10 Reasons Leaders Don’t Disciple the Way Jesus Did

Jesus preached to the crowds, but He invested in the few: 12 disciples overall, three with whom He spent more time (Peter, James, and John), and perhaps one with whom He spent even more time (Peter). Many church leaders don’t operate that way, though – and that’s a problem. Here are some reasons I’ve observed that explain this omission:

  1. We’ve taught discipleship as a large group exercise more than one-to-one mentoring. As I grew up, discipleship was always oriented toward classes. In fact, the more “students” you had in a discipleship class, the better. Working with the few made little sense.
  2. They fear being accused of favoritism. Somebody probably will say something if you spend more time with 1-3 people than you do with others. That’s a risk you take if you disciple like Jesus did.
  3. They don’t know where to start. Most often, they’ve never been a part of this kind of discipleship, so it’s all foreign to them.
  4. It’s time-consuming. You’ll use up precious hours each week if you choose to invest intentionally in some other believers – and who has extra time?
  5. It’s risky. Spending time with somebody else means he has opportunity to look more deeply into your life than you might like. Most of us prefer discipling from at least an arm’s length distance.
  6. They wrongly assume their only job is to study and preach the Word. Both Jesus and Paul proved that’s not the case.
  7. They focus on their present tense ministry without serious regard for the future. Many leaders say, “The measure of my ministry is really what takes place after I’m gone,” but they then do nothing today to raise up leaders for the future.
  8. Some have been burned in the past. Some leaders have invested in a young leader who turned out to be Judas. That’s enough to make you reconsider doing discipleship the same way again.
  9. They disconnect the concept from their ministry. They see this kind of discipleship as an “add on” to a busy schedule rather than a “plus” to their work when carried out well. They forget they’re raising up leaders they can put to work now.
  10. Nobody’s ever really challenged them to disciple the way Jesus did. Well, I am challenging you now with this blog post. I believe church leaders must be intentionally and strategically pouring their lives into a few other believers – like Jesus did. Get started with at least one person. 

For more information, see Dr. Lawless’ book, Mentor: How Along the Way Discipleship Can Change Your Life.


  • Benjamin M. Foxworth says:

    Yes and amen! Discipleship does take time but making disciples is our commission regardless of whether we are in vocational ministry or not. My first experience with one-on-one discipleship came from meeting someone involved with the Navigators ministry years ago while stationed at Pearl Harbor, HI. Since then I have been actively involved in discipleship groups of various types. I have seen the impact of discipleship not only in my own life but in the lives of others. I am currently leading two different discipleship groups where I pastor and in both groups I have seen great growth. Aside from the time factor I know discipleship is not practiced because we want to see immediate results, and spiritual growth and maturity are very slow processes. But once we firmly grasp the truth of what Paul wrote, that while one plants and another waters, it is God who is causing the growth, we will understand the indispensable value of discipleship in the life of the believer and in the local church.

  • Chuck Lawless says:

    Thanks for the affirmation, Benjamin!

  • Brian Doyle says:

    It seems like many pastors are auditory learners. Classes and church services really worked for them and this is the context in which they were discipled. They are simply reproducing what they know. Yes – Jesus is a GREAT model but if a leader has not experienced this relational mentoring then it can be a stretch.

  • Chuck Lawless says:

    It can indeed be a stretch, but I’m convinced we must move toward doing mentoring the way Jesus did it. That doesn’t remove the need for classes, of course; it simply adds a needed component to the task.

  • Jonathan McGuire says:

    Excellent, Dr. Lawless! Your thoughts on this are the road forward for those with humility to se it.

    May your tribe increase.

  • Chuck Lawless says:

    Blessings, Jonathan.

  • This is such a blessing, thank you for sharing this. I’ve been discipling young men since i was 18 (now 30) and the joy that I have experienced over the years is immeasurable. Its only recently that some of those that I have discipled since high school have matured out and have started to disciple others. Mahalo Ke Akua!

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