Rebuilding the Road to Discipleship


Many of us have strayed far from Jesus’ Great Commission—if we even know what it is! Needless to say, the road to discipleship needs repair.

Perhaps our navigation system is broken, or we forgot where we are headed in the first place. Maybe we were pointed in the wrong direction entirely and wonder why we seem to be circling the same old relational landmarks of relationship problems and sin habits. Continuing the way we’ve been going and expecting to arrive at a different destination is, in a word, nuts.

The road project is long overdue—but the detour to adjust the lanes is well worth a momentary slowdown. We need a direct highway back to discipleship. 

How did we travel so far from Jesus’ simple command to make disciples? Though a complete answer exceeds the scope of this blog, here are eight primary reasons for the dysfunctional ditches of discipleship in the US today. 

First, it seems likely that many churches are not emphasizing the need to make disciples. Underscoring the Gospel of Salvation is essential. People need to hear the Good News. Unfortunately, many churches teach people about sin and the need for a savior, forgetting to teach them to walk as full-time followers of Jesus. We emphasize the Gospel of Salvation and neglect the Gospel of walking in the Kingdom Now. As a result, we’re oriented toward salvation but don’t necessarily create the structures and groups needed to disciple members. Discipleship is a lifestyle and goes way beyond a “New Believer’s Class” at church. 

Second, some churches have lost the notion that discipleship is a process of growing a relationship with Jesus and His people. Groups and group relationships are the primary vehicles for discipleship. Information and knowledge acquired from a weekend service do not produce disciples. The structures and opportunities to connect in healthy relationships must also be in place.

Third, things can get bumpy when small groups are primarily viewed as another opportunity to teach Scripture. Though Bible study is terrific, it often becomes a forum for one person to give information to a group. Group members become passive listeners. As Scripture notes, “Knowledge [alone] makes [people self-righteously] arrogant, but love [that unselfishly seeks the best for others] builds up and encourages others to grow [in wisdom].” 1Co 8:1 AMP+

Fourth, small groups that meet to grow “relationships” can lack the necessary structures to make healthy connections possible between members. Without proper design and leadership, these groups can quickly devolve into the murk of gossip, complaining, drama, and disappointment. Codependency can flourish in groups that focus on pain and problems. Bonding over grace and love is excellent. Bonding over problems and pain builds ruts in the road.

Fifth, to a large extent, many churches seem to have left the solid pavement of relational grace as the means to engage with God and His people. Grace—seeing ourselves and others as special and favorite—is the foundation for healthy relationships and discipleship, and nothing can take its place.

Sixth, many pew-sitters cling to the mistaken belief that the Christian life is a solo venture—we journey alone and unknown to others. Even a cursory reading of the Old and New Testaments reveal that we need others to grow in our relationship with God. [AP6] By not challenging these ideas, pastors enable this dysfunctional belief system.

Seventh, most churches no longer equip members with the tools and skills needed to personally and intentionally engage with God. Sunday worship, liturgy, prayer, and sermons are beautiful expressions of a faith community. But, as wonderful as these Sunday activities are, they do not necessarily equip members to personally pursue God intentionally during the week. A lifetime of spiritual growth is experienced when people learn how to engage with God and one another.

Eighth, our convenience culture tells us that things should be fast, easy, and made “the way we like.” Things like Bible study, prayer, journaling, or participating in a discipleship group are cooly received as necessary spiritual disciplines in this environment. As a result, the things that require discipline, intentionality, or much effort feel inconvenient—like speed bumps.

I do not pretend to have the answers to all of these pressing issues. It will take a lot of intentional work on the part of many to restore the road to discipleship. It will be even harder to travel that road together. Precisely for these reasons, I’ve written two new books.

The first is Becoming a Face of Grace: Navigating Lasting Relationships with God and Others. This book lays a grace-based foundation for discipleship and helps readers and groups begin to experience and share God’s grace together.

The second book, Beyond Becoming: A Field Guide to Sustainable, Transformational Communities, will be released on May 1, 2022. It picks up where the first ends—answering the question: how can we create small groups to continue the journey into grace-based discipleship? Describing the Biblical principles of grace-based discipleship, I suggest structures and types of activities that will help groups thrive. Find both on Amazon!

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