The End of Discipleship as We Know It

America is a mission field, and one of the church’s greatest needs is to develop missionaries who know how to engage the lost in their domestic context. While you can mentor head and heart issues from across the table, from behind the pulpit or in a classroom, you cannot mentor missional life and leadership that way.

Missionaries don’t grow on trees, nor do they suddenly emerge after enough sermons have been preached to them. True missionaries, with the right spirit and practices, are born in the trenches, alongside leaders who invite them into a lifestyle those leaders have been living. Discipleship must be replaced with apprenticeship and teaching must be replaced with modeling mentorship.

How did Jesus teach his disciples to love sinners? He took them to dinner with Levi and a room full of tax collectors.

How did Jesus teach faith? He huddled his disciples around a few loaves of bread and fish and had them take, give and come back for more until thousands were fed.

How did he teach ministry driven by the Spirit instead of the Law? The Twelve were with him when he knelt down beside the woman who had been caught in adultery. How did he teach caring for the poor and spiritually abused? He had them watch as he cleared the temple of religious abusers.

More learning is caught than taught, and while cognitive learning can be passed on through seminary, Bible college, classroom and pulpit time, street-level missionary development only happens in real time, with real people and real leaders who are presently living what they hope to pass on to future leaders.

Apprenticeship Won’t Happen in Church

From my experience, the best leadership development happens in a missional community. A missional community is a group of friends who intentionally band together around a certain mission, who live in close proximity and who rhythm their lives together around kingdom life. Why are missional communities important? They tend to be much more evangelistic than normal small groups, but even more significantly, they are natural apprenticeship environments where almost every missionary skill is tested and tried.

When a group of friends commit to go on mission together, they have to grow in their ability to engage lost people well; to serve; to love unlovable people; to make their home the center of missional hospitality; to move from the dinner table to an appropriate conversation around God and Scripture; to realign and reorganize their weekly schedules to allow for spontaneous time with people; to disciple friends who are moving closer to Jesus; to shepherd, teach, correct, confront and forgive; and to balance marriage and children, secular jobs and sacred callings. In short, missional communities are the substructure through which God grows missionary people and the church.

In whatever capacity and role you have as a leader, consider these two adjustments to how you spend your time. First, find an extra 10 hours a week during which you can lead a missional community. After doing this for 25 years, I’ve learned that this way of life requires focused effort and time in the neighborhood. Second, invite a handful of would-be missionaries into the process with you. Every minute you spend on mission with friends, you are truly mentoring, discipling and apprenticing kingdom missionaries.

Don’t wait! This is a better way to live. It’s a better use of your time. It’s what Jesus meant when he said, “Go make disciples.”

Hugh Halter is the U.S. director of Forge America, an apprenticing community committed to training men and women to live as missionaries where they already are. He is the author of a number of books, most recently Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth and Brimstone: The Art and Act of Holy Nonjudgment. For more information:

Hugh Halter
Hugh Halter

Hugh Halter is founder of Post Commons and Lantern Network, former U.S. director of Forge America, and on faculty at Northern Seminary. He is the author of a number of books, most recently Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth and Brimstone: The Art and Act of Holy Nonjudgment.