How The Church Today is Getting Discipleship Wrong

One of the ways you know you’re making progress is that you stop having the same discussion over and over again.

If you’re discussing the same issues on your team or at home year after year, you’re probably stuck.

When it comes to much of the discussion around discipleship, I believe we’re getting it wrong in the church.

We’re stuck.

What if the popular understanding of discipleship is producing some of the ill health and even stagnation and decline we see all around us in the church?

And what if you could do something about it by rethinking what you mean by discipleship?

Different Day, Same Conversation

From my earliest days in ministry, I’ve had a conversation about discipleship that repeats itself again and again.

It goes like something like this:

Me: People need to reach out more and focus more of their time, energy and resources on evangelism.

Other person(s): That’s a great idea but what we really need to focus on is discipleship. There’s such an immaturity in Christians today that we need to focus on growing the ones we have first. And besides, evangelical churches are known for producing shallow, immature Christians.

Pretty compelling logic.

Unless, of course, it’s wrong.

 

Flabby Christians

I agree that often Christians in the West are immature. I agree our walk doesn’t always match our talk.

But I also think the average North American Christian is about 3000 bible verses overweight.

The way many leaders approach maturity is to assume that knowledge produces maturity. Since when?

It’s wonderful that people understand what they believe, but knowledge in and of itself is not a hallmark of Christian maturity. As Paul says, knowledge puffs up. Love, by contrast, builds up. And some of the most biblically literate people in Jesus day got by-passed as disciples.

The goal is not to know, but to do something with what you know.  I wrote more on why our definition of Christian maturity needs to change here.

 

7 Truths About Authentic Discipleship

Here are seven things I believe are true about biblical discipleship church leaders today should reclaim:

 

1.  Jesus commanded us to make disciples, not be disciples.

The way many Christian talk, you’d think Jesus told us to be disciples. He commanded us to make disciples. The great commission is, at it’s heart, an outward movement.

Could it be that in the act of making disciples, we actually become more of who Christ designed us to be? It was in the act of sharing faith that thousands of early Christians were transformed into new creations.

I know personally I grow most and learn most when I am helping others. It gives me a place to apply what I’m learning and to take the focus off myself and place it on Christ and others, where it belongs.

 

2. Discipleship is simply linked to evangelism.

The thrust of all first century discipleship was to share Christ with the world he loves and died for (yes, Jesus really does love the world).

You can’t be a disciple without being an evangelist.

And for sure, the opposite is true. You can’t be an an evangelist without being a disciple. But somehow many many people would rather be disciples without being evangelists.

 

3. A mark of an authentic disciple includes getting it wrong.

A common criticism of churches that draw in large numbers of outsiders and newer believers is that these new followers of Christ get it wrong as often as they get it right. They might not realize that reincarnation isn’t biblical or struggle to understand the faith they’re stepping into.

What if that’s a sign that their discipleship is authentic?

After all, Peter didn’t get it right most of the time when he was around Jesus. Many leaders in the early church needed correction. And even Paul would later confront Peter about his unwillingness to eat with Gentiles.  And yet Christ chose to build the early church on Peter and Paul. Imagine that.

 

4. A morally messy church is…inevitable

One stinging criticism of churches that are reaching people is that many of their attenders don’t bear much resemblance to Jesus.

These new, immature Christians can be

swayed by powerful personalities

still be sexually active outside of marriage

have questionable business practices

end up in broken families

be too swayed by the culture

not know how to conduct themselves in worship

doubt core doctrines like the resurrection

If these issues remind you of why you so dislike growing churches or megachurches, just realize that I pulled every one of those problems out of 1 Corinthians. The church in Corinth struggled with every problem listed above and (I think) every problem growing churches today struggle with.

And last time I checked the church in Corinth was an authentic church Christ loved.

The fact that you have these problems may actually be a sign you’re making progress with the unchurched. You don’t want to leave them there, but when people really start engaging with Christ, tidy categories are hard to come by.

In fact the most morally ‘pure’ people of the first century (the Pharisees) were the very ones Jesus most often condemned. Go figure.

 

5. Maturity takes time and is not linear

It would be great if there was instant maturity in faith and in life. But it never works that way.

You can’t expect a 3 year old to have the maturity of a 13 year old, or expect a 23 year old to have the maturity of a 43 year old. When you place expectations on people that they are just not able to bear, you crush or confuse them.

And yet we do that in the church all the time. People grow and mature over time. And our progress isn’t always as linear as a 101, 201, 301 progression would make it. In fact, I know some 23 year olds who are more mature than some 43 year olds.

Expose new Christians to the love of God and community, to great teaching, great relationships, and solid accountability and over time, many will grow into very different people than they were when they first came to Christ. They may grow at different rates and in different measures, but I believe Jesus talked about that. Just don’t judge them after a few months or even a few years.

 

6. Christian maturity was never about you anyway.

Christian maturity has never been about you anyway. It is certainly not about how awesome you are compared to others, how smart you are, how righteous you are, or how holy you are.

It is about Jesus. And it is about others.

It was never about you anyway.

 

7.  Love compels us

If you love the world, how can you ignore it? Jesus said the authentic mark of his followers is love. He defined the primary relationship between God and humanity as one of love. The truth he ushered in is inseparable from love.

The primary motivation for evangelism and discipleship is the same; it is love. That should characterize both the discussion about evangelism and discipleship and also the way we go about both.

