the discipleship problem

Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.   Matthew 28:19-20


There is a problem with discipleship; a misstep in the way that we try to “do” it in the church today. Look at the way Jesus led his disciples and the way Paul discipled people and we see such amazing life transformation…and then there is discipleship today. It’s not the same.


Obviously I’m speaking in generalities and in no way am I saying it is an utter failure everywhere. But honestly, how often do we find discipleship to be a program the church offers, or an abstract thing the church talks about only to find little, real life transformation taking place in ourselves or those we are trying to disciple?


When did we become convinced that discipleship consisted primarily of a book to read or a structured study to complete?


I’m not saying these are bad things or that they cannot be a part of discipling someone, but is this all there is? Funny, Jesus never did it this way. Paul isn’t found making reference to the discipleship material he was implementing in the churches. So what are we missing?


I would say there are a couple of key things…probably more. But as I was reading the closing words of Galatians I was struck by one. And as I thought more about Jesus and then Paul I was struck by others. For today, the words of Paul to the church in Galatia will get us thinking:


And even those who advocate circumcision don’t keep the whole law themselves. They only want you to be circumcised so they can boast about it and claim you as their disciples.   Galatians 6:13


What’s Paul’s problem here? It’s not the practice of circumcision—although he has issues with why this is being stressed so heavily. Paul’s real issue: people wanting to claim other people as their disciples.


Jesus calls us to make disciples of him, not ourselves. On the surface I think the vast majority of Christians would totally agree and honestly believe this is what we are trying to do. But how often is this really the case? When discipling people there is this notion of needing to impart our wisdom to them. There is a real tendency to want to pass on our doctrinal leanings and preferences. In truth, many times disciples begin to look and talk more and more like their discipler, not more and more like Jesus.


As we follow the call of Jesus to go and make disciples I think one of our greatest challenges lies in perpetually turning the focus back to Jesus, not what we think about Jesus. Do you see the subtle difference? It’s not about my wisdom, my ideas, my journey. It’s supposed to be about our journey—all of us—towards Jesus.


We are called to teach them obedience to the commands of Jesus, not our particular preference on how those commands should be viewed. I’m not saying our particular preferences, ideas, understandings and leanings don’t come into it. And I’m not saying they aren’t important. But the minute a person is viewed as my disciple I have missed the mark and failed to follow the call of Christ. It’s why Paul is so adamant to the Corinthian church about the place of leaders and the place of Christ.


When one of you says, “I am a follower of Paul,” and another says, “I follow Apollos,” aren’t you acting just like people of the world? After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News.                  1 Corinthians 3:4-5


There is so much more on this swirling around in my mind, so there will be more to come—more thoughts and questions about discipleship. For today this is enough. Jesus calls us to make disciples and the struggle is to remember that we are making disciples of Jesus, not disciples of ourselves.


Who should you be discipling towards Christ? Who has God placed in your path to teach his commands and reveal what obedience looks like?



7 thoughts on “the discipleship problem

  1. I Love this! Cos have been telling people about this,serve and listen to God and his commands and not of handmade laws of churches.

  2. Actually if you think about it, we are collectively doing something wrong here. There are so many different forms of Christianity: Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox etc. Even though they all believe in Jesus, the churches in a sense, claim their followers as disciples. Hmm I just had an explosion of ideas and thoughts….

    • Claiming followers as “our” disciples is something I have just recently been thinking about as well. It’s so true what you say, “We are collectively doing something wrong here.” The difficulty, I think, lies in the fact that doing it right requires so much from us as those who disciple others. And Jesus calls us all to go and make disciples. Somehow we just relegated it to something the church should run as a program or paid ministers should do for us. No wonder the slip has occurred where we now claim disciples as our own. We relegated it to a task only a select few could do.

      Hopefully we will hear some more of those ideas exploding in your head.

  3. Pingback: Resources for 1 Corinthians 3:4 - 5

  4. Thank you for this article. I am struck by what Jesus said in Matthew 23:10. He tells the listener not to call anyone “leader” because there is only 1 leader and that is Christ. Some translations say “instructor” while the KJV says “Master” and NASB says “leader.” Either way, these terms have one thing in common; authority. I understand the need for pastors and deacons to have a healthy amount of authority. But, a lay person being called a “discipler” just because they conduct a group bible study is unscriptural per The Lord’s words in Matthew 23:10. Notice “disciple” is derived from the word “discipline.” So, “discipler” is the person doing the “disciplining” and the “disciple” is the one receiving discipline. Basically, it is a subtle master/slave relationship. But, we are supposed to be “brothers and sisters” in Christ; “not parents and children.” So, the problem is that discipleship creates an atmosphere perfect for believers who love to weild illegitimate authority over others. A way to correct this problem might be to change his/her title to discipleship “servant” and be required to acknowledge that they have no authority over anyone.

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