So what is the engine of the church? Discipleship. I’ve said it many times: If you make disciples, you will always get the church. But if you try to build the church, you will rarely get disciples.
If you’re good at making disciples, you’ll get more leaders than you’ll know what to do with. If you make disciples like Jesus made them, you’ll see people come to faith who didn’t know Him. If you disciple people well, you will always get the missional thing. Always.
We took 30 days and examined the Twitter conversations happening. We discovered there are between 100-150 times as many people talking about mission as there are discipleship (to be clear, that’s a 100:1). We are a group of people addicted to and obsessed with the work of the Kingdom, with little to no idea how to be with the King.
The truth about discipleship is that it’s never hip and it’s never in style…it’s the call to come and die; a “long obedience in the same direction.” While the “missional” conversation is imbued with the energy and vitality that comes with kingdom work, it seems to be missing some of the hallmark reality that those of us who have lived it over time have come to expect: Mission is messy. It’s humbling. There’s often no glory in it. It’s for the long haul. And it’s completely unsustainable without discipleship.
Here are some questions I have leaders I’m working with ask regularly:
- Am I a disciple?
- Do I know how to disciple people who can then disciple people who then disciple people, etc? (i.e. does my discipleship plan work?)
- Does our discipleship plan naturally lead all disciples to become missionaries? (not just the elite, Delta-seal missional ninjas)
Defining a disciple is fairly easy, in my view. The greek word mathetes is the word that scripture uses for “disciple” and it means learner. In other words, disciples are people who LEARN to be like Jesus and learn to do what Jesus could do. One great writer on discipleship put it this way: Discipleship is the process of becoming who Jesus would be if he were you.
A disciple is someone who, with increased intentionality and passing time, has a life and ministry that looks more and more like the life and ministry of Jesus. They increasingly have his heart and character and are able to do the types of things we see Jesus doing. We don’t have to look far in the New Testament to see this happening. Just look at the life of the disciples/ apostles and the communities they led…over time, they looked more and more like Jesus!
I’ve heard Dallas Willard say that every church should be able to answer two questions: First, what is our plan for making disciples? Second, does our plan work? I believe most communities have a plan for discipleship. I’m not convinced many plans are working the way Jesus is hoping they will — and that’s why we’re in trouble.
At the end of the day, we can probably boil being a disciple down to two things: Character and Competency. We want the character that Jesus has and we want to be able to do the things that Jesus could do (competency). Discipleship is learning, over the course of our lives, to become people who have both.