This isn’t an exhaustive treatment of discipleship and evangelism, but in the time it takes to sip a coffee I hope it helps some way advance the conversation about evangelism and discipleship in your church.
And if we advanced our understanding of discipleship in the church, maybe the church and our culture would be transformed.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

100 Comments

  1. Lonzy Gore on November 28, 2018 at 7:49 am

    Im a believer in Christ. I have no doubt. My struggle is true discipleship. Jesus said in luke 14:23 “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.
    And then in Luke 14:33 So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. My question is there even one today doing this? We can believe but are we truely obeying? I do my best to love everyone. I Encourage those around me to change there view when upset, angry, stressed, anything negative, in attempt to see theres more to all things. Not to let emotions lead but love, patiences and discipline mature us. Influence good or bad outside of Jesus teachings drawn us away from discipleship. This leads to even more questions and truths. Biggest question is where do each of us stand personally?

    • Jesse Powell on December 4, 2018 at 6:47 am

      I don’t believe Jesus was saying you have to give those things up or hate your family. God designed the family. Go back to Genesis 29 where Leah and Rachel is wrote about. Jacob loved Leah and he loved Rachel, but Jacob loved Rachel more. So, then in verse 31 where the Bible says “And when the LORD saw that Leah was hated,…” not that Jacob hated Leah. He loved Rachel so much more that if you could place the two loves side by side the love he had for Rachel was so great; that when compared to the love of Leah it looks like hatred. Jesus in the New Testament is saying your love for Him should be so much more that when set beside anything else the love for Christ should be so great that it looks like hatred.

      Our problem in the church I believe is we are over correcting our discipleship towards the church members. We have failed at discipleship and now we are over correcting. We end up preaching and teaching a works base approach to God. We first and foremost need to realize the Biblical Love of Christ towards man and if we start to see how far God had reached down to us. Our response should be then to serve Him. I also believe though we can’t be wrong as written about above. For Paul write to the Galation Church and was marveled how soon they were removed from the truth of the gospel that he taught them. Wrong teaching doesn’t take long to spread through out the church.

  2. Nicholas on October 28, 2018 at 8:12 am

    Please pray with us that God will provide us with all the resources required to build our planned international christian school(Camp David Green Academy) in Kenya.

    Waiting upon the Lord.

    In His service,

    Nicholas

    • Ray on November 28, 2018 at 9:00 am

      Nicholas,

      I am sorry that I did not see your post earlier. I wanted to see how things are progressing with your school, and find out more that I might possibly be of help. Thank you, and God Bless.

      Ray

  3. Timothy Fountain on July 23, 2018 at 6:37 am

    I’m in a mainline church trying to revitalize and your point #4 (Corinth) is very convicting and helpful. It is easy to lament all of the problems and miss the reality that Christ loves the church.

  4. Steve on June 14, 2018 at 11:39 am

    Carey
    I don’t know how to contact you but I am very interested in obtaining some material regarding a discipleship curriculum, training, and any information given to a new believer. Where can I go for that?

  5. Matthew Starrs on May 30, 2018 at 6:07 am

    This is so good Carey! Super amazing good! Thank you!

  6. SouthernBelle on April 21, 2018 at 7:18 pm

    “The way many leaders approach maturity is to assume that knowledge produces maturity. Since when?”

    Are you kidding? Did you miss Ephesians 3:19 – “And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.”

    There’s so many other problems with thus article of yours, it would take me quite awhile to cover them all.

    • Steve on June 14, 2018 at 11:29 am

      In my discipleship world we “study to know; to do; to become.” Unfortunately, it seems in most discipleship worlds it just “Study to know.” Transformation takes place when we “do” the word of God.

      I think that is the thrust of this article

      • Joel Turner on September 13, 2018 at 5:29 pm

        not only that but the goal is transformation not information, that I believe is what he is going for in his article.

    • lbrainbeck on July 11, 2018 at 5:33 am

      FYI. As someone who has become disillusioned with the church recently and stopped attending services because of all the “Christian hate,” I read this article that had been sent by my church and thought….hmmmm…this resonates with me. Maybe I’ll start going back to church. And, then, it only took me to the second comment to have that negativity hit me and the full force of my disillusionment come back full force.

      Although I realize this comes from my own immaturity, I wonder when “Christians” will start truly showing the love of Jesus–from lifting up the marginalized to responding with such love in online forums. Methinks that was at least the partial point of the article….

    • Afua on November 29, 2018 at 10:29 pm

      Take a closer look; I think your scripture reference indeed underscores Carey’s quote.
      It says “know THE LOVE of Christ”, more of an experience (a heart issue), more than simply knowing what the bible says.

    • Ramona Lup on December 2, 2018 at 9:46 pm

      Ephesians 3:19 – “And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.”
      Actually, the verse you brought up doesn’t exactly prove the point you were trying to make. The verse itself says that the love of Christ is so immense that it surpasses knowledge, as in – it is so great that the human mind in its understanding cannot fully comprehend it – and that the love was given to us so that we might be filled with ‘the fulness of God’.

      I do feel however, that the progression of knowledge follows the trend of maturity – not that it produces it, but that it should follow it. A better verse to support this claim can be found in 1 Timothy 4:16.

