By Shawn Lovejoy
Discipleship is a broad term that is often used to describe many things from Bible study to one-on-one spiritual mentorship. But the truth is, most of us overcomplicate discipleship. Jesus said the most important thing we can do is love Him and love people. God is love. Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. Jesus’ life was defined by His love for us. So everything within the church should be focused on pointing people toward a healthy relationship with God and others. As we learn how to love God and people, we’ll more effectively foster discipleship.
Here are two ways churches can model healthy discipleship:
1. Understand God’s Role vs. The Believer’s Role
Jesus told us to make disciples. However, we can’t make someone follow Jesus. Not everyone will be willing to journey with us. In fact, not everyone in Jesus’ time on earth followed Him the entire journey. As the stakes got higher during Jesus’ ministry, more and more turned away. At one point along the way, Jesus actually turned to the twelve and asked, “Do you want to go away as well?” (see John 6:66).
It’s the disciple-maker’s role to plant the seed and trust the Holy Spirit to water it and make it grow. Some people will allow the Spirit to do His work, and some won’t. Jesus taught that only about one out of four will actually grow to the point that they begin to reproduce (see the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:23).
2. Balance Personal Discipleship With Corporate Discipleship
In the New Testament, discipleship happens almost exclusively in community. There’s not even one instance of personal prayer in the Book of Acts. However, there are more than a dozen instances of corporate prayer. While personal prayer and Bible study is important, the most effective discipleship happens in community. Prayer is easiest when done together. Reading God’s Word is best applied in community. We sharpen each other and experience authentic spiritual growth in and through the body of Christ. We need each other!
One healthy way churches can encourage a strong balance between personal discipleship and corporate discipleship is by offering a personal Bible reading guide for each study or sermon series while also gathering in small groups to discuss what God has said though the daily reading. Take it a step further by discussing ways to apply the messages daily. Discipleship is more about fruit than meat. In other words, we demonstrate spiritual maturity by what we do; not by what we know.
The biggest sign a church or ministry might be straying from discipleship would be if the group begins to exist only for the benefit of those already attending. Biblical community is always inclusive and on mission with Jesus. Small groups should provide an environment that’s safe for outsiders and always involve some kind of missional engagement in the community. These types of groups are healthy models of accountability and discipleship.
Shawn Lovejoy is the founding and lead pastor of Mountain Lake Church, the directional leader of churchplanters.com, and the author of The Measure of Our Success: An Impassioned Plea To Pastors. You can connect with Shawn via Twitter: @shawnlovejoy.