6 Reasons Churches Don’t Disciple Well

I believe more and more churches are working harder at what most churches call “discipleship” (which I define here as leading believers to obey everything Jesus commanded), but many churches still struggle with this task. Perhaps one of these reasons will help you to understand where/how your own church might work to improve your discipleship process:

  1. Many church leaders—pastors included—have never really been discipled. To be honest, I started pastoring before anyone really invested in me with intentionality. The result was that I raised up a church family that I was unprepared to disciple—and their lack of discipleship became obvious. I fear I’m not the only pastor with this kind of story.
  2. In many cases, we find more reward in reporting new believers. Some denominations, for example, ask for reports about new converts. Some give recognition to congregations that apparently evangelize well. We pastors sometimes like to report our own numbers, too. What we seldom report, though, is the number of believers being intentionally discipled in our congregation. The number is often low, and the “reward” for strategically reviewing this number is equally low.
  3. Discipleship is tough, tiring, messy work. To disciple well means that you have to walk with someone in his or her faith. You have to be willing to encourage and lead through defeats and victories. You have to be patient but persistent. Sometimes, it’s just easier not to do it all.
  4. We’ve reduced discipleship to a series of courses. It’s not “life-on-life” guidance; it’s completing a number of courses (and sometimes earning some kind of certificate). As an educator, I’m not opposed to courses as part of discipleship. I would simply argue that courses alone are not enough to produce devoted disciples of Jesus.
  5. We leave little room for struggle and growth in new believers. Instead, we expect them just to “get it” and grow in Christlikeness almost immediately. When they don’t get there quickly, we too often judge them before we help them. I’m struck by the fact that we might grant grace to the new believer on the mission field who struggles leaving his worldview and habits behind, but we give little grace to our new believer neighbor who faces the same kind of struggle.
  6. We don’t always preach the high demands of the gospel. When we fail to talk about things like Jesus’ requirement that we deny ourselves and take up our cross (Luke 9:23), we preach a watered-down gospel. When we do that, nobody even sees a need for someone else to walk with him or her in discipleship.

What reasons would you add?

8 Comments

  • mark says:

    Too often Christianity was one-way learning, just like today’s sermons. Do this; don’t do this. Paul went here on his missionary journey. People teaching never understood or asked about the learner’s situation in life. Questions were responded to with pat answers or punishment. Confession to evangelical church leaders were not held in confidence. Questions to those same leaders about a friend’s dilemma wound up getting back to people’s parents.

  • Disciple making is training a believer to make other disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples, etc. it is not teaching; that is imparting knowledge, just facts. Disciple making is TRAINING someone in the skills of training other believers to do what Jesus did, because that is what Jesus commanded us to do in the Great Commission. Your article fails to say that, the most important aspect of being a believer. It is not that churches don’t disciple well. We don’t disciple at all. We are failures in obedience. See T4T by Ying Kai and Steve Smith for the best example of which I am aware of actual disciple making as Jesus commanded us to do. Not only are our churches failures in this, but our seminaries are as well. That’s why the SBC is dying.

  • Morlee Maynard says:

    Perhaps our church leaders are overlooking some of the best partners in making disciples—the authors of both non-fiction and fiction in our church libraries. People do read when books are recommended and made available. With our quarantine experience one change will be more people interested in reading. We only encourage people to read books in groups. The majority of our people cannot participate in groups during the week due to work and caregiving. Why not intersect with this silent crowd through reading? Amazing things are happening today through church libraries.

    • mark says:

      Some church leaders will not want people reading books by certain authors. It might upset how things have been always understood and cause the preacher to have to address opinions other than one taught in seminary.

  • Robin G Jordan says:

    Based on my own observations, churches do need to be more intentional in discipling not just new believers but also longtime church members. In the church tradition in which I first became a believing Christian, the formation of new believers as disciples of Jesus Christ was haphazard in most churches. The church tradition practiced infant baptism as well as believer baptism. Even those who were baptized as adults were expected to undergo confirmation–a rite in which individuals professed their personal faith in Jesus Christ before the gathered church and received the prayers of the church with the laying on of hands as a gesture of goodwill and concern. Before they were confirmed, young people were instructed in the church’s catechism–the basic tenets of the Christian faith as that particular church tradition understood them. At one time young people and adults were not admitted to the Lord’s Supper until they were confirmed. This was done out of the belief that participants in the Lord’s Supper received no benefits from their participation if they lacked a vital faith. It was taught that through the Lord’s Supper God worked inwardly in the believer and invigorated, strengthened, and confirmed the believer’s faith. Except for Sunday school and catechism class young people received no formation as disciples of Jesus Christ. The only formation that adults received was the Sunday sermon. A few churches offered what was described as “adult Christian education” but its content varied with the church that offered it. The result was at best a piecemeal approach to discipling.

    In more recent years churches influenced by the Cell Church Movement have begun to offer a phased approach modeled on that used in Cell Churches. This approach not only forms new believers as disciples but also as leaders. In addition to reading printed material, watching videos, and listening to audios, the participants take part in a small group which engages in active discipleship ( prayer, evangelism, Bible study, community service, etc.) together as pairs and as a group. Each participant also has a mentor who meets with them on a regular basis.

  • David R. Oyster says:

    Two additional reasons I think have contributed to most churches’ not discipling well. One, we were taught that spiritual growth would result from simply learning more about what the Bible says, hence “Christian education”. Two, for various reason, I believe, most churches taught what a friend of mine calls teaching behavior modification rather than inner transformation. We were taught what we should and should not be doing rather than how we could grow in Christ-likeness by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

  • Bruce Cobb says:

    Richard Graham you are absolutely correct. Western culture churches have lost the DNA of obedience. In addition to T4T, check out Miraculous Movements by Jerry Trousdale, Couragious Disciple Making by the Watsons, any Are You a Christian or Disciple, Disciples Obey, or The Harvest Prayer of Jesus by Edward N. Gross

  • Terry Palmer says:

    As a discipleship leader, I had to first go through a course which went far longer because we had to get it right. We did use a book and of course the Bible in KJV, learn the verses and so on. I also learned by leading Bible studies by our lake home over the course of several summers and was so blessed to lead some of these to Jesus and amen for those experiences, to confront darkness and understand a crushed heart before the Lord, prepared me for discipleship and praise the Lord for each of those. I also found out a great lack in my life and habit and that was to be prepared. It is one thing to lead a person in a prayer of Salvation but quite another to be prepared to also lead in discipleship and have the materials to do so. So now, four years later and several discipleship sessions, i can agree with what you say above. We offer a 14 week course, which really takes most of one year, because of the many questions and the reality of making His name known in all things. One of the other issues I’d like to bring up is a prepared attitude to do the Lord’s business. For example, how many churches will actually preach a hell fire and salvation in Jesus message with a sincere invitation at the end and be prepared to lead people to Jesus AND follow in discipleship. I would so like to speak at a church who is struggling with this and do a show and tell about what Jesus can do through discipleship and amen. Discipleship sure isn’t for the faint of heart for at once one must confront sin where it is found, but also weep with those who weep and use Proverbs 3 to the utmost, to find wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and discernment, not of me out of pride, but of the fear of the Lord, for His Glory and Honor and amen. May the Lord use your article to spur a fellowship toward discipleship and amen.

Leave a Reply to Richard Graham Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.