Pastors often confuse leadership with discipleship. Our infatuation with leaders has stunted the development of disciples in our churches.
A few week’s back Joel Mayward asked if I’d participate in his blog series on discipleship. He asked some great questions and really got my mind churning, plus I was in one of those pre-lunch moods. Here’s a taste of what ended up being a holy rant on the topic.
What is discipleship?
I’d like to start off with two push backs on your question itself.First off, discipleship is a made up word. Let’s acknowledge that for what it is. Every time I type it in Microsoft Word or on my blog it always pops up as a misspelled word. Because it isn’t a word. More to the point, it’s a made up word because we don’t really even have a word to describe what discipleship is.We are trying to smash the relationship that Jesus had with his disciples into a modern construct of a ministry model. The very problem of a lack of discipleship comes from trying to make it a quantifiable process that is replicable so that we can point to a person as church leadership and say, “This is how I know people are growing in their relationship with Jesus.” It’s a McDonald’s-style phrase that just falls flat in the face of what Jesus and the early church actually did, as documented in the New Testament. So I want to start off by pushing back on the very word, discipleship. Jesus told us to make disciples, (Matthew 28:19) not create a process whereby all people can follow 6 easy steps or run the bases or complete a wheel of discipleship. Those are modern simplifications which have proven to have horrible impact on the life of our churches.What is the greatest barrier to this in youth ministry?2. As I opened this with, we are living in a day where we’ve tried to create a process called discipleship as a replacement for how Jesus and the early church actually did it. So when we talk about making disciples we think of programs when Jesus never had that in mind. The disciple-making process is a lifestyle, not a program. So a major roadblock we hit as leaders is that our adult volunteers think they’ve been “discipled!” Moreover, we have a culture which is so “easy” focused that very few have the stomach to get involved. Decades of crappy “discipleship models” have created undiscipled, undisciplinable followishers of Jesus.
Leading from Desperation Leads Us Astray
It’s counter-productive to lower the bar. I don’t know if it’s fear or flat-out desperation that leads us in church leadership to do this. But, in obvious and non-obvious ways, we think that more people will follow Jesus if we make it easier.
“If you’re ready to take the next step in your walk with Jesus, it’s real easy.”
“Take the next step in your walk with Jesus, just _____.” [Insert something non-committal, usually involving food]
What’s going through your mind at that moment is the felt need that you want as many people to follow Jesus as possible. (Which is good) And it seems like in order to do that you need to make it as simple as possible.
But you’re wrong.
Hit the pause button and open your Bible to John 6. Let’s see how Jesus handled his fans.
This is one of those upside-down Christian leadership principles: To grow disciples of Jesus I need to make it harder, not easier.
Jesus knew that fans came for the free magic show & food. They went from town to town. There was probably a guy selling glow sticks and two kids peddling t-shirts.
But when he told them that following him was going to mean eating his flesh and drinking his blood… most of them left. Jesus wasn’t out to make it easy. He knew that you need to test people and make it hard to find out who were the fans and who are the followers.
Christian leaders would be wise to follow Jesus’ example on this one.
Luke 9:23 says, “Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
Why don’t we take Jesus at his word?
Have you ever denied yourself, literally? I don’t mean skip a meal or do the 30 Hour Famine or skip a movie on HBO or choosing to go to a Christian college instead of a state one. I mean really deny yourself. Jesus’ early followers literally changed their zip code. They sold everything they had. (Acts 2:42-47) They gave up family life for community life. They redefind family. They ate what the deacons made. They suffered. Not because they had no choice… but because they had the choice and denied themselves!
Have you ever picked up a cross, literally? You should try it. It’s heavy to drag that thing around– even for a few minutes. They don’t sand down the edges of crosses. They don’t remove splinters. It’s not a fashion statement.
Carrying your cross should be burdensome. It’s should cost you social status. It should hurt. If it doesn’t than you’re a fan, not a follower carrying a cross.
Following Jesus shouldn’t be easy. If, as a leader, you are calling people to an easy, simple form of discipleship… that check is going to come back as insufficient.
Ultimately you aren’t leading people… you’re making fans of yourself and not followers of Jesus.
3 Ways that Form of Discipleship is Insufficient
- Fans of my ministry will kill my ministry potential – Fans just do what you say. Fans just want to hang out. Fans just want to say they know you. Followers of Jesus respect you as a leader, but spend their life copying Jesus and not you.
- Building my ministry around my church will kill my ministry potential – Seriously, the more time you spend hanging out at the Temple, the more time you get hung up in Temple life and deny the ministry Jesus has called all believers to… loving your neighbors as yourself.
- Fans build false assumptions of success – Having a full room and a stacked budget sure feels like success. But Jesus measures your success in ministry differently. He’s not impressed by what you’re impressed by. People showing up doesn’t mean lives changed. Jesus constantly tried to shake the crowd so he could meet the needs of the poor, practice healing, elevate the voice of the marginalized, on and on. Jesus never said… “Invite your friends to hear me preach at the Temple.” Never. Not once. And neither should you.