The Disconnect of Discipleship in the Church Today

Over the past few months, I have done much studying on the topic of discipleship. I have finished one course on discipleship and currently in the midst of another. I have done additional reading and studying of the Biblical design of discipleship, specifically Jesus’ paradigm of discipleship as well as the Apostle Paul’s.

And I believe I have found the point of disconnect between the Biblical paradigm of discipleship and how it is often practiced in the church of today.

And declining discipleship, both in numbers and quality, has been the result because of it.

What’s the disconnect that I found?

That discipleship is all about me and my growth, and nothing more.

Because of that, the number of people becoming disciples has declined and the true endpoint of discipleship isn’t achieved because a different goal is substituted for it.

Jesus’ paradigm of discipleship, as he demonstrated, is described by the following: “I do.” “I do, and you watch.” “We do together.” “You do and I watch.” “You do.”

Many disciples have no problem going through the process themselves as a disciple. That’s not where the disconnect is. Where the disconnect is, is this; “You do” means that you then become a discipler of disciples, and there are so many disciples who have not taken that step. The process of being discipled by someone culminates in becoming someone who now disciples others. It culminates in a discipled-person calling others to him/herself so that s/he can disciple them.

And that just does not often happen in the church today.

But that’s exactly what Jesus did and that’s what the apostles did. A very important part of the discipleship process is the one being discipled understanding that s/he will become a discipler of others who will then in turn become disciplers of others themselves.

What often happens within the church today is that it is the pastor or another congregational leader who is supposed to be the person doing the discipling and no one else. Many in congregations are truly passive. Oh, they may be involved in some type of physical ministry (these are important), but that involvement should not be a replacement for actually discipling others. But this is often the case. That’s why I said, “passive.” This model is doomed to failure because it is growth by addition, but that addition is unable to keep pace with the subtractions for various reasons.

The model that Jesus lived, as well as the apostles, is that each of their disciples would eventually disciple their own group of disciples. And as those who were being discipled were ready to begin discipling others, that discipler would select someone to take that disciple’s place in the group in order for another to be discipled. Growth is through multiplication and is geometric: 1 to 2 to 4 to 8 to 16 and so on.

If a person has been a follower of Jesus for a number of years and is not actively discipling others, there is a problem.

In my experience, there are many followers of Jesus who are not actively seeking or currently discipling others. The disconnect is real.

The disconnect is real.

And it’s a death sentence.

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Don’t tarnish God’s reputation

If there is one question a follower of Jesus should ask before saying something or doing something or thinking something, it is this – “Will this bring glory to God?” The Apostle Paul states this unequivocally in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Therefore, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.”

Glory, though, is a word oft-used by people, yet it just may be one of those words that are used often but of which the definition is murky or vague in one’s mind.

So here’s how I define glory: “enhancing one’s reputation.” As a follower of Jesus, one who claims to be changed by God, every word said and every action performed can either enhance or tarnish God’s reputation. As a person changed by a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, what we say and do speaks volumes to those around us of what God is like.

Maybe if this question is asked before saying or doing something that is truly unloving, that word or action will not be taken because what it will do is tarnish the reputation of God because people will believe that God is not loving or good.

Jesus came to bring glory, to glorify, to enhance the reputation, to the Father. We who are followers of Jesus, adopted sons and daughters of the living God, have received the Spirit and nature of Jesus as our own. We must live into that identity and carry out what Jesus did because Jesus is our nature, namely, glorify God.

So, how will you enhance God’s reputation today? And how will you make sure you don’t tarnish it instead today?

In its current form, the church is not the answer to this country’s disunity

Over the past months, I have either read of or heard someone commenting that we live in a fractured, disunified, country. If the presidential election cycle of last year, as well as the months since the election, has shown anything, it has shown that fissures exist in this country, deep and wide and potentially unfixable fissures.

This is not something that would be a shock to many people.

Additionally, I have also heard people who are followers of Jesus, both leaders in churches and laity, who have said that the answer to the presence of these fissures within the country is what the church has to offer to the world. Theoretically, I would agree, but unfortunately, in practice, the church, in its present form, is not the answer to the disunity present in this country.

And that may be something that does shock you, if you are a follower of Jesus. The church truly does not have the answer.

Why do I say that?

I say it because the answer to the presence of disunity is to do things that unite, that unify people together. And the church just does not possess that.

The church in its current form, and a form that has been in existence for a very long time, is one of the most, if not the most, divided organizations in existence. If you are a Christian and disagree with what I just asserted, I would ask you to do a three-part experiment.

Step one, find out the population of your community. You can do that by googling your community’s name together with “population.”

Step two, determine how many different churches exist within your community.

Step three, through asking around, find out how often separate congregations collaborate in some fashion for some kingdom purpose.

Unless your community is very unique, here is what you most likely will find. The number of separate churches within your community is quite high for population of your community. For example, Fort Dodge, IA (the community in which I currently reside) has a population of 25,000 – 26,000. There are at least 40 separate churches listed as existing in Fort Dodge. 40! And within the ecumenical community of Fort Dodge, you would also find what I call a “silo” mentality and a “fiefdom” mentality. That means that there is very little real collaboration between congregations to impact the community with the kingdom of God (silo – “We do our own thing”) and an intense desire to protect our “turf” in the community for our continued existence (fiefdom – “We want to be in control”).

