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Hurdling toward discipleship… but don’t trip over that big hurdle

Posted by on Jan 24, 2013 in discipleship | 12 comments

Hurdling toward discipleship… but don’t trip over that big hurdle

Joe at “More Than Cake” has written a very good post called “8 Obstacles to Making Disciples.” In the post, he lists some hurdles that we have placed between us and our ability to help other people follow Jesus Christ (i.e., disciple people or make disciples). (By the way, Joe says that this list comes from a book by Greg Ogden. You can a link to the book on Joe’s post.)

For the most part, I think the list is a good representation of what we often find among the church these days, and I agree that these are definitely obstacles to making disciples.

Here are the eight obstacles (with a little more info in Joe’s post):

First, the gap between those claiming to be disciples and those living as disciples exists because in many churches, the pastor/elder has been diverted from their ministry calling.

Second, church programs have replaced relationship.

Third, much of Christian life has been reduced to seeking after the immediate and material benefits over living out the lifestyle of a disciple.

Fourth, there is a gap between word and deed because discipleship has been presented as a “next step,” rather then as the natural result for every follower of Jesus.

Fifth, leaders have been unwilling to call people to discipleship because they are too concerned that some will “fall away,” which is code for “attendance will drop.”

Sixth, far too many Christians have an inadequate view of church and see it only as an event or a place rather than a vibrant community.

Seventh, Christian leaders have not provided a clearly defined biblical path to maturity and left to their own devices and definitions, God’s people have exhibited a manifest failure to grow.

Finally, the last obstacle to bridging the discipleship-gap is the lack of personal mentoring.

Like I said, I agree that these are obstacles to helping others follow Jesus that we often find among the church today.

But, reading through the list, I think I see a ninth obstacle that’s not spelled out, but is assumed in the list: an over-reliance on leaders among the church. In those eight obstacles, “leaders” are specifically mentioned in three of them. And, since “programs” are typically the sphere of leaders, #2 above would bring the count to 4 obstacles about leaders.

In fact, I think that an over-reliance on leaders (or actually a reliance on ANYONE else) to make disciples is the biggest obstacle toward disicpleship. And, it could be the most difficult obstacle to overcome.

Why is it the most difficult? Because this kind of reliance on leadership reaches into every aspect of a person’s life. Even if a person’s thinking and understanding changes in regards to leaders among the church, there is still much that must change.

But, I can tell you from experience, change of thinking and change of life can and does happen.

If you’re wondering why so little discipleship is taking place, and you immediately begin to think about church leaders, then perhaps this kind of over-reliance is an obstacle for you too.


12 Comments

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  1. 1-24-2013

    “Man’s natural concept has dominated Christianity for two thousand years, and we are still not set free from its influence today. Even many servants of the Lord are unable to change their concept. We often think of how we should worship and serve God and of how we should do this or that for God, and it never occurs to us that the Lord Jesus does not care about this. The Lord simply wants man to enjoy Him. He was incarnated to put Himself in front of us as the tree of life. He said that He is life and that He came that we might have life. He did not come to ask us to do anything. He came with the intention that we would open to Him and receive Him. He wants us to receive Him every day and not just on the day of our salvation. Daily we should learn to abide in Him, and we should give Him room to abide in us. God has no intention for us to do anything for Him, and He has no desire for us to accomplish anything for Him. Rather, He desires to abide in us. The Lord desires all of us to open up to Him, to allow Him to abide in us, and to not turn Him away. If He can remain and abide in us, His riches and elements will become our enjoyment and blessing. When we enjoy Him and allow Him to become our blessed portion, all His riches become our supply and inwardly fill us. His riches even flow through us and bear rich fruit.” ~ Witness Lee: ‘How to Enjoy God and How to Practice the Enjoyment of God’

  2. 1-24-2013

    I blogged about this today: How does our understanding of community and corporate sin fit into our Christian practice? If we understood discipleship in terms of what it does for the entirety of the Body, rather than as individuals, how would it change the way we make disciples?

    I think that fits well with the questions you are asking but goes one further. Is there a Body maturity in addition to an individual one?

  3. 1-24-2013

    Jim,

    Abiding in Christ is absolutely essential for us to experience the real (abundant) life that God has for us. As important as that is, why do you think the New Testament authors didn’t stop at simply exhorting their readers to “abide in Christ”? There seems to be alot of instructions related to doing or not doing certain things.

    Dan,

    Thanks. I’ll make sure to read your post. As a short answer to your question, I think that real individual maturity is related to real body maturity.

    -Alan

  4. 1-24-2013

    Hi Alan, thanks for adding your thoughts to the list of 8.

