Fixing Discipleship – The Myths. Essay #1: Scholarship = Discipleship

One of the popular ideas offered up to leaders in attempts to improve discipleship is better training for individuals. If we teach them better, so the idea goes, disciples will awaken, rational thinking about what it means to be a disciple will engage. A few sermons, a new program, a retreat or a study group is what’s called for, because, according to the theory, better education – better scholarship is what will fix the problems. People will straighten up and fly right if they know more.


Yet here’s an interesting question: Why isn’t this scholarship already bearing fruit in the West? Christianity has, at its internet fingertips, excellent discipling tools: videos, books and training programs – more resources now than any time since the dawn of mankind. The West has more churches per capita than any nation of earth. Think about the availability of small groups and church developmental activities and ministries for people. The availability of education – learning about our biblical heritage is everywhere. Google disciple-making and be prepared for a digital avalanche of options to boost your congregation’s discipling process. We have more access to sermons online – top-notch global preaching, available, repeatable at a mouse click. Why is that all not taking hold? If better learning and better education is the answer, why do we face a rising desertion rate among Millennial and Gen Z believers? (The latest studies indicate well over 50% of those folks, raised in churches, have left and are not coming back.) Why are ~90% of believers unable or unwilling to talk about their lives as disciples? Why are over 80% of believers living on ~1.7 sermons per month, with no study, prayer or discipleship, outside of that occasional sermon?


Don’t go in the ditch staring at the problem. We all need great scholarship, we need good learning tools and we need reinforcing sermons, programs, retreats, seminars and small groups to aid great discipling. But scholarship is not the fountainhead of discipleship. Sure, we need to be ready with answers (1st Peter 3.15) for lots of questions – both inside and outside the faith. But discipleship shalt not live on scholarship / education alone. Like vitamins, we need learning. Very helpful. But discipleship thrives as disciples learn in very small groups (think one to three) under great mentors to learn the ropes. That may often be parents or experienced church friends. And we also need life team mates living as disciples alongside us. People who know us well, and who we can live life alongside. We need to go out into life together operating as biblical disciples. Often, that is family, but not exclusively. Discipleship means friends going through life together in work, community, the arts, academics, civic and even military lives.


But here’s the really big point: Unless leaders in Christian communities take up the charge to rethink and reform a culture of discipleship in their community, odds are, it will keep relying on learning programs, sermons and small groups to wish for improved discipleship, only to keep sputtering along, or just flatline. The reformation of a culture is no small task. But it is a vital one if the current system isn’t working. How is it in your Christian community? Odds are, your people are tracking roughly along the lines of the stats mentioned above. Leaders – this is your call and your time to get in the game. Discipleship has been hacked, and we need to unwind that hack and get back to discipleship V1.0, the one Jesus gave us to run with.


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