      1 Timothy 4:16 New International Version (NIV) Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

      ^^ By knowing your doctrine, whether in comparison to Judaism and other religions or as Christianity stands alone, you can evangelize to those around you with the message that Jesus commissioned us to share. Lack of knowledge and the inability to answer unbeliever’s questions can prove to be, uhh… how should I say it… a bit of a verbal debacle, if anyone has experienced it before. I know I have.

      Also,
      Acts 17: 10-12
      10. As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. 12 As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.

  7. erry on April 5, 2018 at 1:04 pm

    Being an immature Christian and feeling like you’re stuck has a single cause. That is, going to church for me. What people don’t understand about the “stuck” feeling is that if your focus is on you and you feeling better then you can’t progress. Maturity and growth are a direct result of relationship. If you’re not growing, its easy to point the finger at the pastor, the churchs’ programs, or lack there of, or anything other than yourself. Church is meant to be 100% focused on prayer and worship. Outside of church we must read the Bible daily and pray “without ceasing”.

    Our feelings can be deceptive which is why you can’t rely on them as a measuring stick of your spiritual maturity. I submit to you that God is there with you whether you feel Him or not. He said He would be which is where Faith comes into play. Also, these praise and worship bands provide entertainment and are a distraction to true worship. This statement will upset some becuase they love their music. Ask yourself this. Why did you chose the church your in now or what are you looking for in a church? If any of the things you’re thinking of serve you then you will always be spiritually immature and your growth will be limited.

    I wish I had more time to discuss this topic as I think its very important, not only for the future of our kids but the church as well. I hope my words did not offend anyone as they were said in love for my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

  8. ELMER BATTUNG on March 14, 2018 at 3:08 am

    Thank you Carey for being so passionate not only in sharing the truth and practicality of it but also in helping others evaluate their present situation to the end it may lead to greater glory of God and His work.

  9. Jeff on March 3, 2018 at 9:20 am

    One point from #4 about the inevitability of a morally messy church may contain an error.
    A disciple doubting the resurrection sounds like an oxymoron to me. Paul says if you confess with you mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead you will be saved.
    The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the Gospel. (1 Cor. 15:3-8)
    You say these “new immature Christians doubt the resurrection.”
    But the resurrection is the very message they must believe before we can even call them Christians.
    So is the problem with the church then a blurred vision of the true Gospel message? Have we watered down the Gospel so much that we are not even presenting the real Gospel?
    I think maybe that is the real problem because the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. A watered down Gospel has no power at all.
    Just my thoughts…

    • Brett on March 21, 2018 at 6:21 pm

      Jesus never waited for the people He helped to be mature before telling them to go home to their household or personal communities (whom Jesus restored to do so), and tell them what Jesus had done for them. I have a few Christian in my congregation who are messy, they like me are learning, and becoming.

    • Afua on November 29, 2018 at 10:41 pm

      I guess ‘The resurrection’ meaning : some among the Corinthians wanted more explanation about life after death, you know, kind of the usual questions. I’d read the whole epistle or two to the Corinthians to appreciate the ideas in the article.

  10. Margie. on January 28, 2018 at 12:58 pm

    Great article. I know of a man professing to be Christian and calls himself a disciple of Jesus Christ. Constantly repetitive in His praise to God. Told me God thanked him for praying over an hour. I was not impressed. Today too many say God tells them things when it is them feeding their vanity. He tells me everybody loves brother_ ___. He professes to be a disciple. He has no real fruit of Gods Holy Spirit. I would think that when we mature we are called to teach others how to discipline their lifes.. We must grow each day. This man I mentioned speaks as the world. He likes attention. He came out of a discipleship center. Was there 3 years in his 50s. I don’t know what they taught. He says he still has 75 %flesh works. He believes as long as his words praise God he is saved. He is very loud . I found your article refreshing. God bless

  11. Margie Petrone on January 28, 2018 at 12:52 pm

    Great article. I know of a man professing to be Christian and calls himself a disciple of Jesus Christ. Constantly repetitive in His praise to God. Told me God thanked him for praying over an hour. I was not impressed. Today too many say God tells them things when it is them feeding their vanity. He tells me everybody loves brother_ ___. He professes to be a disciple. He has no real fruit of Gods Holy Spirit. I would think that when we mature we are called to teach others how to discipline their lifes.. We must grow each day. This man I mentioned speaks as the world. He likes attention. He came out of a discipleship center. Was there 3 years in his 50s. I don’t know what they taught. He says he still has 75 %flesh works. He believes as long as his words praise God he is saved. He is very loud . I found your article refreshing. God bless

  12. Sav on September 18, 2017 at 1:30 am

    I disagree with a lot of stuff here.

    About how we should teach our OWN church members FIRST, and THEN go out and share the Word instead of neglect our OWN congregation; I think the people/person who said that was 100% correct. Its like a parent putting 90% into work, and THEN their family gets the 10%; the leftovers. Thats never okay. You need to make sure you put your home – or church- and family – or church family – first. That should be tje #1 priority. If youre neglecting your own church but then saying to go out and evangelize, youre being an absolute hypocrite.
    How can you just neglect your members like that? You think thats the right thing to do?

    And then saying you shouldnt BE a disciple, but MAKE disciples… so you dont think we’re desciples of Jesus?? I was really confused by that. Are you saying we dont follow God? That makes no sense. Can we not be AND make disciples??

