Buzzwords are unavoidable, and we shouldn't overlook them. In fact, a buzzword often tells us where God is at work or where he's redirecting his church when she has veered off the right path. The hot buzzword today among church leaders is discipleship.
What Are We Really Accomplishing?
A few years ago, as I finished my last week on staff at a church, I wanted to see what kind of impact my small-group ministry had made over my seven years there. I decided to interview two couples who had come to Christ under my watch, immediately joined a group, and continued in groups for at least five years.
I was blindsided with what I unearthed. Both couples expressed that they had made lifelong friendships, learned how to be better spouses, and never wanted to leave their group. But neither couple had experienced meaningful spiritual growth. They didn't knew how to pray, knew very little about the Bible, couldn't begin to describe what the gospel was, and had never been encouraged to practice spiritual disciplines. And, because they had little to no connection to the heart of God and the spiritual practices of maturing disciples, their character had remained relatively unchanged since the day they received Christ. These two wonderful couples had been led to experience and enjoy community, but had never been directed to do what was necessary to become mature disciples of Jesus. My heart was broken.
Many are talking about whether their groups are making disciples because they've experienced the same ministerial trauma I experienced. They see the product their group ministry is producing, and it's not good. Rather than mature disciples, so many of our ministries are simply producing friendships.
Even beyond my own small-group ministry, I know that the church is not creating mature disciples because I see the kind of Christians we are creating and the issues they're facing. Mature disciples of Jesus keep commitments, carry out God's commandments, demonstrate the character of Christ, and never allow cultural Christianity to overtake God's unchanging biblical expectations. It strikes me that Christians are experiencing such widespread divorce, and many of those who are divorcing have been in the church for decades. They are bailing for many different reasons, but I believe one of those reasons is that their character hasn't been transformed by Christ. Few marriages split when those who are in the marriage consistently display the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) in relationship with one another. After all, these characteristics show that they care more for their spouse than themselves. The fruit of the Spirit, though, is only consistently displayed in maturing disciples who are allowing Christ to transform their character.
Another sign that we're not creating mature disciples is that our people aren't living up to the biblical expectations of Jesus' disciples. Consider the martyrdom we see across the globe as our brothers and sisters proclaim Jesus. These stories force church leaders to ask, Why are my Christian brothers and sisters around the world willing to die for Christ when the people I lead aren't even willing to live for him?
Consider the biblical expectations of disciples of Jesus: