Last week, I was asked to be a part of the very first “Discipleship Committee” for our denomination, The Evangelical Church. This committee was created out of a desire for discipleship to inform and influence everything the denomination sets forth to do. In other words, Evangelical Church leaders realized that discipleship should guide everything from missions, to Sunday school, to men’s breakfasts.
The newfound emphasis on discipleship didn’t surprise me too much, in part because it has become the hot topic in many churches today. It’s been made popular by well-known speakers such as David Platt, Francis Chan and Ed Stetzer. The “fad of discipleship” seems to produce new books by the hundreds and new 15 day, 30 day, and 40 day programs to becoming a committed disciple of Jesus Christ.
This intense church-wide interest in discipleship was aided a few years ago, when mega-church pastor, Bill Hybels, apologized for failing to produce disciples in his own church. He said,
We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self-feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.
And yet, with all of the attention, books and programs on discipleship I was surprised to hear what some of the other pastors across the table said during our meeting. They shared that (similar to Bill Hybels), although their churches were growing, although they had thriving youth, bible study and outreach ministries, the people in their congregations weren’t growing in Christ. In other words, they had plenty of converts, but very few disciples.
And even more surprising was that almost no one knew the solution to their disciple-making problems (that’s a little overstated of course, but you get my point)! Thankfully though, after hours of thoughtful discussion and prayer, our committee came to some important agreements that will hopefully help our denomination proceed in the right direction.
- We determined that elaborate church programs do not ensure discipleship. Prayer meetings, bible studies, Friday night youth group, and a hip “Connections Pastor” are not indicators of whether discipleship is actually happening in your church.
- We believe that it’s important for each church to have an idea of what a mature disciple actually looks like. One church in our denomination has a 30 page booklet which describes the character traits and standards that should be present in a mature disciple. This is essentially a measurement tool which helps this church to evaluate their congregants “growth in Christ.”
- We believe that it’s important to evaluate all church programs and activities through the “lens of discipleship.” The above mentioned church takes their booklet and examines every activity from Bible studies to “pot- lucks” to see if a particular program is helping people become disciples. If they determine that it’s not, they either get rid of the program entirely or modify it to ensure that it does.
- We encourage the evaluation process to be formal and not haphazard. This church developed a chart in which they compare every program with the five elements that they have determined are essential to discipleship. This is not a quick process and it’s not necessarily a fun brainstorming session either. They go through this chart every year with the staff and leaders of their church.
Overall, I love the newfound emphasis on discipleship, but I’m more impressed with the four points that our discipleship committee deemed important. The fad of discipleship will likely fade into obscurity, but a true commitment to discipleship will continue to build disciples until the Lord returns.