Have You Seen These 4 Common Disciple-Making Mistakes?

Have you ever heard something like this:

“Try to include a balance of evangelism and discipleship in your resume—churches like that better.”

“That church is more of an evangelistic church, but we’re an equipping church.”

“If we hire you as our youth pastor, will you spend more time focused on the church kids, or on trying to reach the lost?”

“I have a new believer in my group. Do you know of any good studies on discipleship?”ID-100193456

Have you noticed this confusion over discipleship? Have you felt it yourself? One youth group teaches the Word, equips its students to serve, and offers small group opportunities for deeper study and fellowship. Are they making disciples? Another group focuses on making new disciples: evangelism. Is that supposed to be our focus? Still another group has a six-week discipleship program where new believers are trained in the basics of the faith. Is this discipleship?

What is disciple-making, really? And how do we know if we’re actually living out Christ’s commission?

There’s no simple answer, of course. Disciple-making takes as many forms as there are personalities to undertake it. We can make disciples in large groups, small groups, and personal relationships. Christ called every one of his followers to be a disciple-maker. That looks a little different for each person. But it doesn’t mean we can all just “choose our own adventure” and call everything discipleship. Jesus left us with a pattern to follow, and that includes a few things disciple-making is not:

  1. Disciple-making doesn’t start after evangelism. This divide between evangelism and discipleship has caused untold damage in the church, and in our youth ministries. But for Jesus, this divide never existed. For him, making disciples includes going, baptizing, and teaching to obey, (Matt. 28:18–20). We start the disciple-making process when we start calling people to Jesus, and …
  1. Disciple-making is not complete until someone can reproduce. Just as we measure an apple tree’s maturity by its ability to make apples, or a wheat crop’s maturity by its ability to bear seed, disciples are not mature until they can make new disciples. Too often in our youth ministries we make “mules”—good workers who can’t reproduce. Reproduction is the sign of a mature disciple. Which means …
  1. Disciple-making is not just a good program or the right teaching. This is a hard one for me, because I love to teach—and I believe in the power of it. Good teaching is crucial to the disciple-making process. But true disciple-making in the footsteps of Jesus demands so much more than good programming or good teaching. It means incarnational ministry—leaving the comforts of our church structures (both physical and emotional) to be with people. It’s being in their lives, and letting them be in ours. If our “disciple-making” doesn’t include this exhausting, intentional quantity of time with people, we’re not truly making disciples. Which is why it’s so important that …
  1. Disciple-making isn’t only for the professionals. Too often, we think of disciple-making as someone else’s job: Only pastors and elders are called to make disciples. I don’t have the right set of gifts or the right personality. Can you imagine how it would change our churches and youth ministries if everyone made disciples? If everyone shared Christ with their neighbors? If everyone looked for people to mentor, people younger in the faith and eager to grow? If those with the gift of service were discipling others with the gift of service? If teachers were discipling teachers? If mercy-people were discipling mercy-people? We’d end up with an army of inspired, equipped, reproducing disciples who would take the world by storm.

This world desperately needs a wave of disciples who can make disciples. Disciples with a heart for the poor and hurting. Disciples with a passion for lost souls. Disciples who teach God’s Word with conviction and care. Disciples who come alongside the abandoned and neglected. Disciples who share the heart of Jesus.

It’s no surprise that Jesus left his disciples with the command to “make disciples.” You and I are here because they did. Let’s not get distracted by what disciple-making isn’t. Jesus calls us to follow in his footsteps, to invest our lives in disciples who can make disciples. When we do, it changes the world—one person at a time.

What disciple-making delusions have you noticed? Leave a comment here.

Image courtesy bugphai / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

This post is also posted at LeaderTreks, a student leadership development ministry using trips, innovative training, and curriculum to help students identify and develop their personal leadership skills. I encourage you to check out their other blogs, here.

  • Chris Walker

    Recently, I was quizzed in an interview: What does your church’s discipleship program look like?

    Honestly, we don’t have a program. But I could only answer with what I’m doing – meeting reguarly with seekers and followers to help them learn from Jesus. We talk about Bible passages, how God is answering our prayer and so on. . .

    While resources are nice to guide potential conversations (and I sell resources myself), the best discipleship I see is this life on life wrestling with scripture.

    • Yes! One of my favorite ministry proverbs is “Always lead people, not programs.” Of course, programs aren’t bad–they’re just not the point . . .

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