  5. 1-24-2013

    I really question the ‘discipleship’ thing – and I’ll tell you why.

    1. The word ‘disciple’ doesn’t appear in any scripture after Acts. It does not appear in any letter to any church.
    2. The word ‘discipleship’ doesn’t appear in any scripture anywhere period. (there are some ‘ships in scripture – stewardship, workmanship, apostleship … but discipleSHIP isn’t one of them)

    Why didn’t Paul use the word? Why didn’t John use the word? Why didn’t Peter use the word? Surely James would use the word – but sorry.

    Even the word used in Matt 28:19 (go and make disciples) – is used in Acts 14:21 as having been a done deal when they went out on one trip. The implication is – if someone believes – then they are a disciple.

    Instead – we’ve turned it into something much more. We’ve kind of turned it into a ‘you have to measure up’ and ‘you have to be accountable’ thing. I’m not seeing that in scripture. Sorry :(

  6. 1-24-2013

    Joe,

    Thank YOU for sharing the list with us. I enjoyed thinking through the things in the list.

    Jerry,

    In English, the postfix “-ship” simply makes a noun abstract. In this case, then “disicpleship” would refer to the act of discipling or the state of being a disciple.

    You said, “we’ve turned it into something much more. We’ve kind of turned it into a ‘you have to measure up’ and ‘you have to be accountable’ thing.” I’m sorry if I wasn’t completely clear in this post, but that is not the way that I use the words “disciple” or “discipling.” A disciple of Jesus Christ is someone who follows Jesus. Thus, “making disciples” or “discipling” is simply helping someone else follow Jesus.

    -Alan

  7. 1-25-2013

    Fortunately, Jesus specifically told us what it means to follow Him and be His disciple. Jesus said we must deny ourselves, give up everything, love one another, carry our own cross daily, lose our soul-life, and be persecuted for His sake (Matthew 10:38, 16:24; Mark 8:34-35; Luke 9:23-24; John 13:35; 15:20). He also said if we do not practice these things, we cannot be His disciple (Luke 14:27 & 33).

  8. 1-25-2013

    “Seventh, Christian leaders have not provided a clearly defined biblical path to maturity and left to their own devices and definitions, God’s people have exhibited a manifest failure to grow.”
    “In fact, I think that an over-reliance on leaders (or actually a reliance on ANYONE else) to make disciples is the biggest obstacle toward disicpleship.”
    As I read down the list it seemed, as one of the comments suggested, discipleship is made the responsibility of others, when it ought to be a combination of curiosity and the Holy Spirit. Being a follower of Jesus Christ is what a Christian is all through life…and that is the key…Jesus Christ–not leaders or book-writers, or conference speakers, or anyone else who is allegedly ‘mature’…whatever that is.
    John 10:2-5(NET) The one who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. The doorkeeper opens the door for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought all his own sheep out, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they recognize his voice. They will never follow a stranger, but will run away from him, because they do not recognize the stranger’s voice.”

  9. 1-25-2013

    Thanks Alan, I can fully concur with your simple definition of ‘discipleship’ – and Peter Newman’s not so simple definition too. Sometimes understanding is difficult because of our preconceived ideas of what a word means and I may have inferred things that were not there – so point #10 might be to undo everything we’ve learned in the last 30 years.

    I have to kind of get real picky about definitions – and may be accused of quabbling over words.

    So is ‘making a baby’ a years’ long process of encouraging someone to be born?

    My definition of a disciple 10 years ago would have been exactly Peter Newman’s definition. That was before I started hanging out with a bunch of evangelists.

    My definition now would more be Acts 14:21 my paraphrase – “we went there – evangelized the town – made a bunch of disciples and came home.”

    To me ‘making a disciple’ is much more a function of evangelism – and is accomplished thru a simple act of sharing Jesus with someone. If they receive Christ – you’ve ‘made a disciple’ – thus fulfilling the great commission – GO -and MAKE DISCIPLES. Jesus didn’t say – STAY (in the Ekklesia) and make disciples (everyone in the Ekklesia is already a disciple by definition). If you try to define making a disciple outside of the word ‘GO’, then you really take Matt 28:17 out of context. My evangelist friends call this ‘the great OMMISSION’ (leaving the word ‘GO’ out of the command to ‘make disciples’)

    Once the baby is born – now you’ve got your hands full – and that’s for sure. The process of getting that kid from diapers to becoming a responsible adult (or in the spiritual, a mature follower of Christ) – most of the time – in the natural – we’d never call that ‘discipleship’ – we call that ‘parenting’. There is no ‘parentship’ – (I can accept that “ship” is abstract. In computer programming – an abstract class is one that defines what something is suppose to look like and behave – but itself never gets implemented. That is how I categorize “discipleship” – only it is way more ambiguous than a C# abstract class).