    And you also said that youre not a true desciple if you dont evangelize and thats another thing thats 100% a lie. Most people just DO NOT have the gift of evangelism. Does that mean we arent Christians?? Thats the equivalent of saying that if we lie, we’re not Christians. It just doesnt work that way.

    • Austin on December 26, 2017 at 8:32 pm

      I think you are being a little cynical here. But let me disagree with you here for a moment. Evangelism is not only a gift. The seat of Evangelist part of the five-fold ministry, but you do not need to be called to the seat of evangelist to be an evangelist. If you study the term evangelist and where it was derived from your perspective would be changed. The evangelist would carry around a legal document back in the day called an euangelion. The euangelion was a document that announced the arrival of the heir to the thrown, meaning the son of the King has been born.. So being called an evangelist just means that you are carrying the message or the announcement of the arrival of the King. And if you think that you can be a Christian and not share this good news, you are making a mistake.

    • Afua on November 29, 2018 at 10:49 pm

      The church is you and I together belonging to God through Christ Jesus our Savior; I imagine we all agree. Praise be to God. Pls also identify themes that are common to your views in the article. You’ll realize you agree with these timely truths. When we do that we realize the church truly has a common goal- to know Christ and to make him known to the nations. The article goes further to challenge us to be more effective. May God help us to be outward focused better than we’ve been.

  13. David Maddy on September 5, 2017 at 1:07 pm

    This commentary has been tugging on my heart strings for several years!
    Why is it that the large churches continue to get larger and the small ones stay small? Is God different in the large ones verses the small ones? Is the gospel different? Are the large churches growing because of decipleship? Whether you attend a small or large church, are the brother and sisterhood any closer outside the church walls than inside? Why is there thousands of different churches all following for the most part the gospel of Christ? Do you think having more knowledge of the scripture created all of these churches following the same gospel? What is doctrine? Does doctrine dictate the gospel? What is missing?????
    If the answer is in the Bible, does having more knowledge of the Bible complete the puzzle? Why does the non-christians feel that all we do is psycobabble our religion? Is psycobabble just another term for decipleship? Again, really, what is decipleship???? What is missing????
    My father was a paster for almost thirty years, 1st half on Sunday, 2nd half on Saturday! He walked away from the two churches and “Accepted Christ”! He spent most of his life obedient to Christ and to the doctrine of his church. Yet, during all of his years committing to being a deciple of Christ, he admitted to me close to his death that this was the hardest most frustrating thing to do. WHY?
    What was missing during his life as a paster????
    In all of the comments, the missing piece of the “WHAT” was not mentioned once that I read (unless there are more not shared)? There was talk of knowledge of the scriptures, but as I said earlier, does that make us a deciple?
    I can share with you what the “WHAT” is to being a deciple, but it seems like you know it already, right?
    Since knowledge seems to be the key, let’s identify the “WHAT” with scripture. Where can wisdom be found? What is knowledge? JOB 28:28 (NIV) “And he said to the human race, ‘The fear of the Lord – that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding’!
    Now what is missing???? ACTS 19:1-7 (NIV) sums up most of the “WHAT”. vs 2 …did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? They answered, No, we have not heard that there is a Holy Spirit. [3] So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive? “Johns baptism”, they replied, [4] “Johns baptism was a baptism of repentance”, …he told the people to believe…in Jesus! [5] On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. [6] When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them…!
    The “WHAT” becomes complete: ACTS 20:28, …watching out for ourselves and the flock in which the Holy Spirit has made us overseers! ROMANS 1:1-6, 16-17 [1] …called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God [2] the gospel he promised beforehand… [3] regarding his Son (Jesus Christ) [4] and through the Spirit (Holy Spirit) of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. [5] Through him we receive grace (humility) and apostleship (decipleship)…that comes from faith (not works, not wisdom, not knowledge, not psycobabble) for his name sake! [16] For I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power (Holy Spirit) of God that brings salvation!
    What is the transformation of DECIPLESHIP, once you have accepted Christ and have received the Holy Spirit? The COMPLETION of the “WHAT”: 1CORINTHIANS 13 1-13 (NIV) “LOVE”
    ****What is missing in most if not all of the churches today – why is DECIPLSHIP not reaching past the front door?

    • Judah on January 16, 2018 at 9:40 pm

      That was really a good reply! I agree the church is getting discipleship wrong, but adding more rules and programs is not the answer. Faith is always the missing piece the world does not understand. When we act as ambassadors for Christ we are living out the gospel, when we give to the orphan and widow, we are living out the gospel. The gospel will always be the stench of death to those who are perishing, but we have an oppertunity to share our faith with those around us… only the Holy Spirit can draw them. Discipleship is not exclusive to evangelism, by today’s definition, but rather inclusive to much of what scripture defines it as… the older passing on instruction to the younger generations, instructions on godly living. Teaching the scriptures… etc.

      • Margie on January 28, 2018 at 12:54 pm

        Amen

  14. Katherine Fries on July 19, 2017 at 3:31 pm

    God used John 3:16 to define love as life to those who believe. So because we are told in the letters of John the world is going to perish and because we are told in the Gospel of John that Jesus has no part with the world and neither should people who take His name, then no, God does not love the world. Rather He loves the believers out of it and its condemnation into life. (Corrected errors)

  15. Katherine Fries on July 19, 2017 at 3:27 pm

    God used John 3:16 to define love as life to those who believe. So because we are told the letters if John the world is going to perish and because we are told in the Gospel of John that Jesus has no part with the world and neither should people who take His name, then no, God does not love the world. Rather He loves the believers out of it and its condemnation into life.

