How The Church Today Is Getting Discipleship Wrong

Reposted from Carey Nieuwhof

One of the ways you know you’re making progress is that you stop having the same discussion over and over again.

If you’re discussing the same issues on your team or at home year after year, you’re probably stuck.

When it comes to much of the discussion around discipleship, I believe we’re getting it wrong in the church.

We’re stuck.

What if the popular understanding of discipleship is producing some of the ill health and even stagnation and decline we see all around us in the church?

And what if you could do something about it by rethinking what you mean by discipleship?

Different Day, Same Conversation

From my earliest days in ministry, I’ve had a conversation about discipleship that repeats itself again and again.

It goes like something like this:

Me: People need to reach out more and focus more of their time, energy and resources on evangelism.

Other person(s): That’s a great idea but what we really need to focus on is discipleship. There’s such an immaturity in Christians today that we need to focus on growing the ones we have first. And besides, evangelical churches are known for producing shallow, immature Christians.

Pretty compelling logic.

Unless, of course, it’s wrong.

Flabby Christians

I agree that often Christians in the West are immature. I agree our walk doesn’t always match our talk.

But I also think the average North American Christian is about 3000 bible verses overweight.

The way many leaders approach maturity is to assume that knowledge produces maturity. Since when?

It’s wonderful that people understand what they believe, but knowledge in and of itself is not a hallmark of Christian maturity. As Paul says, knowledge puffs up. Love, by contrast, builds up. And some of the most biblically literate people in Jesus day got by-passed as disciples.

The goal is not to know, but to do something with what you know. I wrote more on why our definition of Christian maturity needs to change here.

7 Truths About Authentic Discipleship

Here are seven things I believe are true about biblical discipleship church leaders today should reclaim:

1. Jesus Commanded Us To Make Disciples, Not Be Disciples.

The way many Christian talk, you’d think Jesus told us to be disciples. He commanded us to make disciples. The great commission is, at it’s heart, an outward movement.

Could it be that in the act of making disciples, we actually become more of who Christ designed us to be? It was in the act of sharing faith that thousands of early Christians were transformed into new creations.

I know personally I grow most and learn most when I am helping others. It gives me a place to apply what I’m learning and to take the focus off myself and place it on Christ and others, where it belongs.

2. Discipleship Is Simply Linked To Evangelism.

The thrust of all first century discipleship was to share Christ with the world he loves and died for (yes, Jesus really does love the world).

You can’t be a disciple without being an evangelist.

And for sure, the opposite is true. You can’t be an an evangelist without being a disciple. But somehow many many people would rather be disciples without being evangelists.

3. A Mark Of An Authentic Disciple Includes Getting It Wrong.

A common criticism of churches that draw in large numbers of outsiders and newer believers is that these new followers of Christ get it wrong as often as they get it right. They might not realize that reincarnation isn’t biblical or struggle to understand the faith they’re stepping into.

What if that’s a sign that their discipleship is authentic?

After all, Peter didn’t get it right most of the time when he was around Jesus. Many leaders in the early church needed correction. And even Paul would later confront Peter about his unwillingness to eat with Gentiles. And yet Christ chose to build the early church on Peter and Paul. Imagine that.

4. A Morally Messy Church Is…Inevitable

One stinging criticism of churches that are reaching people is that many of their attenders don’t bear much resemblance to Jesus.

These new, immature Christians can be:

  • swayed by powerful personalities
  • still be sexually active outside of marriage
  • have questionable business practices
  • end up in broken families
  • be too swayed by the culture
  • not know how to conduct themselves in worship
  • doubt core doctrines like the resurrection

If these issues remind you of why you so dislike growing churches or megachurches, just realize that I pulled every one of those problems out of 1 Corinthians. The church in Corinth struggled with every problem listed above and (I think) every problem growing churches today struggle with.

And last time I checked the church in Corinth was an authentic church Christ loved.

