By Dennis Garcia
Discipleship is a buzzword right now. In the past 15 years, I’ve seen a growing emphasis on the need for disciple-making churches.
My state convention has even adopted it as our primary focus, “A disciple-making church for every person.” After all, disciple-making is the very heart of the Great Commission.
Broadly defined, discipleship is the practice of training or developing a disciple (pupil, learner, student) in the ways of a particular teacher or system. Guess what—every church is successful in this regard.
Everything we do as a church is training and developing our congregations in one way or another. Thus, I’d argue every church is a disciple-making church.
The question is, however, are we making disciples of Christ? Are the people in our congregations growing in the image and likeness of Christ as a result of our efforts?
In nearly 20 years of ministry, here are seven lies about discipleship I’ve seen too many church believe.
1. Busyness equals godliness.
Many well-meaning church members equate godliness with attendance at church functions. I’ve heard many believers say things like, “Well, I’m at church every time the doors are open.”
Although this shows tremendous dedication to gather with God’s people, it no more makes one a mature Christian than it makes me a skilled barista since I practically live at coffee shops.
If this were true, then Jesus would owe Martha an apology. She was busy doing things, but she was not busy about the best thing.
2. Serving is optional.
Many of us have heard the statistic that 20% of church members do 80% of the work. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, we’ve taught people it’s okay for them to sit on the sidelines.
Not only has this created a critical lack of volunteers and leaders within the church, it’s also denied these individuals on the sidelines the joy of using their God-given talents, abilities, experiences, and gifts to serve Him and build up the body.
3. Knowledge equals discipleship.
A disciple must know and study the Word of God. This is a given. However, that’s not the end, but a means to an end.
Jesus said we make disciples by teaching others to obey all He’s commanded (Matthew 20:19). Many believers, myself included, are educated beyond our obedience. Knowledge tells us what to do, but our lives will be transformed by obedience.
4. Accountability is legalism.
In one of my previous churches, I introduced a covenant for our small group leaders, which laid out basic expectations for group leaders.
A short list of things such as regular worship service attendance, required leadership trainings, praying for your group members, and supporting leadership in the church.
I remember meeting with one leader who missed our “mandatory” meeting introducing the covenant. It quickly turned into a 30-minute tirade against legalism in the church.
Throughout the New Testament, we see examples of and are told to hold one another accountable, yet few churches practice loving accountability among members.
5. Worship is an experience.
I love a worship service that moves me spiritually, emotionally, and even physically (can I admit that as a Southern Baptist?).
Through our emphasis on the weekly worship gathering, however, I believe we’ve inadvertently defined worship as an experience that occurs on Sunday mornings. Instead, Scripture teaches worship is a lifestyle of surrender (Romans 12:1).
6. Talking about giving is taboo.
As a young pastor, I was told by a well-meaning deacon that I shouldn’t preach about money because that was between him and God and was none of my business. I heard the same thing from church growth experts who said talking about money would make guests feel uncomfortable.
Jesus taught that our relationship with money greatly impacts our relationship with Him. Money and possessions are among the most referenced topics in all of Scripture. If God spoke about it that much, perhaps we should learn from Him.
7. Only super-Christians share the gospel.
According to a Barna report, only 64% of believers agree that every believer has a responsibility to share their faith. This is down 25 points from a similar study in 1993.
Although Scripture affirms there are some with a spiritual gift of evangelism, it’s the responsibility of all believers to proclaim the Gospel.
The reality is that your systems are perfectly designed to achieve your current results. If you desire different results, it means changing the system. Although simple, this isn’t necessarily easy to do.
Pray, pray, pray, and pray some more.
Biblical discipleship is a spiritual process and dependent on the Holy Spirit. No matter how good our systems, we can’t produce life change apart from God. Prayer isn’t just the first step but should be present throughout.
Assess the current reality.
Your systems are perfectly designed to achieve your current results.
Develop systems to address discipleship gaps.
With the information in hand, it’s time to come up with solutions. Notice I said systems and not programs. Programs have their place, but in and of themselves can’t make disciples.
Create an urgency within your congregation for why things need to change. Without addressing the why (vision) people won’t care about the what (changes).
Make the necessary changes to align your systems with biblical discipleship principles.
Dennis is the husband of Toni, father of Miranda and Kephas, and church planting catalyst serving in Southern New Mexico for the North American Mission Board.