My biggest concern about the Church today is the lack of discipleship. From what I read about Christian ministry, the focus is on getting people into the church. Whether it is seeker sensitive or emerging church or mega-church programs, the hope seems to be if we can get church desirable enough, people will want to be there.
Don’t get me wrong, I like seeing seekers come to church as much as anyone. It is pretty hard to do discipleship if there is no one to disciple. But I also think there are some long range implications for discipleship if the church keeps lowering the bar to get people in. We should seek to bring people into the church, but we should also have a plan for what to do after they come.
The goal of the Church is not to create attenders, tithers or ministry participants. It is not even to create program volunteers, although that may overlap with the true goal. The great commission commands us to make disciples.
Every church would accept this in principle. But what is the plan to make disciples? I think many churches just hope that it will happen. The pastor may teach on the importance of mentoring and then hope someone will get it and decide to mentor a new Christian. Many churches likely are seeking some discipleship goals through small groups. That can be a means but attending a small group does not equate discipleship. Most small groups (from my experience) are primarily about fellowship and support. Those are good things but they are not the same as discipleship.
What is discipleship? If we look to what Jesus did with his disciples, discipleship is about learning the truth of the faith and being equipped for ministry. Both parts need to be there. How was I discipled as a new Christian? My first year attending church was spent in a new believer’s class where we systematically went through all the major aspects of the Christian faith. As I was coming to the end of that, our cell group leader informed me that she was stepping down and I was the new leader. I was thrust into ministry.
How can small to mid-size churches implement discipleship? Plan out the year’s sermons so that they do not just hit felt needs but also cover the basics of the faith. Offer short-term small groups on specific topics that will train people to be able to articulate and defend their faith. Find opportunities for your people to get involved in ministry, ways where their gifts and your ministry context overlap.
The main thing is to come up with a plan. Don’t hope that it might happen. Do something with this goal in mind. Get disciplined when it comes to discipleship.
This is not meant to be an advertisement but I will say that this passion for discipleship is the reason that I wrote Genesis to Revelation (which is an introduction to the Bible) and Experiencing God Without Losing Your Mind (which is an introduction to apologetics). You may find them helpful in your discipleship plan.