I recently met with a pastor who was leaving his church after a five year ministry there. I wanted to know what he thought the primary issues were that the church needed to address. One of the issues he mentioned was discipleship. He said that most of the people in the church were content to attend services when convenient with little or no interest in growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ. From talking to others in the church, and from my own personal knowledge of the church, I know he's right. I also know this problem isn't limited to this one church but is common to many of our churches. What can be done to correct this?
First, we have to accept the fact that some people in our churches will never be interested in growing as disciples. Pastors can only love these people, minister to them, try to keep them from leadership positions in the church, and invest themselves into the lives of persons who are interested in growing. If spiritually immature people are already in leadership positions when the pastor gets there, the pastor can encourage them to grow, but certainly will not be able to force that growth. Again, you love them, minister to them, but invest yourself in those who do want to grow.
Second, identify what you want to see developed in the life of a disciple. Have you ever sat down to consider what a disciple should look like? How should a disciple treat his or her spouse? What parental qualities should a disciple have? What kind of employer or employee should a disciple be? What do you want to see in the lives of the people who are discipled in your church? Once you answer that question you can begin to develop the kind of discipleship program that will produce those qualities in people.
Third, I think its time to look at what tools we are using to develop disciples. For most smaller churches the primary tool is Sunday school. I have to ask, how is that working for you? Is it producing the kind of disciples you want to develop in your church? Our mindset is that knowledge produces disciples, and it really isn't working for most churches. Knowledge is important, and too many believers are woefully ignorant about the primary teachings of the Bible, but knowledge alone does not make disciples. It is only when we apply the knowledge we have that discipleship begins to occur.
A disciple-making church needs to find opportunities to allow people to minister to others. Which do you think will be more likely to produce a disciple: sitting in an air-conditioned Sunday school room reading statistics about hunger in the world or spending Saturdays working in a center feeding homeless people? Churches that challenge people to be involved in ministry are more likely to produce growing disciples of Jesus Christ than those who simply want to provide information to their members.