Is it possible our discipleship programs are actually preventing discipleship from happening?
Church used to be all about the invite.
Everyone went to church whether they wanted to or not. It was a cultural expectation. All you had to do was invite someone, and there was a very good chance if your church had the right denominational sign on the building that whoever you invited would show up and get connected to the church. The invite worked … and then it didn’t.
Church used to be all about invest and invite.
Going to church was no longer a cultural expectation. We still had relationships from our workplace, neighborhood, social circles and families though. We learned that outreach was highly relational. We were challenged to invest and invite. If we invested in a relationship, eventually there would be enough trust established to invite our friend to church. At that point, the church would take over. All we had to do was get them to church where our friends would hear the gospel message, get plugged into a small group and start serving. The invest and invite strategy worked … and then it didn’t.
The problem with the invest and invite strategy is that we expect “the church” to be responsible for discipleship. We, of course, forget that we are the church. And, I think we forget that when Jesus said “go and make disciples of all the nations,” this wasn’t direction for an institution—this was intended to be the mission for every Christ-follower. That’s you and me.
For too long, we’ve abdicated our responsibility for discipleship.
We’ve assumed that’s something the church is supposed to do. Unfortunately, when that happens, it creates several challenges.
• Disciples aren’t involved in discipleship.
• Discipleship is relegated to the pulpit and the classroom rather than everyday life.
• We eventually become dissatisfied with church programs because they aren’t producing disciples … forgetting that discipleship was never intended to be a church program.
• The hyper-spiritual people get frustrated that the church programs are not “deep enough” and they start searching for another church where they can be “discipled.”
One of my favorite verses in Scripture comes from something Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica. He shared:
“We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too.”
That’s a great reminder (and challenge) for me. Discipleship is not just hearing the gospel message. It’s not just about gaining knowledge. It’s also about applying that knowledge to everyday life. Because of that, discipleship can’t happen apart from sharing life. That’s why church programs and preaching will never make disciples. Both may be part of the discipleship process, but, if the church is completely responsible for the discipleship process, we’re doomed to fail.
I think we need new language. Maybe we can start with this. We can encourage people to invest and invite … and invest. We need to help disciples make disciples. It can’t be programmed. Think about your own experiences. You studied the Bible. You engaged personal disciplines. You probably had someone in your life to encourage and challenge you in your faith journey. I did. There were different guys along the way—Charlie, Larry, Lee, Chris, Matt and Tim, to name several. These guys didn’t assume it was the church’s responsibility to help me take my next steps toward Christ. They invested in me.
Rather than promoting church programs to help people take their next steps, what would happen if we challenge people to just invest in their friends. What if we gave them the tools to understand basic doctrine and spiritual disciplines and then encouraged them to share those tools with their friends? What if we gave people tools to continue the conversation and the study beyond the Sunday message and encouraged them to do that with their friends?
Is it possible that the church programs that we designed to be our discipleship process are actually preventing discipleship from happening in our churches? What would happen if we encourage people to invest and invite … and invest? Join the conversation by sharing your comment.