Why we fail to make Disciples

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Discipleship

Last time I challenged you to think about your discipleship program and asked if people are becoming more like Jesus. The problem is that much of what is called “discipleship” in our time does not produce that result.

Students in classWhen many Christians talk about a “discipleship program,” they are thinking of a “class” in which a teacher presents some “material.” Once the students have learned the content, they have been “discipled.” There are hundreds of resources out there to provide “material” to meet this need. Some of them include pretty good content. Teaching is important, and classes can be useful. But that by itself will not produce the life transformation necessary to make disciples.

Why most discipleship programs don’t work

How did Jesus make disciples? He didn’t send people off to take a class or go through some “material.” He didn’t give them a list of books to read. He chose 12 men and spent time with them nearly 24/7 for three years. They heard his teaching, traveled with him, ate, with him, and saw how he lived his life. After a while, he invited them to participate in doing the things that he was doing. After three years of this, they were ready to lead a movement that is still going strong nearly 2000 years later.

How does that compare to our usual “discipleship programs”? As a thought experiment, suppose that the disciples averaged about 12 hours per day with Jesus. That would allow time for 8 hours of sleep, some personal time, and some time spent away. Since they were together seven days a week, that would come to 84 hours per week spent with Jesus. They did this for three years. Compare that to a typical “discipleship class” that takes up two hours per week. (I’m being generous here, many are shorter than that). That means that we would need to continue the class for 42 years to be equivalent to the amount of time that the disciples spent with Jesus in one year. Since Jesus’s public ministry covered about three years, we would need to continue our “discipleship program” for 126 years to be equivalent to the amount of time that Jesus spent with the twelve apostles.

What is the problem?

Do you see the problem here? We think that spending an hour or two per week together for 10 or 12 weeks can produce the same sort of results that Jesus did by living with the disciples 24/7 for three years. That’s not going to work. That would be like thinking that someone learning a new sport could become an Olympic athlete by practicing an hour or two per week for a few months. That is clearly impossible.

Bill Hull has identified the reasons we don’t make disciples the way that Jesus did:
1. It’s hard
2. It’s slow
We don’t like hard and slow. We want something that is easy and fast. But easy and fast does not produce disciples. Listen to the words of Jesus:

“13 Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. “ (Mat. 7:13-14, ESV)

We cannot realistically expect spend 12 hours a day 7 days a week with those we are trying to disciple. So how can we become more effective at making disciples? That will be the topic of my next post. Meanwhile, please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Series Navigation<< What is a Disciple?

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