A Starting Point for Strengthening Your Church’s Discipleship

Here’s a way to strengthen your church’s discipleship efforts today. 

In my book, Disciple, I write that many churches have a discipleship strategy that looks like a bunch of puzzle pieces lying on the floor, with nobody working to connect them. That is, a church may have the right pieces to have a good discipleship strategy, but nobody’s ever really put the pieces together to create a strategy. The result is often a church filled with activity, but few disciples. 

In my experience, though, some churches trying to address this issue still fail because they do one of the following things:

    1. They try to put the puzzle together without having clearly defined what a “disciple” is. Churches who want to make disciples but who have never defined a “disciple” are aiming for something nebulous. They, too, will have activity that leads to no prescribed ending.
    2. They try to put the whole puzzle together too quickly, and the pieces remain only loosely connected. Yes, the church has a discipleship strategy, but the members don’t always know how the strategy works. Ministries “fit” in the strategy, yet they remain siloed and isolated. 
    3. They try to adopt somebody else’s strategy and force it on their congregation. That strategy may be a good one, but that’s not a guarantee it’s the best one for every congregation. At a minimum, we need to consider how we might contextualize any strategy into a particular context. 
    4. They try to do something to address the issue, but without praying much about it. This problem, of course, is a fundamental problem. To plan without praying is to say, “We can handle this issue on our own. We don’t need God’s guidance or His blessing.” Prayer matters. 
    5.  They establish a plan, but then put the wrong people in charge of some of the puzzle pieces. Even the best plans can go awry with less-than-the-best leadership. And, it takes only one bad leader of one puzzle piece to weaken the church’s entire process; thus, it’s imperative to prayerfully seek the best laborers for our churches. 
    6. They decide not to do anything with discipleship until all the puzzle pieces are in place. That is, they work hard on developing their strategy, but they give little attention to discipling while they’re creating that strategy. Even if they don’t do it intentionally, they put discipleship on hold regardless of how long it takes them to complete their work.

It’s this latter issue, actually, that gives raise to this blog post. While you’re working on putting the pieces together, there is a way to keep discipling during that time. In fact, it’s a fundamental way to disciple that leaders ought to be doing anyway: mentoring 1-3 other believers. 

Every church leader, beginning with the pastors, can recruit one or more believers for personal discipling. I’ve been working with a group of three young guys recently, and it requires only about 1.5 hours of my time each week—though I trust they are still getting something that helps them walk with Jesus. It might be, in fact, that the 1.5 hours are some of the best use of my time each week as I teach believers who can then teach other believers (2 Tim 2:2). And, to be honest, I’ve learned that you can handle a lot of negative stuff leaders face when you know the Lord is using you to change just a few lives. 

Pastor and church leader, you can strengthen your church’s discipleship today by investing in somebody personally. I challenge you to prayerfully seek someone ASAP—and let mentoring be one of the pieces of your church’s discipleship puzzle.

Posted on May 1, 2024

Dr. Chuck Lawless is a leading expert in spiritual consultation, discipleship and mentoring. As a former pastor, he understands the challenges ministry presents and works with Church Answers to provide advice and counsel for church leaders.
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