I have been wondering what discipleship can look like in our churches today. Discipleship at is core is following in the footsteps of Jesus through obeying His teachings. This is not a simple, one-time task but a lifetime journey. It requires our full submission and complete attention everyday. Since it is a journey, we take one step at a time. We have constant decisions to make along this journey. As pastors, how do we help people begin this journey and make progress along the path of righteousness? Of all aspects of ministry, this is the most important thing pastors do. Everything else is a sub-category or contribution to the crucial job of helping people be followers of Jesus. Sometimes we can lose sight of this when we have a lot of administration to do. How often do we ask ourselves when we are doing various tasks of ministry, How does this activity contribute to helping people become disciples?

Discipleship is an unending task. It will change as the situations of people’s lives change. With many cultural shifts, we must also rethink what discipleship means. I grew up as a teenager in a period of time in the Church of the Nazarene when discipleship was a key theme for many youth activities. I remember studying and using different books that impacted me significantly, such as Discipleship Journal and Leadership Multiplication Manual. These books were attempts to programize discipleship so that youth could comprehend what it means to be a follower of Jesus. These were helpful to me and I wish they were still in print. But we live in a new day, 35 years later. As pastors, we must rethink discipleship for the people whom we lead. Here are a few quick ideas just to get my mind going down this road:

  1. Discipleship is linked to being church. This will require us to rethink the church. For many people, “church” has become the activity done on Sunday mornings, generally 11 am to noon. It is involves singing (or listening, in some cases) to music, a few announcements, possibly a reading of Scripture, and a 30 minute sermon. It has almost become something to endure in order to say that we are Christian and holy and on our way to heaven. This old model may help people on the road to discipleship, but it is limited in its impact. A lot will depend on the depth and breadth of the sermon. Small groups are a help towards forming community and helping with discipleship. But we must go deeper even than these. Discipleship will be dependent upon two factors: how much time and devotion we put individually towards our relationship with God, and how much time and fellowship we spend with other believers. 
  2. Discipleship must start in the home. By “home” I mean where we abide and spend our free time for rest, nourishment, and entertainment. For most of us, this will be our house. At home, we must nurture ourselves through prayer and Bible reading. The primary reason I do my daily and weekly blogs is to discipline myself to stay in the Bible. Otherwise, I will become lazy in my busyness and neglect reading the Bible except for the teaching, preaching, or writing assignments I do. And then, if we have others who live with us, primarily our spouse and children, it is crucial that we grow together in the Lord. Discipleship can take many forms with family, including prayer times, life modeling through everyday activities, and special outings. It requires an awareness that we are serving the Lord with heart, soul, mind, and strength in model of Deuteronomy 6:4-9.
  3. Discipleship grows through community. The most effective way for this to happen is to be part of a church. This does not necessarily mean attending a public worship service on Sunday morning. This is where Christians need to rethink things. “Church” can happen anytime and anywhere. The basic concept of being church is implied in Acts 2:42. It is gathering with other believers at a designed time and place to worship and grow together through prayer, fellowship, studying of the Bible, and mutual care for one another. “Church” can happen in a coffee shop, a “church” facility, a home, under a tree, in a school or anywhere. One of our problems is that we have so programized the church that we have lost the essence of it. We have made the church into a place or event, when it is really a group of gathered people. Traditional “worship” (what many people think of as the Sunday morning service) is an aspect of discipleship but limits accountability and response.

Deep, life-changing discipleship begins with our individual choice to submit to Jesus and follow His teachings. This is developed further when we enter into fellowship with others: our family or other believers. We will need to rethink and reimagine how to do this in modern cultures. The need and the core aspects of discipleship have not changed.

For more pastoral reflections, click here.