Why Aren’t Christian Churches More Committed to Making Disciples?

February 25, 2013 — 16 Comments

Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsIn 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.


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.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • http://www.plannedpeasanthood.com/ Rick Dawson

    I cannot believe no one has commented on this post, Gary (or would you prefer Dr. Gary? :) )

    This has been one of the sore points for myself and my wife for years now. I will be back to read more later, bet on it!

  • Pingback: Saturday Shortcuts | Planned Peasanthood()

  • Pingback: My Article Read (8-10-2013) (8-11-2013) | My Daily Musing()

  • Revsimmy

    I love the early part of this post, but a couple of your points near the end bothered me. Factories are great at producing a uniform product using systematic and uniform processes. But discipleship isn’t like that. Each disciple is unique, and therefore the processes and methods which form the disciple will be individual. A far better metaphor would be an artist’s studio. This of course is much more time and resource intensive and probably the reason churches are tempted to take the short cuts of programmes and courses.

  • SavedbyGrace

    Thank you for this.. I have been recently saved through the blood of our Savior and His forgiveness and Spirit in my life has been amazing! I have to tell everyone about Him an I couldn’t control it. Eventually people in my circle either left me or told me to shut up.. But my purpose is to share Him with everyone!! That’s what disciples do and He tells us that we will suffer persecution and ridicule and we will be hated, I count myself blessed for this.. I’m not proud or arrogant, just sick of people telling me I can’t talk about Jesus anytime I want anywhere I want..

  • Pingback: Is Church “for the birds”? – Planned Peasanthood()

  • brotherrob

    I recently had an issue with my now former pastor, about preaching cheap grace. He chastened me for publicly chastising members in my sermon, Where I referenced paul when he said that I press toward the mark of the prize… and I asked the congregation, if coming to church late was an example of pressing toward the mark, and that Paul pressing was his blessing, of course the ones that always stroll in late took offense to that and went to the pastor, in order to keep the few seats full he asked my wife and I to compromise and not preach in such a way, we declined from months of frustrating meaningless preaching, God finally gave us an opportunity to exit and look for true discipleship teaching ministry. This seems to be popular in the rouge style non denominational ministries with no form of covering,(lone wolf style). Thanks for your post

  • larry penn

    Dr. Thompson,
    This is a illuminating article for many Christians especially with the recent events that have transpired in our culture and around the globe. It seems that the majority of mankind is moving towards the mentality that everything that goes on is normal for these times or at least okay in a sense of tolerance. The fact is that while even the Church as a whole is compromising with the secular world on matters pertaining to salvation, holiness etc… Perhaps the reason for the secular world gaining so much influence is because the Church is not making disciples anymore. Most would seemingly rather make converts that get comfortable with just “going to church” versus being the church. I enjoyed your page. The truth needs to be pressed upon the Church in these last days. May the Lord continually bless you with His abundance.

    • DrGaryT

      Thanks Larry.

  • Taylor D Barrett

    The number one problem is the heresy of “faith alone”. Jesus Himself rebuked this satanic filth when He said “Not all who say to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father who is in Heaven” in Matthew 7:21. James even goes so far as to say “we are justified by works and not by faith alone” in 2;24 of his book. Of course, if Martin Luther had his way the book of James would have been removed from the Bible. But the fact of the matter is that faith alone cannot save a person – repentance is also an absolute requirement. And it is this ‘faith alone’ preaching that takes certain verses out of context and perverts them into a form of antimonianism that is the cause of our problems. After all, if all I must do is believe, then why should I obey those rules that I don’t agree with ? Ill just pick and choose the rules I like and leave out the ones I don’t – because God loves me anyways.

    • JP Grier

      Taylor: Yes John 8: 31-32 comes to mind as well…

    • CJ

      “Faith alone” is not a heresy, and Jesus did not rebuke the idea. “Faith” was what was called into question. Is it a say-so faith or a do-so faith? Genuine “Faith” will always produce works that resemble that faith:

      Hebrews 11:4 “By faith Abel offered…”
      Hebrews 11:5 “By faith Enoch was translated…”
      Hebrews 11:7 “By faith Noah…moved with fear…”
      Hebrews 11:8 “By faith Abraham…obeyed…”
      Hebrews 11:9 “By faith he sojourned…”
      Hebrews 11:11 “Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age”
      Hebrews 11:13 “These all died in faith…”
      Hebrews 11:17 “By faith Abraham…offered up Isaac…”
      …And so on…

      As you read down through that chapter, these all had a “faith” that produced, and that they were willing to die for. That is the kind of “Faith” that Jesus was talking about. Not that it was not “Faith alone” but that it was genuine faith. Paul called it “unfeigned faith” 1 Tim 1:5 & 2 Tim 2:5. James referred to anything short of that as being “dead” (James 2:20). If a person says they have faith, their faith will either be proved or disproved by their works (James 2:18), not their words.

      Notwithstanding, Works do not make one saved. And Faith + Works does not make one saved.

      That is why Jesus said “Many will say unto me in that day Lord, Lord” (Matthew 7:22). They tried to justify themselves by their works. Thus they had a “faith” that He was their Lord, and they had “works” that they did in His name, and still they hear “I never knew you”

      Our Faith needs to be genuine, and that means that it needs to be established upon the foundation of a love relationship with Jesus Christ. That relationship will most assuredly yield good works as its fruit, but the fruit doesn’t establish the relationship. An unfeigned faith, driven by an unfeigned love, establishes an unfeigned relationship that produces Godly and holy works.

      Thus it is by “Faith alone”, provided that that “faith” is genuine.

      • CJ

        And yes, “Repentance” is necessary, but that is not a work, it is a change of mind brought on by that same unfeigned love.

    • John Hayes

      That’s not what James said. Try again.

  • JP Grier

    Thanks Gary for a fresh reminder of what were called to do. Your nine “distractions” are so very true. It seems we all get continuously caught up in the wrong focus and need to be reeled back in.

  • Chris Garrow

    I really enjoyed how this relates to church growth. We are a growing church. Something we have been discussing in great length is how to make sure that we are properly discipling the people we are gaining. We focus on our target “new believer” on Sunday’s. The reality is that personal relationships and mature Christians stepping up and sacrificing their time, money and resources are what will make our discipleship really work. Currently, we are working out a strategy for these things based on our mission and numbers. So as we grow, we need to develop leaders who will disciple.