the weblog of Alan Knox


Posted by on Aug 10, 2006 in books, discipleship | 15 comments

Jim Petersen begins his book Lifestyle Discipleship (I’m not supposed to be reading this book… I have too many other things to read… sshhh… don’t tell anyone.) with the following:

If you have been around the Christian community at all, you know about discipleship. It is there on the right-hand side of the page of the church bulletin. The discipleship group meets on Thursdays for breakfast at Underwood’s Restaurant. In our bigger churches, we have pastors of discipleship. Our Christian bookstores always have a section reserved for discipleship materials. There you will find everything from a study booklet for new believers to complete courses in discipleship. Many of us have taken the course.

Petersen also states (in all caps), “Thirty years of discipleship programs, and we are not discipled.”

What’s wrong? Why are our discipleship programs not working? What does work? How do we disciple? Who do we disciple? Why do we disciple? Where and when do we disciple?

Please comment…


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 8-10-2006


    I think that he is right that despite our discipleship programs people are still not discipled. One problem that I see is that the typical type of discipleship is placing a group of people in a room to hear someone else teach them a monologue lesson on how to grow in their faith. Trying to disciple this way makes the pattern on life the disciple is trying to achieve extremely ambiguous. They do not see a discipled life lived out, they only hear someone talk about it. So I think the typical methodology used is not conducive to making disciples.

    Two things that I think are necessary to disciple making are relationships and time. By relationships I mean that those who are discipling one another (yes, one who is more mature in their faith can still learn from someone who is less mature) must desire to have a close relationship with one another. Discipleship cannot happen at a distance. It happens as people mature in their relationships with each other which involves the second aspect, time. Those who are discipling one another must spend time together. It is not realistic to think that spending an hour a week with some great teacher will somehow bring about spiritual maturity in someone’s life. It takes time to watch someone and observe their relationship with God, to ask them questions, to process what you are learning.

    These are just a few thought on what I think is an extremely important topic you are addressing. I will continue to study and bring some Scripture to the table. Thanks for the thought provoking post.


  2. 8-10-2006

    I would say that Christian (for the most part) do not know about discipleship, because they have never been truly discipled. Of course if you would ask your average church-goer he would probably tell you about the discipleship courses and programs he has attended, but do these programs really reflect what we see in the bible?

    We see Jesus meeting with His disciples, teaching them, encouraging them, feeding them, etc. for hours at a time. In the bible we see pairs of people going out making disciples in Jesus’ name. I would say a lot of the books written in the NT were sent to people that were being discipled.

    The bottom line is, discipleship is not a program, it is about building a relationship with someone, with the goal of building each other to be more Christlike. Of course discipling the lost to see the truth of the Gospel (go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…).

    Just my 2 cents.

  3. 8-10-2006

    Theron and Lew already beat me to the punch on this one. Relationships, time, and no “program”. That’s it in a nutshell. Why do we always try to create “programs” to accomplish these things?

    Of course, you already knew I’d come down on that side of it, right? 😉

    Thanks for bringing this up, Alan.

    steve 🙂

  4. 8-10-2006

    Hey Alan, I thought since you dropped a line into my blog I would return the favor. Everybody has made great points here. I think we also need to take into the whole structure of how we do “church,” not just discipleship. If the traditional “worship service” continues to be the primary view of how nonbelievers view Christianity, then we will continue to fabricate Christians who fear intimacy and settle for mediocrity. I want to encourage us all to consider how we might reshape the way we gather together. And let us consider how we view our “private” lives. Are our homes refuges from the world, including our Christian brothers and sisters, or are they places of social engagement, hospitality, and communication? I look forward to more discussion.

  5. 8-11-2006

    Besides a “hear, hear” to the previous comments, may I add: Perhaps the discipleship programs in our churches have been a little too much of “Do as I say, not as I do.” When the discipleship teacher leads the class, makes ivory-tower pronouncements about how to grow spiritually, but then does not live out a life that exemplifies these concepts, the immature believer is left hanging, wondering how to put into practice what he has learned. I’m not saying this is always the case, just offering a hypothetical. But I think we could see an analogy here with parenting: If I sit my children down and tell them to use good manners, eat neatly, and treat people in a Christlike manner, they hear my words, right? But only if they see me doing all these things on a daily basis, modelling for them the behavior that I wish to elicit from them, will they then begin to imitate such behavior. We are to be “imitators of Christ,” right? That is how we disciple one another. We live out Christ to one another in our daily lives. Blessings…

  6. 8-13-2006

    While I’m not ready to throw every program out the window ( I do believe there is some benefit in corporate Bible study), I am convinced that the majority of discipleship takes place in a one-on-one basis in a setting outside the walls of the church.

