One of the most glaring deficiencies of the American church is the lack of intentional strategies to make disciples. We are excellent in many cases in positive, uplifting worship and teaching. We are great at creating programs for people of all ages. But the picture is not so bright when it comes to our ability to help people become a disciple of Christ.
How do we know this is a deficit? Well first, apart from church attendance, many Christians don't look a whole lot different from the rest of the population who don't claim to be followers. Attitudes, words, priorities, and relationships are often almost indistinguishible from non-Christ followers.
In addition the general Biblical knowledge among Christians in general is low and indicators of followership such as giving (2% on average), a vibrant devotional life, and service in ministry are equally low. Clearly we are not doing very well at "teaching people to obey everything I have commanded you," as Jesus told us to do in The Great Commission.
Many have tried to define what a fully devoted disciple looks like. I will not try to do that here but will address three areas where the church needs an intentional strategy to help people move toward a more mature discipleship to Christ.
Why are we OK that most "Christians" have never read the Bible?
Foundational to any true discipleship is an underatanding of the Bible.Why are we OK that most "Christians" have never read the Bible? Without exposure to God's word on a regular basis there can be no Biblical world view. God has something to say about every area of life but most believers have little clue as to what that is. They know what they have heard in the sermons but they have no first hand knowledge of the text.
This isn't OK and as leaders we are responsible for making Scripture reading a part of the culture of our congregation. Initiatives such as reading through the Bible in a year have introduced thousands to the text for the first time. Teaching people how to study Scripture is a skill that we ought to train for on an ongoing basis. Here is the bottom line. You cannot be a disciple if you don't understand the Word!
True discipleship will never happen without a regular devotional life
If Scripture gives us knowledge it is in a regular devotional life that what we know becomes transfered to our heart and it starts to change the way we think and live. Time set aside to read the word, reflect on our own lives and time in prayer are all "time exposure to God."
Here is the connection between a regular devotional life and discipleship. Our spiritual lives are only as fresh as the last time we spent with Him. Without this kind of devotional time our knowledge remains just that: knowledge. It is in this daily encounter with God that the knowledge goes to the heart and life. The focus of a devotional life is to align our lives with His and become more like Christ. It is designed for life change!
A life of generosity is a mark of discipleship. Selfish living is not!
Disciples live like Jesus: Open handed and generous with God and with those that have needs. Generosity is such a fundamental character of God that one cannot call themselves disciples without becoming being generous. Generosity with our finances kills the selfishness and god of materialism. When we are willing to be generous in one area we inevitably become generous in other areas as well.
There are many facets to becoming a disciple of Jesus. These three are foundational because we have a foundation in the word, develop intimacy with Him in our daily devotional time and live out His character in our generous lifestyle. And these are three areas where church leaders can move the dial on discipleship. If we get these down, many other areas of discipleship will follow.
How are you doing in your church in helping people grow in these three disciplines?