Why I Hate ‘Discipleship’ Almost as Much as I Once Hated Softball

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A long time ago, in a faraway place, I had a thing for church softball—a bad thing.

Well, maybe not so far away, but definitely long ago. The problem wasn’t the game, but the way it fit into the church world.

Sure sometimes fights broke out between church teams, but that wasn’t my problem. It was that it seemed to produce no converts, as was usually the motive behind the effort. Worse, you won’t find softball mentioned in the last seven verses of Acts, chapter two.

As youthful idealism gave way to a broader view of life, I saw the fellowship aspect of church softball, which in turn did sometimes lead to disciplemaking. This leads me to my frustration with discipleship versus disciplemaking.

Like Church Softball, Discipleship Often Falls Short of Scripture

Think, Romans 12. Paul pleads that we give ourselves to God as a living and holy sacrifice. That we differentiate from the behaviors and customs of this world and be transformed into someone new. Yes, he suggests this will happen by renewing our minds, but I’m not sure 20 minutes with a Bible and coffee count as a living sacrifice. Nor am I enamored with another church class designed to pack a headful of Bible knowledge. There is a better way.

You Don’t Do Discipleship – You Are a Disciple, Or You Are Not.

If you are a disciple, you obviously love God, love people, love the Church, but there is more. What we call discipleship often checks a few boxes to make a disciple requires sacrifice from both the disciple and the disciplemaker. I prefer disciplemaking over discipleship. The one is outwardly focused, the other can be passive and inward.

My friends Jim Putman and Bobby Harrington address this from a different angle (nothing about softball) in their book DiscipleShift: Five Steps that Help Your Church Make Disciples Who Make Disciples.

They begin with much the same assumption as me – that disciplemaking differs from what we’ve come to call discipleship. They outline five shifts which can turn your congregational culture full-face toward the Great Commission.

1. From Reaching People to Making Disciples

Disciplemaking starts outside the four walls of a church building, be it a temple or a house. We see those folks in Jerusalem enjoying the favor of their neighbors while the Lord added, daily, those who were being saved. Disciplemaking begins with making friends with outsiders rather than marketing programs.

2. From Informing our Disciples to Equipping Them

Paul posits equipping believers as the purpose of church leadership in Ephesians 4. If so, then the purpose of our gatherings, large or small, is to equip our people for ministry. Such a purpose contrasts with educating or even “spiritually feeding” our disciples. We feed and educate toward preparing our disciples to disciple others.

3. From Operating Discipleship Programs to Investing Purpose into Our Disciples

It is easy to educate, but education without workable vision, goals and strategy is little more than head knowledge. Our goal must be conquering the world through love. Our disciples should live and breathe the big picture that begins in their neighborhood and workplace while continuing to the ends of the earth. If those people in Acts 8 and 11 hadn’t understood this, you would not be reading this, nor would I have written it. They caught the “ends of the earth” virus.

4. From Providing Activities to Helping Build Relationships

We all know the post-COVID world will look different from those happy days before the pandemic. Some churches won’t exist. Others will have grown. The most successful will be those that provided the best avenues of connectivity between people. The danger and isolation brought by the disease forced those who will succeed in building relationships where they had often structured church life around programs. Coming out of this mess, our people will cling to those relationships, highlighting the shallowness of many pre-COVID activities.

5. From Accumulating Members to Deploying Those Among Us

I love preaching. Caught the bug first time out. Love it more when the seats are full and the offering is fat. The truth is that crowds feed my ego. Times of plenty seem to prove my worth and that I must be doing something right. But satisfaction with adding members, money and staff does little to bring the gospel to Nepal, Mongolia or Namibia. Deploying our people into their neighborhoods and workplaces is the first step towards “all nations.”

This is why the concept of microchurches rings true for so many. Moving beyond marketplace ministry to leading something substantial and enduring is excellent training for those who might eventually venture beyond our shores. But we leaders must reach beyond deploying a few to an ongoing commitment to deploy every member for ministry off-campus and beyond our YouTube feed.

Back to Softball and Discipleship

Softball, discipleship or any other activity could morph into something more than we’ve made them. I think it comes to our expectations of our people. If they are spiritual babes needing coddling, then church sports and ten-minute morning devotions are fine. But if they are to mature into world-changers, we can repurpose discipleship into disciplemaking and turn sports, etc. into relationship builders. Everything, to me, revolves around the grand purpose of the Church – to equip people to make disciples who make disciples to the ends of the earth.

To hear more about making a DiscipleShift, register for this upcoming interactive discussion between Ralph Moore, Myron Pierce, and Norman Nakanishi on Wednesday, Sept. 16 at 2:00 p.m. ET. Register here.

We are better together!

“I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
John 17:22-23

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