The fact that you have these problems may actually be a sign you’re making progress with the unchurched. You don’t want to leave them there, but when people really start engaging with Christ, tidy categories are hard to come by.

In fact the most morally ‘pure’ people of the first century (the Pharisees) were the very ones Jesus most often condemned. Go figure.

5. Maturity Takes Time And Is Not Linear

It would be great if there was instant maturity in faith and in life. But it never works that way.

You can’t expect a 3 year old to have the maturity of a 13 year old, or expect a 23 year old to have the maturity of a 43 year old. When you place expectations on people that they are just not able to bear, you crush or confuse them.

And yet we do that in the church all the time. People grow and mature over time. And our progress isn’t always as linear as a 101, 201, 301 progression would make it. In fact, I know some 23 year olds who are more mature than some 43 year olds.

Expose new Christians to the love of God and community, to great teaching, great relationships, and solid accountability and over time, many will grow into very different people than they were when they first came to Christ. They may grow at different rates and in different measures, but I believe Jesus talked about that. Just don’t judge them after a few months or even a few years.

6. Christian Maturity Was Never About You Anyway.

Christian maturity has never been about you anyway. It is certainly not about how awesome you are compared to others, how smart you are, how righteous you are, or how holy you are.

It is about Jesus. And it is about others.

It was never about you anyway.

7. Love Compels Us

If you love the world, how can you ignore it? Jesus said the authentic mark of his followers is love. He defined the primary relationship between God and humanity as one of love. The truth he ushered in is inseparable from love.

The primary motivation for evangelism and discipleship is the same; it is love. That should characterize both the discussion about evangelism and discipleship and also the way we go about both.

This isn’t an exhaustive treatment of discipleship and evangelism, but in the time it takes to sip a coffee I hope it helps some way advance the conversation about evangelism and discipleship in your church.
And if we advanced our understanding of discipleship in the church, maybe the church and our culture would be transformed.

What do you think? Leave a comment.


A Rebel for Jesus


Reposted from Radical Mentoring

A few years ago, there was a lot of talk about ‘marketplace ministry’ . . . taking God to the workplace. I was all over it. I’d already written a book on the topic, called About My Father’s Business: Taking Your Faith to Work and I was passionate about finding guys who were doing it in the ‘real world.’ I signed up to attend a conference at The Cove in Asheville, NC and while there I was blown away by a guy named Frank Harrison, who is the Chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated, a multi-billion-dollar bottler of Coca-Cola in Charlotte, NC. I was struck by his boldness, his authentic concern for people and his urgent desire to share the gospel. Here was the leader of a publicly traded mega-business who is personally all-in for Jesus. At the time, I thought, “Wow, this guy is a rebel.”

Frank shared the history of Coke and his company’s place in that story as one of the first bottlers of Coca-Cola in the world. Their small territory in Greensboro, NC has since grown into the largest independent bottler of Coca-Cola in the United States. The company’s purpose statement, “To Honor God in All We Do, To Serve Others, To Pursue Excellence, and To Grow Profitably,” underpins a unique and rebellious culture compared to most I’ve seen. Frank discussed his calling into the business and the powerful revelation “that one day I would be held accountable before almighty God for the impact and influence I’ve had with this company.” He has launched a corporate chaplaincy program, prayer groups, Bible studies, stewardship events, corporate giving efforts, and much more. Unheard-of stuff in big business today.

But Frank’s calling goes well beyond his corporate life. A few years back, his son James traveled to South Sudan and witnessed the horrible conditions of the people and particularly the pastors who were trying to help them. Many of these pastors were literally spending days walking to remote villages, and James had the idea to equip these ‘Mobile Messengers’ with motorcycles . . . to increase their impact and improve their personal lives. Thus was born the ministry With Open Eyes. When James unexpectedly died in 2010, his legacy in With Open Eyes became abundantly apparent, and Frank has continued to lead thousands to Jesus through this unique, impactful, and some might even say rebellious ministry. You can check it out at

