If you’ve landed on this blog post but haven’t read the other three parts in this series, it’s helpful to understand why we think discipleship in the Church is essential and what it looks like to be discipled and disciple others (link the other three articles here). If you’ve landed here as a church leader, we want to be clear that our heart is to bolster and contribute to the work you’re already doing as a pastor and leader in your church and community.
Two things we should address right away: discipleship isn’t a program, and you can’t disciple everyone by yourself.
Discipleship is a lifelong process of being formed into the image of Christ for the sake of others. It’s a process and spiritual formation that can’t be manipulated by plugging in the correct code or formula. You can’t program discipleship, outsource it to AI, or go at it half-heartedly.
Francis Chan, in his book Crazy Love, says, “We reduce discipleship to a canned program, and so many in the church end up sidelined in a spectator mentality that delegates disciple-making to pastors and professionals, ministers and missionaries.”
Discipleship is the work of the Holy Spirit in everyone and not just reserved for professionals. It involves discussing life issues, teaching young men and women how to pray, studying the Bible, and doing life together. All of these things take time but are important ways for us to be formed into the likeness of Jesus.
Secondly, if you try to disciple everyone yourself, you’ll eventually run into a capacity issue. Even Jesus didn’t do that! He called as many as seventy andhad twelve disciples, but there were only three men he had a closer friendship with.
As pastors and leaders in your church, can you recognize your 70, 12, and 3?
Due to a lack of understanding of Scripture and a robust knowledge of the Word of God, the church has become more of a reflection of the world than Christ to the world. The Lord called us to make disciples, and churches should reflect this. Jesus modeled the life we are designed to live within the Church community; the local church's health depends on this. The health of the Church will be directly proportional to the spiritual health of its leaders. Just like Jesus tells us in Matthew 7, “a bad tree cannot bear good fruit,” and an unhealthy leader cannot bear a healthy church.
Because of this, the leaders within the Church need to be continually discipled by older and more experienced men who are ‘sages.’ I learned a long time ago that the key to growing a healthy church is to develop the present leadership since the congregants will not outgrow the spiritual health of their leaders. I’ve been committed to this principle my entire adult Christian life.
Older generations should value discipleship because it allows them to pour into the younger generation and pass along the wisdom they have learned throughout their lives. Titus chapter 2 is loaded with the truth about leadership development and the task of a disciple.
Leaders are to keep teaching the truth about healthy living to the younger generation. Paul told Titus to be a living example to the younger men—to come alongside them so that the younger men could ‘trace’ their lives after him. The entire passage in Titus implies having a close relationship with the young men so that they learn ‘sound doctrine’ and healthy living from the older men. The same holds true for the ladies in the church. The older women are to be in a relationship with the younger women so that they can teach them the importance of reverence and love in the home so that the Word of God would not be dishonored.
Older men and women in the Church who disciple younger men and women get the satisfaction and joy of seeing God use them in ways they could not have imagined. The older generation has the privilege—and the responsibility—to pass along the truths of the Christian Faith to the next generation so that there are ‘sages’ in that generation to help the next generation grow in faith.
Discipleship helps members of the Church community grow and mature in Christlikeness. I believe discipleship is more than reading a book with a young man and then moving on to the next young man. Discipleship is for life, so we want to partner with churches. This is a huge task that you can’t do on your own. You may not be discipled by the same person for life, but being in a discipleship relationship for life is essential.
The longest I have discipled a young man is nine years, and we still meet today. I expect we will meet as long as the Lord gives me breath. Christian Barrett, the co-leader of Emet Ministries, asked me to disciple him for the rest of my life. What a blessing to be given the honor and the opportunity to impact a young man's life for many years to help him avoid the griefs of life that you experienced because you may not have had a discipler guiding you through life.