the church, its reason for being, its all-encompassing purpose, then why isn’t this the focal point of all that we do?” I suggest here nine contributors to this problem.
- We don’t like being disciplined. The word “disciple” comes from the same Latin word discipulus as does the word “discipline.” The dictionary defines a “disciple” as one who is a pupil or an adherent to the teachings of another. Discipline is defined as the “training to act in accordance with rules.” It also means “behavior in accord with rules of conduct; behavior and order maintained by training and control.”
Do you see the problem? We don’t like to discipline ourselves, much less submit ourselves to the discipline of others. We Americans are radical individualists. We don’t want anyone else telling us what to do or when to do it. We avoid accountability like the plague.
- Too often our churches teach a “cheap grace.” I discussed this in a recent post. Let me briefly quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer one more time. “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ. (The Cost of Discipleship, p. 43-44). Many parishioners hear sermons that emphasize “free grace” saying, “I’m forgiven; I’ve gotten my fire insurance; I’m good to go.”
- We have an unregenerate church membership/culture. The quote above comes from Bonhoeffer’s book, The Cost of Discipleship. Many leaders in today’s church are so concerned about attendance numbers they lower the cost, hoping more will be willing to buy. The results have been that with each new generation the American church culture has become less and less “disciplined” with fewer experiencing genuine spiritual regeneration. Once the church culture makes this transition it is extremely difficult to restore an environment where lives are truly being transformed.
- Our churches have emphasized programs rather than discipleship. The American church has become addicted to “programs.” And each new program has to be “better” than the last one. Unfortunately, life transformation can’t be programmed. Making disciples is a process that takes a great deal of time and personal investment. Accountability is more important than entertainment. It requires submission and vulnerability and sacrifice. It can’t be packaged in a box or recorded on a DVD.
- Our recent emphasis on church growth. There was a point in my own ministry where I knew more about how to market the church than I did about how to make disciples. The church growth movement has made a positive contribution to the church. But, as I say repeatedly, “make disciples and they will BE the church; build a church and you may or may not produce disciples.”
- We have emphasized doctrine rather than life transformation. We seem to think that discipleship is about head knowledge. But knowing about God is not the same thing as knowing God though a personal relationship based on submission and faithful obedience.
- We have no unambiguous, measurable expectations of discipleship. The church should be a factory for producing disciples. A company would never build a factory without first knowing exactly what the product is that they want to manufacture.
- Few churches have a systematic methodology for making disciples. A factory has a particular, carefully designed process to manufacture its product. Local churches should as well.
- Our institutionalism. Institutional maintenance uses up our resources that should be used on the core process of making disciples. This includes how we deploy our best leaders.
QUESTIONS: What would you add to this list? What would you take away? Please respond in the Comments section below.