Ever since hearing him speak, I had always wanted to meet Frank one-on-one to tell him about Radical Mentoring. Out of the blue, one of my mentees went to work for him and began telling him about RM. Before long, this ‘rebel for Jesus’ began using Radical Mentoring as a tool to build and sustain the ‘Jesus-first’ culture of his company’s leadership. Since 2013, through a tremendous period of growth, Frank and my former mentee who became his co-mentor have mentored 8 guys each year, including men from the company and from the community. Frank says, “We’ve seen guys pray with their wives, share worship time with their kids, and grow in their faith like they’ve never done before. I will keep mentoring until I’m called home.”

Life is more full and more fun as a rebel for Jesus. If you need convincing, just ask Frank.

God in Gotham


Reposted from Mustard Seed Budget

New York City – never considered the spiritual heartbeat of America — is now experiencing revival, especially among millennials flocking to upbeat services with vibrant faith communities.

“A lot of people told us, ‘this is the graveyard of churches. Don’t go there. All the hipsters won’t want to come to church.’ We felt that’s the best place to be, where no one wants to go to church,” said Josh Kelsey, senior pastor of C3 Brooklyn Church.

In 1989, less than 1% of city residents attended church, according to CBN. But now about 5% goes to church, and there are hundreds of churches, big and small, scattered throughout the city.

The C3 Church in Brooklyn

The C3 Church in Brooklyn

“New York has reached the tipping point,” CBN concluded. If current trends continue, it could become a majority Christian city by the year 2026, according to CBN.

It turns out that Batman is not going to save Gotham City. Jesus is.

The formula for success has been to revive the unchanging elements like prayer and Bible study while changing the liturgy and relational dynamics to fit the multi-cultural, educated population of the city, pastors say.

“Church for me was a place where I always felt I had to be perfect,” said one church-goer. “C3 allows me to embrace my imperfections and know that God still loves me regardless. So it’s changed my perspective because I know I can still be a human and still beloved by God, which is not an idea I had before.”

Pastor Josh Kelsey

Pastor Josh Kelsey

A 2013 Barna survey found 32% of residents of the Big Apple considered themselves born-again, up from 20% in the 1990s, Religion News Service reported

“New York City is not known as a particularly religious place,” the RNS article stated. “But it is more spiritually active today than even 2001 in the wake of 9/11.”

The Presbyterians and the Dutch Reformed Churches were strong in New York City in the early 1800s but began to misfire as the city grew and changed its ethnic makeup, according to Pastor Tim Keller, a prominent minister in NYC.

When Catholic immigrants flooded Lower Manhattan in the 1880s, churches found themselves with fewer and fewer members. Restaurants, stores and theaters burgeoned, supplanting churches as a social gathering place. Many churches moved out of the ethnic downtown, and others built houses of worships in a fruitless effort to attract congregations, Keller said.

With numbers dwindling, churches grasped for fixes. Charles Briggs of Union Theological Seminary tried modernizing the message, teaching that much of scripture contains error. This gave rise to liberal Christianity, and instead of attracting followers with a more “intellectually reasonable” message, it finished off local churches, Keller said.

In recent years, New York City grew more expensive and cosmopolitan, attracting college-educated professionals who sometimes took a dim view of faith. In 1989, only 1% of the city attended a Bible-preaching church.

But now a new generation of Christian leaders is spearheading a pendulum swing back to God. Mac Pier, founder of the New York City Leadership Center, coordinates “concerts of prayer” with a network of congregations in the city.

“There’s been a huge hunger in churches across New York to come together and pray together over the last 25 years,” he told The Christian Post in 2014. “We’ve had 2000 churches, over a quarter of a million people that have gathered in various expressions of prayer including prayer walks, prayer summits, the National Day of Prayer. We have had a daily prayer vigil” for over 20 years.

Pastor Tim Keller pastors a Presbyterian church in New York.

Pastor Tim Keller pastors a Presbyterian church in New York.

