After studying thousands of churches across America, George Barna once concluded, “Discipleship does not happen simply because a church exists. It occurs when there is an intentional and strategic thrust to facilitate spiritual maturity.”
Pastors and church leaders cannot assume that their members will be growing disciples of Jesus Christ simply because they faithfully attend church. Instead, leaders must be intentional about the priority of disciple-making, the outcomes, and ministry structures used for disciple-making so that faithful attenders can become dedicated, growing disciples of Jesus Christ.
Often we measure success in the American church today much in the same way as we do in business: buildings, bodies, bucks and busyness.
We have the wrong priorities. We have let the size of our facilities, how many attend, our income, and our featured programs become our focus instead of the mission Christ laid out for the church in finishing the Great Commission by being and making disciples. Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it quite simply, “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” We must reaffirm that the mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ and make that the priority.
What kind of product is the church producing? We have believers who affirm information without application and who have made a decision for Christ without becoming a disciple of Christ. We are getting the wrong outcomes. Jesus said that we are to teach disciples to obey everything that he commanded (Mathew 28:19-20). We need to provide a clear pathway for spiritual development that describes a disciple at each phase of growth based on a biblical definition of a disciple that includes all the beliefs, values, attitudes and commands Christ intended.
A whole-church disciple-making strategy, or philosophy of ministry, contributes to the making of a disciple. It takes every part of the church to form and shape a disciple.
For instance, worship attendance provides inspiration and information but it does not provide clarification and application. Disciple-making requires the support and accountability of close relationships typically found in small groups, but it also requires corporate gatherings.
When leaders implement a whole-church ministry strategy, designed for seekers through mature believers, disciple-making will happen.
To do this, pastors and church leaders must first affirm Christ’s mission for the church: to faithfully fulfill the Great Commission by making disciples. Second, they need to identify the right outcomes: disciples who continually seek to obey everything Christ commanded. Lastly, they need to employ the right strategy: life-to-life ministries that provide growth for people at every level from seeker to mature believer.
When the church, from the lead pastor down to the faithful Wednesday-night small group attender, intentionally puts into practice what Christ commanded and demonstrated, then discipleship will happen simply because the church exists.
Barna, George. Growing True Disciples: New Strategies for Producing Genuine Followers of Christ. Sisters, OR: WaterBrook, 2001. Print.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. New York: Touchstone, 1995. Print.