Western Christian leadership needs to refocus – discipling is the mission

One of the most vital points we want to communicate at The Disciple Dilemma is that to restore biblical discipleship in the West, a change in culture – the norms and ways of a church – must occur.  Our thesis is that non-biblical traditions are infecting Western discipleship, diverting us away from the way Christ taught us to be disciples, and to make disciples. An example of this kind of culture diversion is found in Matthew 23.13-24 as Jesus rattles the cages of a few religious leaders who are intentionally suffocating people’s discipleship. These kinds of traditions become hardened into the culture of churches and Christian communities – so much so that we think they’re normal and good – when they are actually hurting, not helping discipleship. In a way, discipleship – the development of people – is really not much different from businesses trying to develop caring and motivated employees in the business world. 

And getting out of culture traps – changing culture requires leaders to get involved in the long game of changing the way an organization and its people think and act. Pastors rarely have experience as organizational or culture change agents. It takes time, thoughtful work and some emotional china is going to get broken in the process. Most pastors and church staff rely more on personal charisma and seminars as catalytics for change, instead of the proven way to enact change with people – the longer game of individual, relational discipling.


This means churches often lean into strategies like building a brand to increase size, reaching for power to signal political or social causes, cloning members instead of making disciples, and using motivational speaking and morality appeals – all which can fill the calendar or pews, perhaps even energize “the base” – but not the primary Church mission of discipling. None of those traditional programs and efforts likely result in any kind of culture change.


This kind of common motivational play – with speeches and activities – is typical in commerce and Christianity alike. And rarely effective. Organizational history, especially what we see in Scripture says that preaching, teaching and evangelizing have little to offer disciples unless granular relationships are integral with those important things, developing the culture for discipled people. A few blogs back, in “A Discipleship Foreign to the West” we introduced the discipling terms Bet Sefer, Bet Midrash, Bet Talmud – which are biblical traditions used to form disciples. These traditions were the culture – they were nothing like the West’s Sunday Christians, much more than activity-based disciples. They were a culture of discipling driving life transformation, driving identity-changing metamorphosis. Only leaders can bring this kind of culture change about in the West. Of course we cannot abandon all the wonderful things we are doing for disciples, but leaders must change the atmosphere, lest the oxygen for discipling continue to thin out.  What to do? Welcome to The Disciple Dilemma.

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