There are 2,500 Hispanic churches, 800 Korean churches and 400 churches in Harlem alone, Pier said.

“They make a contribution to the community,” he said. “The provide volunteerism. They engage public schools. Ninety percent of the active Christian church is non-white. New York is probably the most international church in human history.”

Christianity Today reported in 2013 the “proliferation of immigrant churches and white evangelicals, who now compose up to 5 percent of NYC’s population. Here, charismatic Christians are challenging their city’s wide divide between weak and strong—and showing that there is a power beyond the dollar and the degree.”

Indeed, New York City is not an abyss of zombies, Starbucks-sipping elites who believe they’re too smart to believe in God. It is a vibrant community much in need of responding to God.

“We’re not coming in with a message that will discourage them but rather lift their eyes to know who Jesus is,” said Pastor Kelsey. “If we do it from a place of humility and empathy, then people are receptive to it. Even if they’ve never heard it before or they come in thinking this is irrelevant, once they come in and sense the presence of God and the community and the fellowship, they really do open up to what God is about.”

In God We Trust


Reposted from Sunny Skyz

Several years ago, a friend of mine and her husband were invited to spend the weekend at the husband’s employer’s home. My friend, Arlene, was nervous about the weekend. The boss was very wealthy, with a fine home on the water-way, and cars costing more than her house. The first day and evening went well, and Arlene was delighted to have this rare glimpse into how the very wealthy live.

The husband’s employer was quite generous as a host, and took them to the finest restaurants. Arlene knew she would never have the opportunity to indulge in this kind of extravagance again, so was enjoying herself immensely. As the three of them were about to enter an exclusive restaurant that evening, the boss was walking slightly ahead of Arlene and her husband. He stopped suddenly, looking down on the pavement for a long, silent moment. Arlene wondered if she was supposed to pass him. There was nothing on the ground except a single darkened penny that someone had dropped, and a few cigarette butts.

Still silent, the man reached down and picked up the penny. He held it up and smiled, then put it in his pocket as if he had found a great treasure. How absurd! What need did this man have for a single penny? Why would he even take the time to stop and pick it up? Throughout dinner, the entire scene nagged at her. Finally, she could stand it no longer. She casually mentioned that her daughter once had a coin collection, and asked if the penny he had found had been of some value.

A smile crept across the man’s face as he reached into his pocket for the penny and held it out for her to see. She had seen many pennies before! What was the point of this? “Look at it.” He said. “Read what it says.” She read the words “United States of America.” “No, not that; read further.” “One cent?” “No, keep reading.” “In God we Trust?” “Yes!” “And?” “And if I trust in God, the name of God is holy, even on a coin. Whenever I find a coin I see that inscription. It is written on every single United States coin, but we never seem to notice it! God drops a message right in front of me telling me to trust Him? Who am I to pass it by? When I see a coin, I pray, I stop to see if my trust IS in God at that moment. I pick the coin up as a response to God; that I do trust in Him. For a short time, at least, I cherish it as if it were gold. I think it is God’s way of starting a conversation with me.

Lucky for me, God is patient and pennies are plentiful!

When I was out shopping today, I found a penny on the sidewalk. I stopped and picked it up, and realized that I had been worrying and fretting in my mind about things I cannot change. I read the words, “In God We Trust,” and had to smile. Yes, God, I get the message. It seems that I have been finding an inordinate number of pennies in the last few months, but then, pennies are plentiful!

And God is patient…

Rich vs Poor

One day a rich man took his son on a trip to the village. He wanted to show him how poor someone can be. They sent some time on the farm of a poor family.

The dad asked, “Did you see how poor they are? What did you learn?”

The son answered, “We have one dog, they have four, we have a pool, they have a river, we have lanterns at night, they have stars, we buy food, they grow theirs, we have walls to protect us, they have friends, we have encyclopedias, they have a Bible.”

Then as they headed home, the son said, “Thank you, Dad, for showing me how poor we are.”