  16. Doris Schuster on February 24, 2017 at 11:15 pm

    I loved this article, Carey. I’ve been struggling with this issue for years now, and I’m finally seeing that going out to make disciples is way more useful than continually trying to become a better disciple myself first. We have to go and expand the family of God and encourage others to go do the same through evangelization. You can count me in now!

  17. Stephen J. Bedard on February 24, 2017 at 12:43 pm

    I like much of what you say here but I would disagree with your be vs make disciples. As a pastor, I would not want new Christians with little knowledge of the Bible or Christian disciplines starting by discipling others. While the pastor(s) and other leaders have a role in discipling, people also have to take ownership of their own discipleship. The summaries of the church I read in Acts are of Christians seeking to BE disciples by studying the teachings of the apostles, prayer, fellowship, etc. While I get your point, I do think you present a false dichotomy.

    • Michael Bartlett on August 3, 2017 at 11:45 pm

      I agree that it is being first so that the doing will happen. So both. Know Jesus, be and do.

    • Afua on November 29, 2018 at 11:07 pm

      Remember the woman at the well? She drew a crowd to Jesus even before she had had a full class of discipleship with Jesus. In fact Jesus had barely started with her; but she had heard wnough to make an impact in her community by announcing the good news “come and see”. Pls trust the Holy Spirit to do the conviction with the little any disciple – regardless of how ‘mature’ – can do and it is God who will cause the increase.

  18. Nestor Reyes on February 2, 2017 at 5:39 pm

    Great article! The Corinthian church was, in all likelihood, an evangelizing, disciple -making church and that is probably why or the main reason it had so many
    carnal members. Those members had to go through some “washing of
    regeneration by the Word”.

    I know I did and still do. I still am a work
    in progress, as are all living followers of Jesus, as were those
    Corinthian church members labelled ” carnal”. As “|i look into the Word, I am still discovering things in me that have to be changed (I think this is what 2 Cor. 2:18 describes) This is another reason we
    must not judge or be so hard-hearted to our so called “carnal” brethren. I remember when ! was already a believer yet, still had some wrong belief, that resulted in wrong/ sinful practice/s. God is not finished with me, with all believers, who still walk this earth. Another reason to be gracious towards other believers.

  19. Marlene Jiannino Daley on October 5, 2016 at 4:00 pm

    I loved the lesson today Carey. I’m a newcomer in a sense so this gives me hope for me!

    • Tony Foglio on May 19, 2017 at 8:29 am

      Maybe the best article and comments on discipleship I’ve ever read.

  20. Pastor Chris on May 25, 2016 at 7:52 am

    Good article. Spot on.

  21. Dave Adamson on April 25, 2016 at 8:52 am

    Great post Carey. We too often translate “disciple” as “student” which is we we tend to focus on knowledge as a sign of maturity. Yet the Hebrew word Jesus knew for “disciple” was “talmid” which more accurately translates as “apprentice”.
    A student learns to know what the teacher knows so they get a passing grade. An apprentice learns to do what the teacher does. It explains why Jesus told his followers they would “do even more than this”.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 25, 2016 at 10:02 am

      Dave…you’re one of my favourite geniuses. Thank you!

    • Kelley Russo on October 29, 2017 at 2:22 pm

      Can you provide a link for this translation? I am not versed in Hebrew and my google searches are failing me. Everytime I search for “hebrew word for disciple” it comes back “student” I love this concept but feel like it’s stretching the student meaning to far to say it’s only for a grade (while that is frequently the case, it’s not what the meaning of student is supposed to mean).
      Thanks

      • Manny Collazo on October 29, 2017 at 7:51 pm

        Kelley Russo – The OT uses the singular of that word Talmid Strong’s 8527 used 1X in 1 Ch 25:8 It means student or disciple of a scholar
        Talmidim is plural.

      • Manny Collazo on October 29, 2017 at 7:51 pm

        Kelley Russo – The OT uses the singular of that word Talmid Strong’s 8527 used 1X in 1 Ch 25:8 It means student or disciple of a scholar
        Talmidim is plural.

  22. Daren on March 4, 2016 at 9:30 pm

    Yes, yes….well said. We have wrongly separated evangelism and discipleship, and ironically discipleship from disciple-making.

    I think the question that must be settled before there is any effective disciple-making is “What is a disciple? What is it we are actually seeking to produce?”
    Here’s my take: A disciple is a lover of God; a lover of people; holy; truth-based; evangelistic; God-dependent; persevering; focused on eternity.

  23. Isa Torres on September 3, 2015 at 12:39 pm

    I think this is great. We’re not supposed to grow outside of the church, much less outside of Jesus. That means that we’re embracing our failures constantly and believing that Jesus justifies and sanctifies us and the church. But I do think this is putting it a little too black and white, when in reality it should go together —acknowledging that two things are both part of each other. Barth says that faith is knowledge, so we do need that. But he does call this to be knowledge that forms and guides our lives. It’s not informational knowledge, but the knowledge that would be found on the Hebrew word for wisdom, a knowledge that you live by. So our discipleship is to be one that is done because we have this knowledge. So we are to forgive our enemies because Jesus has called us to do so, we feed the poor because Jesus fed the poor, we evangelize because Christ called us to do so, and most importantly, we love because Jesus has loved us. All of those are things we know of, but our knowledge has just put them there, as information. Our faith knowledge has to be more of doing, which does include evangelism, but that evangelism is certainly only found in the discipleship. In doing one we’re doing the other, and one cannot be done without the other.

