Let’s Break the Cycle of Non-Discipleship in the Church

Many years ago, my husband and I planted a church, and the beginning stages were really exciting. It was a time of passionate vision, excitement about possibilities and anticipation about what God would do through our community.

Dallas Willard’s quote about the church and discipleship stirred in our hearts: “We must be disciples, we must intend to make disciples, and we must know how to bring people to believe that Jesus really is the one.

How can I give away something I’ve never received?

As the first few months went on, despite the books, conferences, and podcasts on discipleship we were consuming, we quickly became aware that we had no idea what we were doing.

I was left asking myself, How am I suppose to make disciples when I’ve never been directly discipled by anyone?”

I was struck that no one had ever intentionally come alongside me to disciple me—to show me the way.

And then I found out I wasn’t alone.

In fact, Dallas Willard also said, “Non-discipleship is the elephant in the church.”

This was the reality I was bumping up against. Despite the fact that Jesus’ last words to us were to make disciples, most of us have not experienced an intentional discipling relationship. We have not had someone who has walked alongside us to help us be with Jesus, to learn from him on how to be like him.

After wallowing in self-pity for awhile about this (something I’m frequently tempted to do!), I resolved that the cycle of non-discipleship would not continue through me.

Finding a discipling relationship

Shortly after I made my resolution, a friend invited me to be part of a discipleship group she was starting. Looking back, I grew more in that year of intentional discipleship than I ever had before.

After that season, I began to intentionally disciple others. And I’d love to say that it led to a season of fabulous breakthrough, church growth and amazing change in our lives. But it was more a mixture: of struggle, breakthrough, wrestling, growth, trial, and error.

As I’ve stumbled forward, I’ve learned a few things in my journey to become a disciple and to disciple others. Here are 4 ways you can help interrupt the cycle of non-discipleship through your life:

1. Look for God in the ordinary and help others do the same

God is always present and at work. He uses the everyday situations of life to grow us more and more into the image of Jesus. And he invites us to participate with him in this work.

Discipleship is more about paying attention to what God is doing in our lives and the lives of others than about checking things off the “list of things to know about God.”

Today, ask yourself and those you are discipling these simple questions:

  • Where are the high points of our lives? Where are the low points?
  • Where is God present and at work in these places?

These concrete realities in our lives are the places where God is seeking to meet us.

2. Find small ways to walk with others

Discipleship never happens individually. It’s always in the context of community. We need to be with each other for discipleship to happen. We invite others into our lives and we are present in theirs. We say, “Come walk with me. Let’s do this together.”

The old African proverb expresses this beautifully, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Today, where can you be intentional in helping your path cross with those you’re discipling? Eating together? Texting to ask how someone’s day is going? How can you connect this week?

3. Lead in weakness, not strength or perfection

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably thinking, “I don’t have everything figured out. Honestly, I’m kind of a mess over here! So, how in the world can I disciple others?”

The good news is that we don’t have to be a perfect example, just a living one. Actually, leading from a place of “I have all the answers and everything figured out” is a recipe for disaster.

Jesus is the only perfect example; so we look to him and follow. His promise to us is that in our weakness, he is strong (2 Cor. 12:9). His power is made perfect in our weakness. So being weak is the only pre-requisite!

Today, how can you release the pressure to be perfect and have it all together? What ways can you lead in the midst of your weakness? 

4. Lean into vulnerability

Being vulnerable is essential in discipleship. And not just for the person we’re discipling, but for us as well! Our vulnerability gives permission to others to be vulnerable. It sets the stage, opens the door and helps people know the call isn’t to perfection.

Shame wants us to hide our imperfections because it says it’s the only way we’ll truly be loved, wanted, valued and accepted. Being vulnerable paves the way for others to be honest about their struggles. This is the place where God’s power meets us in mighty ways, bringing connection, healing, and freedom.

Today, what can you share about your life that would help pave the way for vulnerability?

No previous experience necessary

Now that we are in the midst of planting another church, I’m still figuring out what it looks like for me to disciple others with my personality, stage of life and gifting in mind. I’m learning that discipleship is not a cookie-cutter process that we can just tell others to copy exactly for immediate, instant results.

At the very end of the gospels, Jesus leaves us with a call and a promise. The invitation is to discipleship. The promise is that He will be with us to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20).

He invites each one of us to follow him, and this involves being a disciple and making disciples. He will equip us for this call, even if we’ve never been directly discipled ourselves. I’m thankful today that He promised to never leave us on this journey of discipleship!

P.S. If you’re wanting to be equipped to lead and make disciples in this way, check out Gravity Leadership Academy, our 10-month online training intensive for leaders who want to shift toward a culture of discipleship, mission, and transformation.

This work by Gravity Commons is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

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  1. David Hundert on September 16, 2019 at 8:37 am

    This was a great article. It’s very encouraging. However, the issues that I’m facing is in finding someone, anyone, that is interested in seriously getting together to do this! When I talk to other believers about getting together and digging into the Word of God with intentionality, to see where the Lord would lead us, I get a whole bunch of non-commital and even more excuses. I even taught a class on discipleship at church for a month and one of the comments made was “Gee, I didn’t know we’d have homework…”

  2. Ben Sternke on September 16, 2019 at 8:57 am

    Yes, David, that’s hard when others don’t share your enthusiasm for discipleship! I’ve experienced this same frustration. I think it requires discernment: knowing if these are people of peace for you, and it sometimes requires going back to “basics,” i.e. preaching the gospel of the kingdom consistently and winsomely, and watching for who responds (rather than trying to get people excited about discipleship).

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