In this series, I’m considering some things that I’ve learned while pastoring over the last 15 years. You can check out the first lesson and a series introduction here:
In this post, we’ll consider Lesson #3: Discipleship is easy yet hard because you have to constantly battle mission drift.
Before I became a pastor, I had been involved in two churches. One lacked much of a discipleship culture and the other was a discipleship machine. It was in the latter that, for the first time in my life, I felt challenged to truly grow in my faith. Passages of Scripture were preached on Sunday mornings, instead of random topics with interspersed verses and lots of stories. Spiritual mentors were available to meet one-on-one or one-with-a-few for Bible study, prayer, and discussions about theology and life. Spiritual disciplines were encouraged. I ate it up.
When I moved on to seminary and pastoring, my hope was to find more churches like the one that spurred my growth. Instead, I discovered that many seem to lack a discipleship culture.
On the one hand, this should be easy to fix. Discipleship, as a concept, is easy: You gather with others in large groups, small groups, and one-on-one, to spend time praying and talking a lot about Jesus and the Bible and life, and then go and strive to live what Jesus taught.
On the other hand, it’s hard. Big ships don’t turn easily, and churches, even small churches, are like big ships. There are active members, inactive members, deacon bodies, church councils, elder boards, finance committees, flower committees, ushers, greeters, Sunday school classes, small groups, different worship services and Bible studies, VBSes, Awana, RAs and GAs, staff members, trustees, nursery workers, etc., etc., ad nauseam. Even if your church doesn’t have everything on that list, chances are you could check off quite a few.
The point is, in most churches things aren’t simple. There are a lot of moving, interconnected, and overlapping parts. Some programs or committees even started with the best of intentions to help people know Jesus, but have since lost focus or outlived their purpose. And it is easier to live in maintenance mode and keep the cogs turning than to redefine culture.
And even if we manage to establish a healthy discipleship culture, you have to constantly fight mission drift that takes you back into maintenance mode.
So, while conceptually, discipleship is easy, you have to work hard to establish, build, and continue a true discipleship culture. Which means that you have to fight personal laziness toward discipleship.
I still have a long way to lead to help the church have a truly healthy discipleship culture, but I’ve found these things help:
- Don’t neglect the administrative tasks that sometimes feel in the way but are necessary (like building and grounds upkeep issues); but focus most of your energy on matters of spiritual growth.
- Realize that when you preach, you do a lot of talking to people; use small group time and other Bible study services to facilitate discussion, listening to the thoughts of others, and encouraging them to personally dig into the word.
- Have a few people that you can personally invest in on a deeper level, like Jesus did with the Twelve and the inner circle of three. Study the word with them, discuss theology and life with them, and pray with and for them; then encourage them to go do the same with others.