We want people to grow as disciples and make other disciples, yet we often never get discipleship efforts off the ground. As I’ve looked at hundreds of different discipleship initiatives, I’ve come across five key mistakes to avoid. These are the elements that prevent our discipleship efforts from getting off to a good start:
Not engaging our own personal discipleship journey
It’s critical that we model for people what we want them to develop. If we’re engaging in our own process of responding to God and growing, that will help to empower others to do the same. That way, we’re not just telling people to do something—we’re actually on the journey with them.
Lack of clarity of what a disciple actually looks like
Too often people have only a vague picture of what a disciple is supposed to look like. What that’s the case, it’s quite difficult to help people live and love like Jesus. Therefore, we need to take a close look at precisely how we live authentically in relationship with others, experience God and living according to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. We need to see what outward behaviors indicate a generous heart, personal transformation, or a spirit of sacrificial service. We need to pay attention to how disciples team alongside others to help impact the community as we make other disciples who follow Jesus. Having a clear picture of what a disciple looks like is critical if we’re going to be effective in our discipling.
Running discipleship as a program
When we run people through a program of some kind—whether it’s a few weeks or a few months—when they are finished they quite reasonably figure they are finished. What that communicates is that discipleship is something you complete and then move on from, rather than a lifelong journey of becoming like Jesus and living and loving like him in community with others on an ongoing basis.
Not focusing on loving obedience
Too often in discipleship efforts, our emphasis is on knowledge. Although some knowledge is important, it’s not nearly as important as the application that leads to a changed life. The critical process is information, application, then transformation. Jesus said, “As you make disciples teach them to obey everything I have commanded you,” and, “If you love me you’ll keep my commandments.” Helping people focus on how God is prompting them in their life can allow them to respond in loving obedience, resulting in true transformation.
Not providing relational support
We all need people around us who will help encourage us. Sometimes it’s a coach who comes alongside us in a one-on-one way to listen, ask questions, help us sort out what we hear God saying to us, and figure out how to plot a course forward to cooperate with that agenda. Other times it’s a small group that stimulates us on to love and good deeds. When we have those kinds of environments, relationships, and processes in place, we can grow as disciples as we seek to help other people become followers of Jesus as well.
Take some time to reflect on your how you are approaching discipleship in your ministry. Are you stumbling into any of these pitfalls? If so, what changes might you make? How could you get forward momentum that moves you toward the kind of transformational, real-life culture of discipleship you want to see?