  24. wraiththirteen on July 13, 2015 at 6:22 pm

    you shouldnt seek to be a disciple? explain this then 2Th 3:7 For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us:2Th 3:9 Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us. 1Th_5:15 See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men. Heb_13:7 Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.

    • Jon Allen on September 3, 2015 at 7:45 am

      I would say Jesus’ desire is be for us to be both at the same time. Furthermore, for those who love God, the two would be mutually inclusive. We cannot be a true disciple without discipling others and we cannot truthfully disciple others without being a disciple. We follow and lead at the same time. I am not speaking of salvation requirements, but of discipleship.

  25. sheepfeeder on May 24, 2015 at 9:23 pm

    I desire to grow continually, but it doesn’t always seem to happen. Over a period of time,reading, studying, & trying to walk in the WORD, you do notice that you’ve grown, especially when life’s problems don’t turn you into a drama king/queen. When you can restore believers without condemning or judging them, knowing any of us, no matter how mature can fall into sin.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2015 at 4:55 am

      Very true. growth is gradual…and subtle sometimes. But progress is measured in distance.

  26. Pastor A on May 16, 2015 at 9:10 pm

    Carey, this is so helpful. I find myself making these same statements when approaching ministry. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard “Turn to (enter scripture) followed with “I can quote it to you, as you know” – It’s nauseating and (maybe unknowingly) creates an inferior complex to those listening.

    If we take away evangelism from discipleship instead of Christ-followers we create Pharisees.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 17, 2015 at 6:23 pm

      So true Pastor A. Knowledge puffs up. Love builds up.

  27. Dan Lamos on April 9, 2015 at 5:37 am

    Thanks Carey,

    Jesus DOES actually love the world. Lately I have been realizing in a strange way that when I say that Jesus loves the world it almost feels like a “guilty pleasure” in my inner being. It’s like a reaction in me happens that feels like “Ha! I knew it all along, He actually loves this place!” So thanks for linking that to discipleship.

    I love the catalytic idea that “You can’t be a disciple without being an evangelist.” I am not a person that would self identify as an evangelist but I would tend to call myself a disciple. So it is good for me to think about MAKING disciples as God’s desired outcome of my life each week.

    Matt 21:28-32 (two sons/vineyard/doing what their father wants) has been my 2015 scripture. I have been asking God to help me be a “first son”. Maybe the first son learned that MAKING disciples is actually what his father was up to!

    One last thing, very empowering idea that my Christian maturity is actually about Jesus & others… reminds me of wisdom that I feel I have been picking up in my solitude times with God lately… Jesus made fulfilling his mission and returning to His Father not about him but about his Father, the New Creation and us.

    Have a great day!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 9, 2015 at 6:04 am

      Love this Dan. Couldn’t agree more. Well said!

  28. David B on March 18, 2015 at 9:16 am

    Discipleship is not an either or proposition in terms of “being” vs. “making” It’s both/and. It’s about being in one relationship where the other is doing the making and you are doing the being. This is how you learn how to do the making. This is where you learn humility. And, then, at the same time you must be in another relationship where you are doing the making and the other is doing the being. But, even before that – that plank that is in thine own eye – that must be dealt with. Do that – and learn – then you can teach others, having demonstrated it in your own life. Discipleship is about helping others remove the splinters from their eyes.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 9, 2015 at 6:05 am

      Agreed. You can’t make a disciple without being a disciple, but I wrote this because I see so many people trying to be a disciple without making disciples.

  29. jim on February 23, 2015 at 3:04 pm

    The word disciple drops out after acts 21:16

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 9, 2015 at 6:05 am

      Right on. Then they are apostles. We’re sent. It’s outward.

      • Dan Lamos on April 9, 2015 at 2:55 pm

        We invest ourselves & our resources mostly in gathering people while Jesus spent most of His time sending people. Would love to see a renaissance of “Church” in our day that is known for sending people

  30. Jonnie Tabitha Shumate on December 31, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    Great stuff and just another confirmation to what God has placed in my heart…thank you for sharing! I hope lead pastors will get this message.

  31. Threshingfloor on November 11, 2014 at 11:49 am

    Amen and amen!

  32. tmarsh0307 on September 7, 2014 at 9:24 am

    For the most part, I agree with the article – especially the link of discipleship to evangelism. Yes, they are one and the same and should not be seen as separate entities. Nevertheless, making disciples presupposes discipleship. I don’t think that point one should be an either/or, but a both/and. And while you are correct in indicating the thrust of Matthew 28:19-20, we also have Mark 8:34 and parallels, Luke 12, Matthew 5-7, Romans 12:1-2, Hebrews 12:1-2 (if translated correctly.) Simply put, the cross is not only something done for us, but also a paradigm of discipleship.
    If you are indicating that discipleship comes when we quit focusing so much on our progress and look outward to engaging mission, then I agree. Perhaps the article could be worded a bit better. Nevertheless, points 2,3, 5-7 – yes, I agree wholeheartedly!

