I must admit it. Looking back at the years I was a pastor in the late seventies and eighties, I did little in the area of true discipleship. In those days most of us felt that discipleship centered on simply getting our church members knowledgeable about the Bible. Programs such as Sunday school were centered on helping people understand the Bible.
Discipleship today needs a whole different approach. Perhaps it can best be defined as:
Discipleship: Helping someone else learn how to follow Christ and apply His teachings in their everyday lives.
There isn't anything wrong with meticulous Bible study, but it isn't really what discipleship is all about. Discipleship is helping someone learn how to follow Christ and apply his teachings in their everyday life. Christ's message was about loving God and loving others. Most of the time during his ministry, he taught and lived a non-judgmental, forgiving, loving lifestyle.
When we center our "discipleship" on just knowledge of the Bible we need to heed what we're told in 1 Corinthians 13:2 – "If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing." If we're the best expert on the Bible--but do not love others--we’ve missed the big picture of disciple-making.
Perhaps we need to reform our discipleship methods to include:
Mentoring – Discipleship is done best when it's one-on-one. I know of some churches that emphasize this method but most seem to miss the boat. Mentoring is the opportunity to come alongside someone to explore God and develop a relationship with Jesus. The goal is not greater knowledge of what the Bible has to say, but how the Bible is real to our lives.
Application - While knowledge of the Bible is valuable and important, it's the application that helps us with spiritual transformation. I'm always a bit dismayed when I see a leader who can quote a different scripture every minute, but fails to help others understand how to save their marriage, deal with stress and depression, or face other life issues.
Relationship – Belonging comes before believing. Discipleship happens best when it's connected to a relationship with a Christ-follower. Discipleship with a relational approach helps us live Christ in the presence of each other. When we eat, drink, walk, talk, and fellowship together, we have the opportunity to apply the teachings of Christ to everyday life.
What needs to be reformed in your church to be more effective at disciple-making?