Reimagining Disciple Making

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Kansas City Urban-20

by Lance Ford
(This essay is excerpted from UnLeader, courtesy of Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City)


“Who discipled you?”

This is a question I have asked a lot of Christians. It’s fascinating but terribly sad that many or most Christians and leaders cannot name someone who personally discipled them. At age nineteen, having grown up as a Christian but having walked away from any interest in the things of the Lord, I had an amazing prodigal-like encounter. For years I had frequented my parent’s small down-home church, and at the time of my return to the Lord, this little congregation was experiencing quite a revival. Over a period of two years it had begun to grow, and there was a real excitement about what the Holy Spirit might do each Sunday morning. Every week the church was packed to the walls. The pastor had a strong preaching gift, delivering inspiring themes that were taking root in the hearts of the people, and there was a feeling of electricity in the air almost all the time.

I joined a small-group Bible study, totally immersed myself in the Bible, and began listening to cassette tapes (remember those?) of sermons. I read everything I could get my hands on, trying my best to develop myself as a follower of Jesus. Intuitively though, I knew I needed help. I needed someone to guide me, someone to help me process my walk, but no one offered to help.

It seemed to me the best person to help me was the pastor. His preaching was inspiring, he appeared to know and understand the Bible better than anyone else around, and he was friendly and down to earth. I’ll never forget the first time I approached him about getting together to begin a one-on-one process of guiding me. I didn’t know what to call what I was asking for. I just needed someone more experienced to help me. I explained that I was doing everything I knew to do but still felt I needed someone to guide me along. For the first time I had ever seen it happen, the pastor was fumbling for words. The color left his face for a moment, replaced with a reddish flush, and he appeared to have an instant case of dry mouth, swallowing hard between the few words he squeezed out. To his credit he agreed to meet with me weekly, but after three awkward meetings he told me he thought I was good to go on my own. “Just keep reading the Word, and the Holy Spirit will guide you along,” he said. I can still remember the relief on his face as I left his house that last time.

Here was a guy I had heard sermonize countless times 
for over an hour at a time, with confidence, poise, and clear
and concise points. But each time we got together one-on-one, he seemed dazed and confused, struggling for direction and conversation. He was totally uncomfortable. As a young person who had just made a commitment to following Jesus, this was
 a tremendously confusing and disappointing experience. Looking back on it now, I realize this pastor was simply freaked out by the prospect of discipling someone. He clearly didn’t know how to do it, and I do not lay the blame at his feet, because most likely no one had ever done it for him. This gifted preacher had probably never been discipled, and he had no clue about how to disciple someone else.

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  • Erich Schindler

    Nov 15, 2013 - Reply

    Loved your article. I myself am a recovering from a long period of ‘outsourcing’ my discipleship responsibilities to pastors and teachers (the professionals) in classroom settings. Recently began intentionally meeting with a small group of men for ongoing discipleship, using Neil Cole’s Life Transformation Groups model. Excited to lead disciples who themselves naturally reproduce!

  • Elizabeth Perry

    Nov 15, 2013 - Reply

    Erich, thanks for your feedback! I love that term “outsourcing.” Certainly we need to bring discipleship back in-house. Sounds like you are doing just that. Blessings to you!

  • David Kueker

    Jun 22, 2014 - Reply

    Very good points. The only thing that I would wish to add is that the end result of “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” is not a good disciple but a disciple maker.

    As with parenting: the relationship that leads to involvement in the church is typically with a lay person rather than the pastor and the job of Matthew 2820 is the duty of the person in Matthew 28:19. One follows the other.

    They are not specialists. The challenge of the traditional way of thinking is that there is someone in the church other than the one who brought me that should mentor me and who can do a better job of it. As with parenting, you make them, you raise them. Disciple making is not something we send people to a building to get from professionals.

    In addition, good parents can send their children to school taught by professionals. Disciple making is not home schooling, but a relationship that watches over in love encourages growth. There is still too much of an emphasis on ideas that people need to learn and study … this is where discipleship went astray in the first century. Or so it seems to me.

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