How Not to Fix the Discipleship Problem in a Church

Church revitalization is a big deal today – as it should be. One reason we talk about this topic, though, is the church’s failure to produce disciples. When the church fails to disciple, the result is baby believers who never grow (even though they may be placed in leadership positions). Stagnation results, and revitalization is in order. That being said, here are some ways not to fix this discipleship problem.

  1. Get angry with church leaders for not being disciples.  It’s easy to do. Get frustrated at church folks and wonder how they ever achieved the position they now hold. Your frustration is likely valid, but here’s the issue: you may have inherited the problem. Somebody else gave these leaders their positions without questioning their discipleship. So, they’ve come to this place honestly – and deserve our guidance, not our frustration.  
  2. Focus only on content transfer. If discipleship is only about completing workbooks and classes, church members can do that on their own. Knowledge, while critical, does not itself make a disciple. Discipleship requires content + application + accountability. It requires life-on-life fellowship that must be intentional.
  3. Neglect evangelism in the process. This is one of my concerns for the young generation of leaders who have recognized this discipleship problem: they are so committed to fixing this omission that they risk neglecting evangelism. If you don’t evangelize until you have the church in order, you’ll never evangelize.
  4. Assume small group attendance + worship attendance = discipleship. Apart from Christian community under the teaching and preaching of the Word, of course, full discipleship does not occur. All of us know people, though, who are faithful to both activities but not really following Jesus. We need more intentionality – accountability through small groups and mentoring – to make disciples.
  5. Plant a church in order to avoid the problem. I fear too many young leaders move into church planting simply to avoid the issues of the established church. They assume they can put a discipleship strategy in their DNA and never face an undiscipled congregation. It’s never that easy, though. Even church plants struggle with maintaining a strong discipleship strategy.
  6. Avoid mentoring because it’s too complicated and slow. Mentoring is work. It can get messy because you’re dealing with human beings. On the other hand, we can name biblical examples of those who took this approach. Moses and Joshua. Jethro and Moses. Naomi and Ruth. Elijah and Elisha. Jesus and His disciples. Paul and Timothy. Even the seemingly best discipleship programs are lacking if mentoring is not a part.
  7. Expect everyone else to be a disciplemaker. If you want your church to be a disciplemaking church, you cannot stand on the sideline and cheer for others to do it. Your church’s discipleship approach can be stronger today if you choose to invest yourself in 2-3 other believers.
  8. Focus on the growth of others only.  Leaders who themselves stopped growing don’t worry much about discipleship. Those who don’t regularly pray and read the Word seldom challenge others to do so. Those who no longer fight sin don’t stand in the battle beside others. If an honest assessment shows you’re not growing in Christ, your attempts to help others won’t last long.
  9. Don’t train parents to be disciplemakers. The primary disciplers in the home ought to be parents. Our churches are to come alongside, support, and train them, but parents must take the lead. When we don’t challenge them or train them to do so, our disciplemaking strategy will be lacking.  

Obviously, these “bad” fixes help reveal some positive approaches to dealing with the discipleship problem. Build a strategy of mentoring, small groups, and corporate worship. Include structured accountability. Teach content, but do life-on-life. Never stop evangelizing in the process. And, leaders, keep growing while you invest yourself in somebody today


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