Why Churches Don’t Produce Disciple-Makers

Who Cares about the Bullseye!

The mission of the church is as obvious as the rising sun – go and make disciples. The method of Jesus is no more ambiguous – gather followers and teach them, share life with them, and enable them to be disciple-makers. Yet somehow in the busyness of constructing buildings, arranging institutions, and planning toddler groups the church has lost sight of its fundamental mission and its fool-proof method. The problem is not that the church is not doing a lot of good stuff. Undoubtedly it is. The problem is that we’re not doing the one thing that Jesus asked us to do before and above all else, make disciples who will then go and make more.

The Four Stages of Learning

The reason disciple-makers are not being made is simple. Our method of telling people what to do and then asking them to do it (i.e. exhort and apply) skips two vital steps in the learning process. In order to become competent at any skill, profession, or way of life four steps are need. The first is directing. Someone must tell me what to do and why to do it. At this stage, theory is essential. I must understand in my head what you are saying and be convinced in my heart of its importance. For discipleship, Sunday preaching and Wednesday Bible studies fulfil this need. These events are where I learn about the doctrine, character, and habits that are intrinsic to the Christian life.

The second step is equipping. Equipping is where a coach is required. I need someone not just to tell me what to do, but to show me how to do it. Often seeing is a more powerful and enduring method of learning than verbal instruction. Observation transmits the incognito wisdom of a veteran, insight that otherwise would not be communicated because no one would think to point it out. To give an everyday example, consider the difference between following a recipe and watching your grandmother cook her celebrated lasagne. No recipe would include the subtle hints and unconscious gestures that only a living example can supply. The same is true for discipleship. It is one thing to read a book about how to have a quiet time or about the Fruits of the Spirit. It is altogether different to see the devotion of a godly, old woman or to observe how a Christian dad reacts to a rebellious teen.

Third is supporting. There are a few self-motivated individuals who can be given a Bible-reading plan and follow it with the persistence of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the gym. But few of us are live action heroes. The majority drop out as soon the next episode of Designated Survivor is unveiled on Netflix. The secular world understands this. This is why universities don’t just give students topics, assignments, and reading lists, leaving them to go and make professionals of themselves, but also appoint professors, mark attendance, set exams, and evaluate progress. The church should take notes. Continued learning requires the support of structure and accountability. For those like me who identify more with Ferris Bueller than Bill Gates, I need more than a Bible Reading Plan; I need someone to ask me in a month where I am in my Bible.

The final step of learning is delegating. Just as the goal of parenting is to see children become adults, the aspiration of all teachers is for learners to become doers. Thus the hope for disciple-makers is that converts will not only grow in personal faith, but that they will eventually make disciples themselves. Yet, this will not happen by chance. All five steps of John Maxwell must be followed: I do it; I do it with you; you do it with me; you do it; you do it with someone else. Here the cycle of learning reaches completion through renewal.

The Stupidity of Preachers like Me

So why doesn’t the church make disciple-makers? The answer is as evident as a hurt knee: we skip from directing to delegating without going through the steps of equipping and supporting. Stupid preachers like me stand up on Sunday and tell people to read their Bibles, to be generous with their money, to evangelise their co-workers, and to lead missional lifestyles, thus delegating responsibility to them, without ever showing them how to do these things or growing them into the roles. Ken Blanchard puts his thumb on the pressure point when he says: ‘What you never want to do is go from ‘directing’ to ‘delegating’. When you do so, you produce disillusioned learners. And I know of no organisation as notoriously guilty of producing disillusioned learners as the church’. Ouch! Guilty as charged.

Imagining a Disciple-Making Church

So what would a disciple-making church look like? Sunday services could never be enough. They lack the relationships and time required for equipping and supporting. Bible Studies cannot fill the gap. Even Community Groups are too slight to bear the load. One thing is needed – the exact model given to us by Jesus and Paul, life-on-life discipleship. The only means of producing mature and equipped disciples is for disciples already mature and equipped to clone themselves. Mature Christians must be willing to coach, mentor and model the faith to other believers so that they, too, can go forth and fulfil the Great Commission. And pastors, this starts with us.





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