    Maturity in the scripture is not measured with words like ‘proselyte’, ‘protégé’, ‘pupil’, ‘disciple’, ‘mentor’. Maturity in the scripture is measured with words like ‘infant’, ‘child’, ‘son’, ‘father’. These words not only infer relationship – but infer process (how to).

    Why didn’t Paul, John, Peter, or James ever even use the word ‘disciple’ in any of the letters they wrote? They didn’t use the words proselyte, protégé, pupil, or mentor either. None of those words fit into what they were doing. Those words do not belong in any New Testament letter.

    To be fair to you and Peter Newman here – and where the quabbling ends! A ‘broad’ definition of ‘disciple’ (deny ourselves, give up everything, love one another, carry our own cross daily, lose our soul-life, and be persecuted for His sake – or simply a follower of Jesus) only becomes practical in the context of interacting with infants, children, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands, and wives (people you are in close relationship with). In other words – I can accept what you call discipleship (a word that makes me cringe) – if it’s in the context of living in a family of believers, seeking to live your life together in the Lord.

  10. 1-25-2013

    Peter,

    I agree that’s a great definition of what it means to live as a disciple of Jesus. The question of what it means to “make disciples” still remains. For me, it includes both the initial gospel proclamation as well as helping others “deny ourselves, give up everything, love one another, carry our own cross daily, lose our soul-life, and be persecuted for His sake,” etc.

    Tom,

    You said, “[D]iscipleship is made the responsibility of others, when it ought to be a combination of curiosity and the Holy Spirit.” Didn’t Jesus make disciples “the responsibility of others” when he told his followers to “make disciples”?

    Jerry,

    Chronologically, Luke (in Acts) and perhaps some of the other Gospel writers used the term “disciple” AFTER Paul, Peter, and others wrote. The term didn’t disappear.

    I agree that a disciple is “made” when the person first begins following Jesus, even when that person is not mature. However, Jesus included the maturing process in his command to “make disciples” when he said it included “teaching them to obey all that I commanded you.” That part cannot be a one time occurrence, and yet Jesus included it in the context of “make disciples.”

    Also, I 100% agree that discipleship (from a scriptural perspective) is “in the context of living in a family of believers, seeking to live your life together in the Lord.”

    -Alan

  11. 1-27-2013

    Ok Alan I can accept some of that. Once we lead someone to Christ, we’ve made a disciple – thus obeying the commandment. Now there is a ‘disciple’, but not ‘my’ disciple – a disciple of Christ. We can ‘teach’ (totally different word – that does carry on throughout the N.T.) that disciple – but only Jesus is the ‘discipler’ doing the ‘discipling’. The word ‘disciple’ infers a ‘discipler discipling a disciple’. The disciple does need to follow someone – but that someone is Jesus. Paul actually freaked out about this subject too (1 Cor 1:10-13)

    The ‘danger’ (Acts 20:30) – comes when we get the idea that it’s our responsiblity to ‘disciple’ someone else. We can teach them everything we know but that is not quite the same. If we become the ‘discipler’, we effectively usurp the ‘head’. These are ‘His disciples’ not ours. We were suppose to lead them “to Christ” – not “to ourselves”. Church movements are chock-full of this error. So much so – that most Christians (wrongly) believe that the leader is the disciple of Christ – and they are disciples of the leader. The Charismatics call this ‘a son of the house’. Once you believe this lie – you lose connection with the head (Col 2:19) – and do not mature. In this – I agree with most of your post.

    Timothy was not Paul’s disciple (as many have stated). Paul referred to Timothy as “my dear son” (2 Ti 1:2). Paul appeals to Philemon about his “son” Onesimus. But Timothy was a ‘disciple of Jesus’ – same as Paul.

    Now, again, to be fair to you – not once did you say or even imply that a ‘disciple’ was anything except someone following Jesus and I don’t mean to infer that you did.

    But I still hold to the idea that the word ‘disciple’ does not belong in this movement any more than it belonged in any of Paul’s letters. That word when separated from Jesus (‘disciple’ vs ‘disciple of Jesus’) is a real showstopper.

    So all of that to say this: Point #10 – the terminology ‘disciple’ itself can be misunderstood and can be very misleading. It infers that you are following a leader.

  12. 1-27-2013

    Jerry,

    I agree that our goal is to help people follow Jesus, not us. However, while teaching ultimately comes from God, we still have a responsibility in teaching others. Similarly, as I mentioned before, Jesus included teaching under the heading of “make disciples” in Matthew 28:19-20, along with “going” and “baptizing.”

    -Alan