  33. Randy Kirk on July 9, 2014 at 6:30 pm

    I have just completed a book on Discipleship, God Called – He Needs Your Decision! My research would track well with your comments 3 to the end, but not with 1 or 2. Jesus certainly calls us to be disciples. I know you correct yourself later, but I think the comment would be better left unsaid.
    I don’t believe that you have to be an evangelist to be a disciple. What Jesus never did say or Paul or anyone else: Go into the world and make converts. Sure we need to tell folks about Jesus, the Gospel, and the Hope of Heaven through words and actions. We need to love God and others. But that kind of evangelism should flow out of our love of God and others.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 12, 2014 at 7:42 am

      Appreciate your comment Randy. I’m still not 100% sure you can separate discipleship from evangelism the way we have in the church these days. In the early church, I have a hard time seeing how discipleship wasn’t evangelism, and evangelism wasn’t discipleship. Christ-followers regularly shared their faith and radically changed their lives. Otherwise the spread of Christianity would not have happened. But I appreciate you weighing in.

  34. Creche1 on June 23, 2014 at 7:15 am

    John 3:16-17-18

  35. Anton Lim on June 20, 2014 at 9:43 am

    Great points Carey. I remember when I was in university reading a book called the “Master Plan of Discipleship”. The bottom line was: go do evangelism and do it with others and that will be great discipleship.
    Thanks for your reflections. Challenging me personally.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 21, 2014 at 6:03 am

      Appreciate that Anton. I’ve got to get to that book at some point. I agree that it’s the missing ingredient for many today.

    • Lizzy on July 21, 2014 at 2:55 pm

      Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman? A must-read!

      • Carey Nieuwhof on July 27, 2014 at 8:44 pm

        Did not know that! Thanks Lizzy.

  36. joshua kosch on May 30, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    “What if the popular understanding of discipleship is producing some of the ill health and even stagnation and decline we see all around us in the church?” this is the exact thing that is happening to me right now. i’ve got some many “Christ” following people causing stagnation and ill health of Gods project. one of which i have to watch every day do worse but get better and then worse. its gotten better to a point then takes a set back. i need all of your help to get me back to where i was before but better so it is never the same thing from God just more of his work getting done. i’m dealing with really sick people. i need your pray for help the church is destroying everything. once i get them to go away everything is fine.

  37. renewed4life on May 28, 2014 at 10:56 am

    Most enlightening, now to put it to use with the help of the Lord. Amen

  38. Missionarymike on May 27, 2014 at 8:26 am

    Having had the privilege to work alongside a rapidly multiplying church planting movement in Russia for the last 8 years one thing I have realized is that there is a much higher expectation that people will actually put into practice the things they are taught (obedience) as opposed to my experience in the United States were it seems that we believe we are making disciples when we transfer infer nation from us to those whom we “disciple”. The difference is huge.

  39. Becky Hall on May 25, 2014 at 9:13 am

    Very, very good. I have never thought about discipleship that way. Thanks for the perspective.

  40. Barack Oyala on April 28, 2014 at 1:35 am

    very edifying

  41. Jack on April 5, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    Very insightful; however you are adressing the symptoms of a much
    deeper problem that is plaguing the American Church and the
    “absolute” cause of the current failure and decline of the
    Church and the Church’s Responsibility’s. Simply put; the Church has
    prioritized everything from Money, to Sucessfull Christian Living, to
    Discipleship, to Evanglisim, even Prayer, and Bible Study, will
    become more and more usless untill we get our focus and priority back
    to the two most important comandment’s in the bible. And even when we
    get the first comandment right we usualy seem to forget; you can not
    do the first without doing the second. If we get these two simple
    comandments right everything else in the Church will fall into place.
    It is all about LOVE. Here are the two most important Comandments God
    ever gave to Mankind; “Mathew 22: 37-40”. Yet how often do you hear a sermon or see a book on LOVE?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 6, 2014 at 8:33 pm

      You’re right in many respects Jack. How we handle all the issues you mention changes when our motivation is love. Thanks!

  42. adam on March 26, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    I found this very refreshing but @ point 1, it’s worth considering that those Jesus sent to “make” disciples are the same ones he just spent three intimate years training to “be” disciples. Thank you for the article!

    • coffeeshoptheologian on September 4, 2015 at 7:29 am

      Agreed. But the imbalance is that too many are stuck in training, getting fat and happy for self instead of making disciples of others. (Plus, the disciples weren’t sitting around for those 3 years. They were out there making disciples while they were in training.)

  43. patsan Reyes on February 23, 2014 at 3:29 am

    Great article about discipleship. God commanded us to go and make disciples of all nations, teaching these new disciples to obey all the commands God has given us. God promised He will always be with us. Trust God and go, go, go…make disciples. Thanks for this great article.

  44. Josh Collins on February 13, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    The best leaders understand that it’s impossible to take others where you yourself aren’t going. This absolutely applies to discipleship as well. I’ve been working for the better part of a year now on a discipleship course, I’d love to connect with you about it and even include you if you’d be so kind!

  45. I’m Liking This Guy | Chocolate Gravy on February 10, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    […] him, but he is certainly a part of the whole.  I like that.  And I thought I would share one of his blogs about discipleship in the church…in some denominations we call it Christian formation, but the concept is the same:  raising, […]

  46. Stanley Ziegler on February 9, 2014 at 7:37 am

    I agree that we carry too many verses. Christ came to simplify Christianity into two rules: Love God and love others. If we bring others ‘as they are’ to be followers of Christ, without judgement, we are showing we understand the two rules.

