This post may spark an argument in your next staff or leadership meeting. Hopefully, it will actually prevent one.
I recently found myself pulled into a discussion with some discipleship pastors about what real discipleship is. The guys in that room believe discipleship happens best in the classroom. Many lead pastors I talk to believe that preaching is the primary form of discipleship in a local church, which everything else supports. A couple of books I recently read assert that mentoring is the best form of discipleship.
So who is correct? What is legit discipleship?
Is PREACHING Discipleship?
Most senior/lead pastors will invest at least a dozen hours into a sermon. I have done this for 30 years with the strong conviction that I have been discipling my people. Pastors are not just serving up appetizers or desserts, while the real meal is being shared in smaller groups. The lead pastor should be the lead disciple maker in every church, both on and off the stage.
LifeWay Research asked pastors what they thought was the most effective method of discipleship was, and most said it was through their preaching (Transformational Discipleship). I don’t disagree that preaching is a legitimate form of discipleship, but should it be the primary strategy for your church?
Are GROUPS Discipleship?
What do Sunday School, Small Groups, Life Groups, and Discipleship Groups have in common? None of these terms are mentioned in the Bible. I’m not sure why we sweat the terms as much as we do. Secondly, these groups are powerfully being used to make disciples within the context of community.
To know what a pastor believes about small group discipleship, just look on his calendar. It is unfortunate that most pastors are not consistently in small groups that they don’t lead. Our people will be more compelled by what we do than what we say.
I am currently leading a group of three men in our church in what we call a “D-Group.” We meet once a week at Cracker Barrel to give accountability and support on a level that is difficult to achieve in a larger mixed gender class. Additionally, my wife and I are started a Life Group for Millennials recently in our church, just like we did in our last church.
Pastor, don’t waste your time preaching about discipleship from your pulpit until you are ready to practice it personally with others. Groups are another legitimate way to make disciples.
Is MENTORING Discipleship?
I have been discipled from good preaching and teaching, but mentoring is where I can attribute most of my personal spiritual growth.
I have written several blog posts on mentoring, but pastors need to start with this one: Every Pastor Needs a Mentor Like Paul. I have always had at least one pastor speaking into my life with ten more birthdays than me. I also have a handful of ministry mentees I am pouring into as well. Well, maybe two handfuls, but my position at LifeWay affords me those opportunities.
Jesus made disciples in groups of hundreds, handfuls, and one-on-one, so why wouldn’t we? At the end of the day, if somebody is helping someone else grow in their love for Jesus and His Word, does is really matter whether it is done in an auditorium, classroom, or coffee shop? Preaching, teaching, and mentoring are all legitimate and complementary modes of disciple-making.
I would be interested to hear about other discipleship models that would you recommend.