Have We Changed What It Means to Be a Disciple?

3 Ways We Have Lowered the Bar for Discipleship

When I say “We” I refer to the church. I count myself in that clan. I grew up going to church every Sunday. Our family attended church Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, and any other time something was going on at the church.


That wasn’t a negative thing for me. It was my extended family. We did a lot of life together with other families. Many Godly men and women influenced my life in positive ways.

Looking back I recognize something that has become engrained in today’s church culture. It’s the idea that once a person “prays a prayer” of salvation, the job is complete. Now just keep hanging around the church, and you will be okay.

I prayed a “prayer of salvation” at the age of seven. I have a Bible with the date written in my seven-year-old handwriting in the front cover. I found the Bible on my bookshelf. Take a look!

I have to admit that’s stinking cute.

But have we changed what it means to be a disciple?

What is Discipleship?

When I say “discipleship”, I mean “teaching a new believer how to follow Jesus Christ.”

The best way I know to disciples another person is by doing life together. Eating, working, playing. Knowing, disagreeing, forgiving. That is hard to do if we see each other for only 2-3 hours a week. And especially if those few hours are spent in some kind of classroom environment.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the intellectual study of what it means to be a follower of Christ. And on occasion my life is changed after a discussion in a Bible study or listening to a sermon.

But when you add to that living alongside other believers in consistent, authentic community, discipleship truly happens. What it looks like to follow Christ daily is modeled.

How do I relate to my spouse and my kids as a Christ follower? What does it look like in my vocation? What about when life is challenging? How does a follower of Jesus Christ interact with the world around him or her?

It’s one thing to learn the ways of Jesus in a classroom, listening to a preacher along with a few hundred others, or even over a cup of coffee. But it’s a whole other thing to learn His ways when we are in the midst of living life with other Christ followers.

I think the reason this isn’t a priority in many churches today is because we have lowered the bar of what it means to be a disciple of Christ.

How have we lowered that bar?

  1. We put a focus on “praying the prayer.” I know that moment of decision is important. We all have to make it sooner or later whether we will follow Jesus Christ. But I think it’s more of a process than it is a moment in time. We become followers of Christ. Even if we do have a date written inside the front cover of our Bible. What is as equally important, if not more so, is if someone teaches us by modeling a life with Jesus life written on the inside of their heart.
  2. We equate church attendance to following Jesus Christ. A lot of good things happen at church. Or at least they should. Fellowship. Bible study. Worship. Service. The challenge is that if we over-emphasize church attendance, we model and teach a segmented life. This is how you live when you are at church and with church friends. And that is how you live when you are everywhere else; home, work, school, at play. That creates good church attenders, not necessarily disciples.
  3. We lack authentic, life-on-life community. Unless you have found a smaller group of people within your church that you can live life with, attendance at church once or twice a week at the most, will not make disciples. How many of your church friends are you close enough to that you feel comfortable just dropping by their home or them dropping in on you at your home? If you feel like you have to spend a couple of hours cleaning your house before anyone comes over then you don’t have any friends like that.

Raising the bar of discipleship.

Raising the bar of discipleship isn’t a painful process. It is an intentional shift in the way we live our lives.

  • It will take rearranging priorities. Yes, you will have to remove some things from your schedule.
  • It will mean allowing others to really know you. I can look like the perfect husband and father to those I go to church with each week for a couple of hours. But if they do more life with me, they will see me also when I blow it.
  • It will have immediate opportunities to apply what you learn about following Jesus Christ. Rather than intellectual knowledge that is easily stored away until the next Bible study, a disciple applies what he or she learns to every facet of their life.

Will you take a look at your life along with me and see where we need to return to what God calls a disciple?

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I am a longtime Austinite. Married my beautiful wife over 25 years ago. Adopted our son September 2012. Currently a writer and loving it. Previous jobs and careers include project management, missionary, and pastor. I enjoy sports (both watching and playing), traveling, reading, digging in dirt and hanging with my friends and family.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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6 thoughts on “Have We Changed What It Means to Be a Disciple?

  1. A thought provoking post. Personally, I believe there are many reasons we ourselves aren’t disciples, and aren’t growing disciples as the church used to do. For me, first of all, is that many contemporary churches don’t take time to ask people about calling on Christ to be saved. Altar calls are a thing of the past. There doesn’t necessarily have to be an altar call, but an opportunity to ask Christ for salvation should always be provided. Romans 10:9 says we are to confess with our mouth and believe in our heart. How does one confess if one isn’t asked? I feel a disservice is done to each person in church if this opportunity isn’t given, but that’s just my personal opinion. Once saved, then discipleship really begins. It’s a lifelong process, too. That seminary phrase ‘progressive sanctification’ comes to mind. We slowly, and throughout our life, change to become more like Christ. Recognizing, with humility, how much was given to us in grace is of utmost importance. I know I fail daily, and am not worthy (in my mind) of such grace and forgiveness. The wonderful thing is, though, it’s not my thoughts about me that count, nor is it any other’s…it is only Christ. We can all more readily follow Christ when we realize just how much He’s done for us and loves us. Letting that emit forth from us impacts others, and allows us to build a closer relationship with them so that we can disciple them. Humility, respect, acceptance, honesty…all these are necessary to build a relationship, and until we build them we can’t disciple or be discipled. Confronting another, pointing out sin in another’s life – without the right relationship all you will do is drive someone away. You have to earn that right, and you have to earn the right to disciple someone. Developing these takes time, and many of us don’t have that time anymore. Life is busy….very busy. Most households have two workers, many times there is an agonizing commute involved for that work. With children in the house, life is even busier and more hectic. When church was a scheduled event (Sun a.m., Sun p.m., Wed) it was easier, usually. Now with small groups, life groups, men’s groups, ladies groups, etc., and no SS program, it seems as if another night/time/event is added to the schedule that is already overfilled. Many don’t get discipleship simply because of burnout. With small groups, too, it sometimes feels forced instead of a relationship that grows out of mutual consent and respect. Discipleship requires relationship, but it’s how those get built and the time invested that are important. Opportunities to meet more people, to begin to develop relationships are needed, but if one attends a single small group meeting, then if they decide that is not the one for them and go to another, all of a sudden everyone in the first group starts to question why the person left and went somewhere else. That, too, can drive people away. I don’t believe it can be forced, just as relationships and friendships can’t be. However, getting people together at different events/times/classes/etc allows those relationships and friendships to develop, and that allows people to do life together, and from that deep/true discipleship can occur. Sorry this was so long.

    • Thank you as always for your well thought out comments Deloy. My takeaway is that whatever the method that’s used relationship is vital. Without relationship true discipleship does not happen.

  2. Kenny – good stuff, as always. Thanks for provoking thought. Jesus shared his life with the disciples so that when he left, they would carry on his mission to “make disciples.” And that cannot happen unless we remain in him. Then we can bear much fruit. (John 15). We call ourselves disciples of Christ, but we no longer think of ourselves as “disciple-makers.” What a shame!

  3. Good post Kenneth. I have been studying the judgement seat of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10-15) and, If I understand it correctly, your post in just the beginning of our letting Christ lead us for His glory.