Only leaders can reform Western discipleship

Only leaders can reform Western discipleship
Send 500 highly qualified freshmen medical students to Med School for four years.
They’ll receive lectures from the best medical professors in the world. After four years of books and classroom learning would you have confidence in them as surgeons for your next procedure?
What if they do all that class and book work, plus they gather weekly in groups of 5 to 10 for an hour or two and talk about what the professors said, and they memorize the textbooks. Qualified enough for you now to go under their knives?
Let’s add to that education a special trip to the operating room once a week to watch doctors, and help a little in the operating room. Are you ready for them to open your chest cavity?
I want my surgeon well-educated, to be sure. But I want that surgeon working closely alongside one or two experienced surgeons, for years, with ever-increasing opportunities to watch, then learn, then practice to be sure that when she operates, they know their own limits and capabilities.
In other words, they have “been there before” – and they have been transformed from a med-school freshman to a well-practiced physician and surgeon.
And importantly, when they’re in the operating room, I want other doctors teamed up alongside them who can assist, who can see what’s happening, and help the individual surgeon grapple with the weighty choices and circumstances in surgery.
Medical schools expect and require students to demonstrate significant educational competencies, in class and book learning, and in lab learning.
Yet Medical schools also require rigorous tours and experience on the job as interns and fellows and residents, working alongside experienced doctors and peers, even assisting other new students so they can pick up the knowledge, culture and the standards expected of them.
It is a life transforming experience alongside a few others as medical doctors are mentored under or walking alongside other surgeons.
That same approach is the fuller illustration of a disciple.
Disciples learn under mentors – maybe a pastor or small group leader or someone close to them. And as importantly, Jesus taught us to also go out into the world alongside others and gain experience living as disciples in life, just like a medical doctor gains much experience in real life before becoming a fully qualified surgeon.
At The Disciple Dilemma, we want leaders to reform Western Christian culture for disciples. Learning is critical – but academics, sermons and time in the pews in themselves are not all there is to discipling.
You have to go out into the world and experience life alongside other disciples to become a living, working and fully functioning disciple.
We’re asking you as a leader of few – or many – to rethink the default standard of discipleship – it is not simply group learning and gatherings.
It will take leaders to reform Christian culture at the local level toward a new (the old biblical) way, where each individual in your community will have two, or maybe three close and transparent people living life with them, as well as the gatherings and activities.
This counter-intuitive view – how biblically-modeled disciples are to develop – does not come naturally for a modern Christian community.
Leaders are not normally trained to build discipling cultures. They are trained to serve groups, gatherings and the institution. The pressure bears down on leaders of Christian communities to keep the ship steady on course, to manage well, to keep people gathering and belonging. That’s all tradition. But such is not the mission of Christ’s communities.
This doesn’t imply shelving everything. Disciples must be taught, and they must have community, called to gather and worship together.
Disciples need close-in mentors and wingmen (people living life closely alongside them) if they are to flourish in Christ’s model.
Rare is the Christian community that is organized to do that.
Discipleship is fundamentally two things: one is personal internal transformation – changing my mental, emotional and spiritual muscle-memory in surrender to Christ’s ways; and two – going out into life alongside one or two other disciples to make disciples and serve God.
Christ’s communities – whether church, small group or para-church group exist for one thing: the mission of making disciples. That’s precisely what Christ directed us to do in Matthew 28.
Leaders own the job of creating and sustaining the culture that accomplishes that mission.
How to do that? Welcome to The Disciple Dilemma – come visit us at, or reach out to us at, we’d love to talk to your leadership team about “next”.
Painting: First Successful Organ Transplantation in Man, 1996, oil, by Joel Babb.

© 2024 Dennis Allen | Morgan James Publishing

Start Reading

Slices of the book featured monthly

January 2022 segement: Catch and Release Christianity