  7. 8-13-2006

    The work of the Holy Spirit is placed practically secondary to discipleship and evangelism these days. What we need to do is look to the light of Scripture and ask ourselves, “How does my life measure up to this?” Then we ask God to work through us and trust that He will actually do it. When we realize that the work is ALL his, then He gets all the glory. Sorry if this sounds oversimplified, I am not advocating a “let go and let God” approach, but I really can’t elaborate any more right now.

  8. 8-14-2006

    I appreciate all of the comments. As some of you know, I am not a “program” person, but I was a couple of years ago. Actually, I would have to say that until three years ago, most of my “discipleship” (discipling others and being discipled by others) happened in programs. What do say to people who have only been discipled in programs? Is their “discipleship” valid? Can the Holy Spirit (thank you, Renata!) mature someone as part of a discipleship program?

    Thanks for the discussion!


  9. 8-14-2006


    I think someone can definitely be matured through a “discipleship program” or any other “program” out there. Although, I would not say that programs are the best way to go about the process. As far as people who have only been discipled in programs, I would probably go the extreme and say they were not really discipled. Again, not to say that they could not have matured through the process, just not discipled. At least in the same way Jesus discipled.


  10. 8-14-2006

    Can the Holy Spirit…mature someone as part of a discipleship program?

    Praise God, the Holy Spirit can work through anything! However, I think that one of the things I have observed (I’m not saying you are doing this, Alan) is a tendency to excuse less-than-the-best methods with a “Yeah, but God can still work through that.”

    With that in mind, I’m not exactly sure where you’re headed with your question, but like I said, God can use anything to accomplish His purposes and desires.

    steve 🙂

  11. 8-14-2006

    Lew and Steve,
    Thank you again for your comments.

    I’m really not headed anywhere with my question. I don’t have an agenda other than trying to understand how God works through people to impact others. You might say that I was playing “Devil’s advocate” in this whole discipleship discussion.

    Thanks again!


  12. 8-14-2006

    Great discussion everyone. I’m not sure that we are all talking about the same discipleship. If discipleship is simply learning what various bits of the Biblical text mean or conforming to the popular understanding of cultural Christianity then I would say that church programs do a pretty good job of that. But, if you mean learning how to give to those in need, deny yourself daily, practice hospitality, love your enemy, and spread the gospel to the lost that live in not just in China, but next door, then I would say the church has not done an exceptional job of that.

    So, what do we mean by discipleship? That being said, I must admit that I grew greatly while working through T.W. Hunt’s “The Mind of Christ.” I went through it by myself but it was published by Lifeway and used by many Baptist churches in discipleship programs.

  13. 8-15-2006

    I can say that at least from personal experience, the most transforming discipleship in my own life has been from older and matured men. I think the age aspect is overlooked. Can a 24 year old youth pastor disciple a 16 year old high school student? Sure, but why not have a 40 year old man who has walked with Christ disciple that 16 year old? Better yet, why not have that 16 year old’s parent disciple him first. The family unit, proper ecclesiology, and age integration (rather than segregation) all play into effective discipleship. Good discussion guys! I think that what Alice wrote is invaluable, I can think of the discouragement of seeing mentors not live up to what they taught.

  14. 8-15-2006

    I was going to offer a comment on this, but it ended up being so long I decided to turn it into a post at my blog instead. Two things, though, I think bear repeating:

    1) In Acts 20:31, Paul calls the elders together and says to them, “So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears”. If it took Paul three years to train one group, then why are we cutting our attempts to 6-week programs?

    2) “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
    Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship page 7 , Macmillan Publishing, NY 1937

    That phrase says more than I could say in 1000 comments.

  15. 8-15-2006

    If you haven’t yet, I recommend that everyone read Isabel’s full comment on her blog. She makes some very insightful remarks concerning discipleship.