Specialist Discipleship

Part III of our series on Preparation

We kicked off this series on Monday talking a bit about discipleship and how Christian teachers are primarily servants before addressing the “hot mess discipleship” method of a lot of churches.

Today, we’re going to take a look at another major misunderstanding of discipleship in the church today: the idea that discipleship is about finding your calling and filling your own little niche.

Or, in other words,  that discipleship is about becoming a specialist.

A common misunderstanding in the church today is that in the body everyone is broken out into different specialties; so one Christian does one kind of ministry, another Christian does another kind of ministry, another Christian does another kind of ministry.

Too often that’s the church’s way of thinking these days, but it is wrong.

This misunderstanding often comes from a wrong reading of 1 Corinthians 12 beginning at verse 12.  Here, Paul talks about the Body of Christ as being composed of many parts. He says that in the body of Christ there is a foot, there is an ear, there is an eye, etc.  Some Christians say, “Well then I will be the foot and we will make you the ear and we will make you the eye.” But this is faulty thinking.

That’s why Ephesians 4:13 says that all Christians that are called to grow to full maturity in Christ.  St. John Chrysostom’s rhetorical question serves us well in this regard, “If another man prays, does it follow that you are not bound to pray?” Neither, then, does it follow that if another man does good, opens his home, proclaims the gospel, etc., we are no longer bound to the same.

A specialist knows how to do one kind of ministry and really wants to be left to do that one ministry. 

They might say, for example, “I am the drummer in the band. My ministry is to focus on drumming.” Or sometimes you’ll hear, “My ministry is preparing the meal after the service.  That’s my ministry.”

This is very common in the church today, but it is not biblical because Christ is not a specialist. Christ is a generalist and he trains his disciples to be generalists, too.

Jesus had 12 disciples, but guess what he never did?

He never divided them up into specialties. He does not say, “Andrew, you will cook the meal and John will do the evangelism and Peter will do the healing.” He trains them all to do evangelism and healing and each of the other works of mercy. And the reason why he trains them this way is so that each of them can serve as a picture or an image of Him.

Today, in science, we understand that the cells from any part of the body possess what is necessary to reproduce the whole body; from the cells of the ear we can reproduce the whole person.  So if we say that one Christian is only trained to be an eye and all they know is how to be an eye, that’s not biblical. Because even if I am serving in the church as an eye I need to know also how to be a foot or a hand or an eye depending on the needs of the body.

What negative results have you seen “specialist discipleship” produce in the Church?  What positive results have you seen?

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is the former International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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