I believe that discipleship is the key challenge facing the
Western church today. The problems of pastoral care and evangelism
are both real, but will be largely solved if the current members of
the Body of Christ grow and learn how to put their faith into action
as God intends.
Over the years, I have participated in numerous discipleship
courses and programmes. They have all been primarily academic with
a focus on doctrine, and they have all been almost entirely
The sad fact is that we generally put very little time and
energy into discipleship; and, when we do, it generally has very
The Usual Approach to Discipleship
Discipleship is critical, but it seems that few churches do it
well. I hope that this description of the traditional approach to
discipleship will not be taken unkindly or dismissed as a parody.
We are taught Biblical truth and Godly principles, but given
few structured opportunities either to ask questions or to apply
this teaching in practice.
We are either expected to work out for ourselves what this
teaching means, or given some simplistic 'one size fits all'
advice which does not work in practice.
We do not see other peoples' lives being changed, so we do not
understand the importance of the teaching or its relevance to
We conclude that the gospel is primarily about words, talking
about love and life rather than learning how to live and love, and
(if we are particularly devoted) we focus our attention on getting
the words right.
Opportunities for Service
Most churches provide some opportunities for service, but not
enough - and not the right kind of opportunities.
These opportunities are very limited: you can teach in Sunday
School, play an instrument in the Sunday service, lead a home
group or serve on the PCC / Eldership / Diaconate. What of the
people who are not gifted or called to serve in these areas?
People may grow when they are first given a new job, but then
they learn how to do it and often continue to do the same job for
years without any further significant growth.
The opportunities we give people are mostly focussed on
maintaining the Church rather than building the Kingdom. Keeping
the Church going is necessary, but it is not sufficient.
The Gospel we preach is life-changing and world-changing. If
we are only calling people to serve in ways which keep things
going pretty much the way they are at present, we are not offering
people the whole Gospel.
All the things we ask people to do can be done without God. We
may ask Him to be involved, and believe Him to be involved, but if
we can do it without Him, we usually find that things work much
more easily that way. It's called human nature. I always feel more
comfortable if I have a back-up plan in case God does not show up.
Training and equipping people is good and necessary, but it is
only when we attempt the impossible - when we commit to do
something we cannot do without God's direct involvement - that we
grow in faith.
However accurate this description may be, the consistent message
I hear is that the current process of discipleship does not work
well for most people in most churches.