Redefining Discipleship

Defining the win is good. But what do you do when it’s not working? A lot of churches and organizations just redefine it.

I confess to you that small groups have always kicked our butt at Oak Leaf Church. We’ve never been able to reach what we would consider an effective level, according to our standards. We’ve tried several different things, and we always think we’re “almost there,” but it’s been hard. I’m tempted to just give up, cancel them, and try something different.

I know of a couple large, influential churches who are somewhat abandoning groups as a means for discipleship. While there will surely be groups within they church, they wouldn’t be official ministries. Instead, they are redefining discipleship as serving. They are emphasizing the weekend and mobilizing their people to make the weekend happen. I think this will be a trend in new churches over the next ten years, just like groups were the trend twenty years ago.

I further confess to you that killing groups is attractive to me as a church leader. It’s simpler, gets more people involved in the bread and butter program of the church, and gets the small group monkey off my back. In a way, it takes the hardest thing we do, the thing that causes the most relational tension and staff meeting headaches, and just sweeps it away.

But something inside of me just won’t let go.

I fear that we’re willing to spend the time, money and staff to make our Internet campuses and multi-sites work because they are fun and cutting edge, while letting Biblical discipleship suffer because it’s hard to figure out.

I don’t have a problem with a church getting rid of small groups if they determine that there’s a better way to make disciples. Maybe groups need to go in favor of web-based personalized discipleship plans. Maybe groups need to go in favor of one-on-one coaching ala personal trainers at the gym. Or maybe groups need to go in favor of something else.


We may be able to cover care and community via other ministries in our church. But please don’t push back against information to the point where anything information-based is taken off the menu. Christians need to know how to study the Bible. They need to know Church History. They need to wrestle with Theology. They need Godly pastors, teachers and leaders teaching the Word.

Jesus said that we would know the truth, and the truth would set us free. How can we be set free by the truth if we never know it? The Bible is living, active and sharper than a double-edged sword, and that we should learn how to handle it correctly. Can we do this effectively if we’re simply attending a church service?

Is there a call call to not only become better Christians, but smarter Christians, with a deeper and richer understanding of the Gospel? In recent years, new churches have pushed back against classes, seminars and things that look like information transfer because we have a bedrock conviction that information without transformation is useless. That is absolutely true…information alone leads to pride and arrogance and doesn’t automatically make us better Christ followers.

We often make fun of people who want to “go deep” in their faith, but never pick up a towel of service. And rightfully so! Growing as a Christian is NOT about acquiring knowledge. But let’s not forget that Paul was educated and smart. Let’s not forget that the early Christian leaders debated and discussed heavy theological issues like the Trinity and that we stand on their works. Let’s not forget that Luther, and Calvin, and Whitfield were students of Scripture and that they are our heritage. Let’s not forget that great songwriters are often Theologians. Let’s not forget that spiritual learning doesn’t have to be academic.

The reality is that information should be the beginning point. It’s pretty hard to change without processing information. We can’t repent of sin if we are not confronted with information. We cannot understand the cross, salvation, or the church without information.

Information isn’t the end-goal, but it’s often the starting point. So instead of getting rid of anything that looks like a class, why not make those classes more effective, more interesting, more transformational. It’s not that college is bad, it’s that too many classes are boring and useless.

The important thing is that the method doesn’t matter as much as the Biblical imperative of making disciples.

Because small groups really aren’t the end goal anyway. The goal is making disciples, and that’s been the goal ever since the great commission. The win, no matter how cute our mission statements get is making disciples. We can do that without Sunday School, small groups, fog machines, and worship bands.


4 comments so far

  1. Vanessa on

    Read the book “Deepening your Effectiveness” by…I think it is Dan Glover. Great read about the discipleship process. Includes teaching (classes), small groups, etc… Brings a lot of light to the subject.

  2. Mark on

    Great post. I think that we (church planters) pull away from discipleship because it is more difficult to quantify and not as “sexy” as the weekend service but I am afraid that if we don’t figure it out, many of these new churches wont stand the test of time.

  3. […] discipulus Great read on discipleship HERE […]

  4. jacobburson on

    I’m impressed with a lot of what “cutting edge” churches are doing, but some are giving up on small groups because they can’t figure it out and know that they’re people aren’t willing to commit to them and why would they when the leader of their church runs down the idea?

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