Five Reasons We Don’t Disciple (Part 2)


Last time, we looked at the biblical rationale for making disciples and asked the question, “Why aren’t we obeying the Lord’s command?” I suggested that “cheap grace” was one of the prime suspects.


Let me suggest two more reasons our discipleship is so shallow.

1. Our Churches are Seeker-sensitive, but Believer-insensitive.

First, our churches are seeker-sensitive, but believer-insensitive. No church has done more to research and develop seeker-sensitive services than Willow Creek in Chicago. They first started tailoring their church services specifically for seekers 30 years ago.

But in 2008 they published the results of a four-year survey on how effective they had been in fulfilling Jesus’ call to make disciples (Matt. 28:19). Their conclusion was that after three decades, they needed to shift from seeker-sensitive services to services which focused on enabling believers to grow in their faith: from seeker-sensitive to believer-sensitive.

What Willow Creek realized (the hard way) is that we cannot serve two masters. If our focus is always on trying to please seekers, we will not be growing disciples. Our diet as a church will be restricted to milk, and our growth will be stunted because we’ll never get to consume solid food.

The writer of Hebrews castigates those believers who have never progressed beyond “the elementary truths of God’s word”:

…though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Heb 5:12-14)

To be clear, I’m not saying there isn’t a place for one-off services which focus on the outsider. Carol services, for example. But if that’s our general approach every week, Christians will not be hearing the deeper things of God, their discipleship will remain shallow, and as a result they’ll be practically incapable of discipling anyone else.

We needn’t fear that in making a shift toward more believer-sensitive services our churches will no longer speak to non-Christians. We will still, after all, be preaching the gospel. And the gospel that sustains and grows believers is the same gospel that got us started.

As a result, for the benefit of believers and unbelievers alike, we should be preaching the gospel every week—in every service, whatever our text. Jesus spoke of the whole Scripture as testifying about him (John 5:39). So even if we’re lurching through Leviticus, let’s preach it the way Jesus did: as pointing to the redemption that is in him.

Of course, if we’re fixated on trying to be seeker-sensitive, there’s a good chance we won’t ever preach Leviticus anyway—or any other part of Scripture we think might startle the unsuspecting. This is not good. As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 reminds us: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

In other words, we need all of Scripture to make disciples. If we neglect certain parts of it because we’re worried we’ll drive away non-Christians, the quality of our discipleship will sharply decline.

2. Our churches are less converted.

Second, our churches are less converted. That is, our churches have fewer Christians in them, so there are fewer people able to disciple each other. No doubt the reasons for this are complex, but let me suggest two.

Firstly, it used to be that to be known as a member of the body of Christ, you had to be a Christian. That’s the assumption of the New Testament.

But now, in many churches—even in some large, well-known evangelical churches—you can become a member simply by ticking a box on a welcome card. There is little or no attempt to examine the person spiritually to try and ascertain that they are truly followers of Christ. How can we expect people who aren’t disciples themselves to be discipling others?

Secondly, the practice of church discipline has been all but lost.

This was the standard custom of the New Testament church, or at least the obedient New Testament church. In 1 Corinthians 5, for example, Paul says that we are to expel unrepentant sinners from membership in the church.

Our failure to obey Paul’s command here is spiritually deadly. It results in members who are not disciples. Indeed, they may be showing signs of being actively opposed to Christ, to the great dishonor of the Lord and his gospel. Again, we can’t expect people who aren’t disciples themselves to be discipling others.

Why have we neglected these two things?

I think there are several reasons, but here’s one of the main ones: numbers have become so important to us that we will do anything to boost them. We are desperate for people to enter, and desperate for them to stay. We have lowered the cost in the hope that more will buy.

What happens when we duck the biblical practices of church membership and discipline? We end up with a church culture that becomes increasingly de-Christianized, denuded of its salt and light. A culture of discipleship in our churches is impossible when so many of our members are not disciples themselves. And the influence of those non-discipling church members on those church members who are genuinely seeking to follow Christ will not be benign.

To put it another way (and to borrow Mark Dever’s analogy), it used to be that the front door of the church was protected carefully, while the back door was wide open. That is, churches were careful about who they let in, and they diligently disciplined those whose lives contradicted their professions. Now, however, we leave the front door swinging wide open, and we jam the back door tight shut because we’re so afraid of anyone leaving.

If this is our mindset, then sadly we can expect to see congregations who are not discipling one another.

Next time, I’ll suggest a fourth reason we don’t disciple.

Editor’s note: Click here for part one of the series. 

Barry Cooper

Barry is an author, teacher, and screenwriter, and the Co-Founder of Christianity Explored Ministries. You can follow him on Twitter @barrygcooper.

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