  47. Alex Baez on February 9, 2014 at 1:48 am

    Our job in making disciples, according to the Great Commission, is to teach people to obey. The Holy Spirit’s job is to teach all things (see John 14:26). Too often we focus on the Holy Spirit’s job instead of ours. Good post!

    • Norman Prather on September 7, 2014 at 9:39 pm

      Far too open ended statement “…teach people to obey.” Obey whom?

  48. Steve R on February 7, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    Great post Carey – makes us think of the reality behind what were are to BE and what were are called to DO. It’s helping people understand we are not just going to church, but we are to go out and be the church!

  49. Nestor Salmon Reyes on February 7, 2014 at 4:42 am

    Wow! I never saw it this way. Makes sense too.

  50. Daniel Indradjaja on February 5, 2014 at 10:42 pm

    This is the best and freshest take on discipleship I have read in a long time. I will share this with all my leaders!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 7, 2014 at 11:02 am

      Thanks Daniel…and thanks Nestor. Appreciate the encouragement.

  51. Cole on February 4, 2014 at 9:13 pm

    I love this post. When I look at how I am being discipled by other disciples there is a little bit of a process to it. The person discipling gives out information (the Bible, sermons, books). Then they show the person being discipled what its like to live like Jesus did (to the best of their ability, no one can be exactly like Jesus) Finally, they invite the discipled individual into trying their hand at living out what Jesus calls us to do. They invite them to walk along side them like Jesus invited the disciples. Full of questions, not knowing the answers to everything, but willing to sacrifice their lives to the calling Jesus has for them.

  52. Lawrence W. Wilson on February 4, 2014 at 8:18 am

    I am more and more convinced that the same activities that make disciples also make disciples mature: worship, prayer, service, generosity, authentic relationships. It’s not ether/or. It’s both/and.

  53. Carey Nieuwhof on February 4, 2014 at 7:55 am

    Really appreciate the feedback so far. Just to be clear, I am not saying we don’t need to be disciples. Clearly we do. I am saying that Jesus didn’t just tell us to be disciples, he actually told us to make disciples. I completely agree you can’t make someone else something you’re not (at least not for long). So I agree. It’s just the thrust of discipleship moves outward, not inward as it seems to in too many church circles today. Hope that helps.

  54. Dave Palmer on February 4, 2014 at 5:04 am

    Some rally good points taken from this piece, such as: “The average North American Christian is about 3000 bible verses overweight”. I’m not sure if I agree 100% with the statement that we aren’t called to be desciples, but perhaps I understood this wrong. One of the first things I was taught in Bible School was that you can not give what you do not have. That being said, to make disciples of all nations, one has to be a disciple himself. Also to be a disciple of Christ means to be disciplend in Christ and we are definately called to the be all that and more. Last but not least, if I am called to make desciples of all nations, that means that someone else had to reach out to me first and had to make me a desciple first. That is the olny way I could’ve had that seed planted in me. That or a personal touch from God.

    Anyhow, just my thought. I’m sure someone will find a wy to correct me.
    Be Blessed and keep spreading the good news!
    Dave

  55. Steve Digby on February 4, 2014 at 1:12 am

    So, Discipleship includes making Disciples. I like that. The bottom line is not our dogma but our commitment to love. Unfortunately much of the church is caught up in an agenda that is more about talking about love rather than loving.

  56. Margie Bryce on February 3, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    Not sure I agree with the above statement that you just have to make disciples and not be one… and possibly while you are helping someone BE a disciple that that is when transformation occurs. But perhaps I misread?

    What you DO flows out of who you ARE… identity and doing are connected. How can I tell someone else how to be a disciple if I am not being one myself? I need to be a disciple and have a keen understanding of what that entails before I offer marching orders for others. Part of the issue for North American Christians is that many have attended church for decades and have no idea what a disciple is. How can you live into something that is unidentifiable in your own heart? Further, disciples make disciples. We cannot circumvent it for ourselves and plop it onto others.

    We must embrace the role of servant of the Most High God (disciple), which also has its ancient roots in “learner.” The ancients sat at the feet of their chose Master and soaked up everything it meant to be their student. Then, as they lived into that, it would be hard to tell the master from the student. For us Christ calls us to be disciples, to sit at Jesus’ feet and learn what it means to be a disciple so we can integrate that into our hearts and lives. Our hope is that we offer at least a glimmer of Christ as others see us in action.

    Blessings, Rev. Dr. Margie Bryce
    Pastor, DownRiver UMC

  57. […] by Carey Nieuwhof  COMMENTS […]

  58. Janie K on February 3, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    As I was reading, I was thinking that I have jumped into positions without fully knowing everything but I learned by making mistakes…and then I scrolled to #3! So True! Discipleship happens in many forms and methods. Do we dare believe that the apostles had it all down to an art form even though they had lived with Jesus? I don’t think so! But their mistakes and imperfections didn’t stop them from growing the church. And in the process they became better servants for Christ!

  59. Mark Riggins on February 3, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    “I also think the average North American Christian is about 3000 bible verses overweight.” Great line. Despite the example of Jesus and the early church, it feels more intuitive to think that knowledge leads to maturity doesn’t it? But it’s easier to educate a doer than to motivate a thinker.

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