Through that experiment, you will find that the church is a very fractured entity.

And you cannot give what you do not already possess or don’t have the authority to grant. For example, I cannot give you $1,000,000 unless my bank account has at least 7 digits to the left of the decimal or I have authority over someone else’s account that have over $1,000,000. It is impossible to do so otherwise. The reason Jesus can free us is because he already possesses freedom. The reason Jesus can give us peace is because he already possesses peace. The reason Jesus can give us true life is because he already possesses true life. The reason Jesus can give us love is because he already possesses love. You get the point.

So, when people point to the church as being the answer to the fissures present in this country, I believe it to be an answer with no foundation in reality because the church itself does not have unity. And even the church cannot give what it does not possess. And, honestly, it is far too often the case where the people of God are actually the ones causing the fissures in this country.

What people do not realize is what the disunity in the church proclaims to the world. It proclaims, loud and clear, that God did not send Jesus into the world.

Why do I say that? Jesus was quite clear on this. In his prayer that is found in John 17, Jesus says, “I do not ask on behalf of these only, but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their word, so that they all should be one, just as you, Father are in me and I in you, so that they should be in us, SO THAT THE WORLD SHOULD BE BELIEVE THAT YOU HAVE SENT ME.”

The unity of believers is what will cause the world to believe that God sent Jesus. If the unity isn’t present, which it truly isn’t, what the church is actually proclaiming is that God did not send Jesus. You may not like that statement, but it is the reality.

In order to be the answer for the disunity, the fissures, present in this country, the church must first identify, address, and change what causes disunity in itself. Honestly, there shouldn’t be Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, etc, churches in a community. It should be the church of Fort Dodge, unity as one, or the church of whatever the name of the community is – unified in the mission, interaction, and practice of the kingdom of God.

And based on a prophetic word I was given last summer, I believe it is time for me to begin to explore the next steps of starting a fledgling ministry, a ministry of the Word spoken and the Word in music, which would have as its focus, its purpose, and its mission to call Christians to truly come together in unity as the Father and the Son are unified, so that the world will believe that God has sent the Son and the church, the people of God, truly possess and give the answer to the fissures present in this country.

The Meaning of the “Parable of the Fisherman”

Very simply, this parable has to do with the Jesus-given mission of every believer and congregation that exists.

Jesus calls each of his followers to be “fishers of people.” Reaching new people with the gospel of Jesus is the life-blood of a congregation. If new people are not reached, then that congregation will dwindle, decline, and eventually cease to exist.

If followers of Jesus find that the places where they are “fishing” have been “fished-out,” meaning that everyone is already a follower of Jesus, it’s time to seek out a new place to fish, because that’s the mission. And just because one place has been “fished-out,” does not mean that a particular follower’s mission has been completed. No, it’s time to find a new place to fish. Continued existence depends upon it.

The reason behind writing the parable was that I have encountered just such a reason for people not reaching out. The areas in which they live and move have, in their analysis, been “fished-out.” And when I talk about needing to find a different place to “fish,” I’m told they don’t know how to go about finding a different place to “fish.”

My response is that they need to seek out doing different things, taking advantage of different opportunities to interact and connect with different people in the community. Fort Dodge is a community of over 25,000 people. I guarantee that there are many, MANY, people in this community who don’t have a relationship with God through Jesus. I guarantee you that there are many, MANY, people in this community who are not connected to a local congregation. One just has to seek them out.

The real issue in all of this is that of being “mission-minded” and “mission-driven.” Both Matthew, in his gospel, and Luke, in Acts, states that Jesus’ last command to His disciples was to be witnesses and make disciples – THE mission. I think that (and the actions of the apostles and other early followers demonstrate this) this final command must be the one always at the front of the mind of every follower, it must be a driving force, yet, through conversations with multiple people, I find that this is not the case, and probably has not been the case for quite some time.

And eventually what happens is the dwindling and decline of a local congregation until that point when all of its saved resources are consumed and death occurs.

All because of refusing to find new places to fish and, instead, just stop fishing altogether because the place has been “fished-out.”

The Parable of the Fisherman

There once was a man whose livelihood was fishing. He had fished for many years and did so in the same body of water. It was a lake that was known for having much fish and many people fished its waters because of it.

But over the years, this man noticed that the number of fish that he was catching was declining and the pace of the decline was increasing, until one day he didn’t catch any fish. And then the same thing happened the next day and the day after that. Before he knew what happened, a day of not catching any fish turned into a week of not catching any fish which turned into a month.

And then he realized that he was the only person fishing on the lake. Through having some research done on the lake, the man discovered that the reason why he was no longer catching any fish from this lake was that there were no longer any fish in the lake.

But because this was the only place he knew to fish, he continued to fish there every day, even though he caught zero fish. He eventually gave up trying to fish and just stayed home. He had no desire to find another place to fish because all he had known was this one place to fish. He justified this action by telling himself that he wouldn’t know how to go about finding another place to fish.

Eventually, the man’s saved resources of fish and money were depleted, and he died, all because he refused to go through the difficult steps of finding another place to fish.

Paraphrasing Jesus, “Let him or her who has ears hear the message of this parable.

If you want to know the meaning of the parable, read my next blogpost.