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  • Writer's pictureJosh Reading

Myths that block effective discipleship

Ten myths that stunt your discipleship growth In this first post we will cover just two of the ‘myths’ or ‘lies’ that end up stunting growth as a disciple and disciple maker. It has been my experience that some of these ideas are so entrenched in people's perspectives that some might find this confronting. Can I encourage you to ask the following central questions? What does the Word say or show in this regard? What example has Jesus given us? Let's dive in.

  1. Discipleship is ‘a’ purpose of the Church. At some point the church has divorced itself from ‘discipleship’ and turned it into a program, or ‘a purpose' of the church. Churches present the idea that they have a ‘discipleship program/environment’, a ‘worship program’ etc. I understand having a knowledge or growth track but Jesus actually puts EVERYTHING under the heading of discipleship.

Discipleship, becoming like Jesus, giving like Jesus, thinking like Jesus, knowing Jesus IS the umbrella under which all other things fall.

This is also important because people start to think many things are 'not discipleship'. Statements like, 'preaching/teaching is good but it is not discipleship' are not in any way

Biblically founded.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matt 28:19 – 20

Everything falls under the commission to make disciples. When you raise your hands in worship or fall to your knees, not only are you worshipping God but you are in actual fact giving an example to imitate, you are 'discipling' those around you.

We don’t simply raise our hands because it feels good but because it shows to others (or if you a parent, to your children) that you are obediently surrendering to Jesus.

When you prioritise getting to church at times when you would rather do otherwise you are giving an example to imitate that the family of Jesus matters. You are discipling.

When you are doing the opposite of these things, you are also discipling. When you decide that you ‘don’t want to serve’ in community, you are discipling your children to see church as a product you consume rather than a community you are a partner in. When you speak about other people behind their backs at the kitchen table, you are discipling those you influence to see gossip as acceptable. I have often said, to many people’s surprise, that I am not greatly concerned about what my children ‘learn’ in Kids Ministry. This is primarily because I know my wife and I are setting a kingdom focus in our home. What I am, however, interested in, is seeing others set a broad example that reinforces truth, that shows them a community that they belong to. If you are a parent and you are waiting for Sunday to see your children discipled, you are doing them a great disservice. Sunday gatherings should be the cherry, not the cake. Whatever your posture, trust me, you are discipling people. The question for each of us is ‘Am I discipling people toward Jesus (1 Cor 11:1) or toward something else?'

2. Discipleship is ideally a ‘one on one’ relationship

Ok, this is possibly the most controversial statement in this series of blogs but this idea of discipleship being one on one is more of a western idea rather than a Biblical idea. Nowhere in scripture is this taught nor modelled by Jesus or Paul as our primary examples of ‘disciplers'.

a) It has no biblical support

This matters because the idea of a ‘one on one’ relationship divorces discipleship from the accountability and gifts within wider community. It actually makes the task all the more difficult. If Jesus doesn’t do it and you can’t see examples of such, or any command to do such in all of scripture then clearly we have a problem. It most certainly can be argued that we need more intimate environments for discipleship and that Jesus models this, but even Jesus’ primary context for discipleship was with the 12. This is not to say there should not be ‘one on one’ moments but the idea of ‘one on one’ being necessary or preferable has no biblical or practical support. I want you to imagine Jesus, rather than with the 12 and 70, pouring his life into one individual, he has given him all his knowledge, his experience, his love and that individual is... Judas. The movement Jesus was to start would have ceased immediately. Rather, Jesus chose an inner circle of disciples (12) from amongst another wider circle of his disciples (70). b) It can create unhealthy dependence This idea also breeds a false idea that discipleship is found in a single source. ‘Jack is my discipler’. The truth of the matter is we are being discipled on some level every time we posture to learn. We can certainly have primary influencers but it is in the breadth of community that we are equipped to become mature, ready to be everything God has called us to become (Eph 4:1 – 11). We certainly see ‘tighter’ relationships in scripture, Paul and Timothy are one of the key examples but Timothy was not in some isolated relationship with Paul rather he was taught ‘in the presence of many witnesses’ (2 Tim 2:2). Silas and other believers travelled with them as they extended the kingdom, working and witnessing, expounding the word in community.

c) It stunts community growth. Often people embrace these ideas then rapidly realise they do not have the capacity to pour their lives into a single individual. The need is great and soon they run around like a chicken without its head trying to pour into multiple individuals, and then they fall over dead. Work smarter or you will be worked over!

There are times and even seasons when it may be needed (for instance marital problems or highly difficult issues) but these are exceptions, not the rule. Even many of these more delicate issues are best worked out in accountable community. Not only do we see this in the Church but in more secular environments such as Alcoholics Anon. d) It limits growth potential

'One on one' is an ‘addition strategy’. It has no capacity for multiplication. It is like a parent who thinks, ‘I should just have one child, then I can put all my time into this individual. They will be better off for it’. Whilst obviously not always possible in natural reproduction, in placing ourselves in this position in a discipleship environment we are overestimating ourselves and underestimating the work of the Spirit. Could you imagine the disciples on the Day of Pentecost responding to the conversion of over 3000 with such an individualistic strategy. They did not because there is no conception that such an idea would even exist.

Jesus’ example and the example given in Acts 2:42 – 27 teaches us the importance of disciple-making being a communal pursuit.

Even when ‘one on one’ is needed for sensitive issues it should not be in place of communal discipleship but as an occasional supplement for specific reasons.

I have heard occasional arguments for one on one discipleship as the primary context using verses such as 2 Tim 2:2 and 1 Thes 1:9, which bewilder me because each of these is plural in focus.

For instance…

“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” (NIV, italics added) 2 Tim 2:2

Paul did not have an exclusive ‘one on one’ discipleship strategy. Timothy was clearly in his ‘inner circle’ but he was not alone. Removing this ideal will take away a false conception and in doing so place discipleship back in its communal and broad context.

I believe some people are seeking out something scripture does not prescribe or describe and in such actually stunting their own growth and that of those around them. Often people are disappointed due to unbiblical expectations. Shifting to a more biblical expectation also shifts heart and capacity. Continue to read the coming blogs as I cover other ‘Myths that stunt Discipleship Growth’. We have eight more to go.

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