This post may contain links that generate commission for me. This costs you nothing but helps to cover the costs for this website.
One of the core tasks Jesus left us with was to make disciples. In some senses this seems really clear and simply. Yet anyone who has embarked on this journey soon discovers there is complexity and nuance involved in obeying this command. It is not a process that fits neatly into our lives as though we might be able to cookie cutter disciples, or produce them in the factory lines of our churches.
For many this recent pandemic has raised fresh questions about the way in which we see people grow and experience transformation. If we are honest this season of immense pressure, uncertainty and anxiety has revealed both in our own lives and in the lives of those we lead a lack of resilience and disciple forming. Under pressure we all tend to show the worst versions of ourselves.
Changes to church attendance trends and the swathe of challenges facing churches trying to reestablish Sunday gatherings and other church activities have at times also revealed a weakening of connection between people and their church communities. The kind of committed familial relationships we see in the New Testament have given way at times to a more consumer minded outlook where occasional virtual attendance is somehow enough to signal engagement.
So as leaders in churches how are we to approach these challenges of discipleship?
1. Grace and Empathy
Well the first thing that comes to mind is with grace. This season of pressure has not created our problems, rather it has revealed them. This has been a season of unveiling. A season of shaking where all that is not built on a sure foundation is wobbling. This feels deeply uncomfortable for most of us and yet if we can hold tight to the true anchor of our faith it will point us onwards on the journey.
I unfortunately hear much frustration amongst leaders at the moment and if I’m honest I get it. It has been a hard time for leaders, working endless hours in an online world that is foreign and for which no amount of ministry training has prepared us. Add to that dealing with a lot of anxious people in a culture that promotes criticism and divisive tribalism around a variety of ill founded opinions. Yet we must put down our stones and breathe.
To do anything other is to add to the mess. How can we get inside the hearts and minds of a hurting people. How can we understand the anxieties everyone is feeling? How can we have grace and love for those who may have lost their way?
Being frustrated at those who no longer attend or contribute to church life is self sabotage.
As we approach the area of discipleship, genuinely caring for those we seek to disciple has to be the starting point. We don’t want to disciple people into our own version of anxiety and frustration. Rather we want to see people encounter the kind of love that casts out all our anxiety.
Whether we like it or not, if we are leaders, people will follow in our footsteps.
2. Feed the Hungry
The hard truth for us as leaders is that sometimes people simply don’t want what we are offering. If you have ever tried to feed a toddler who isn’t interested in the food you are serving them you know exactly what I mean. There is a high likely hood you will end up wearing the meal.
Part of loving people is letting them set their own boundaries. When it comes to children we of course have a responsibility to ensure they get the nutrients they need to stay healthy and grow up. When we apply the same principle to adults however it becomes unhealthy really quickly.
Sometimes when it comes to making disciples people simply don’t want discipled!
In any gathering of people there will be those who are on the fringes and those right at the core of any activities. These are fluid and vague groupings of course. Some are hungry to learn and grow and others simply want to be along for the ride.
We often long for people to discover the joy of embracing the journey of discipleship yet watch them opt for something else. This hurts our hearts.
Jesus faced this same challenge. He ministered to the thousands. He fed them and prayed for them and cast out their demons and sat at their dinner tables. Yet when it came to his death there were 120 left. At times his messages actually pushed people away. The ‘come and eat my flesh’ one was a particularly un-seeker sensitive message.
What Jesus looked for was those prepared to push past the uncomfortableness and still stay close. Those who still hung on his words even when they seemed harsh and confusing.
Jesus still spoke to the masses and healed the many yet he gave himself fully to those who were hungry.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled”
When it comes to making disciples it is vital we remember this. We are called to focus our efforts on the hungry. Those who have discovered the words of eternal life and want more.
Sometimes we can spend a lot of our energy trying to persuade people to be hungry. It seems strange to put it like that. When what we should be doing is finding the hungry and feeding them.
It doesn’t change our love and our care for whoever comes to us it simply means that the core discipleship happens with those who want it and choose it.
So maybe we need to create barriers to discipleship as much as we do open doors. Are there environments within our churches that require a higher level of commitment?
If we try to treat everyone the same then we may fail to really see resilient disciples. Perhaps that is part of our challenge going forward?
Our desire for great numbers may be part of the problem here. It ultimately took Jesus 3 years to disciple 12 men despite him speaking to the thousands.
Maybe we need to reframe our discipleship and bless where God is blessing, feed those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and pray that it ignites something powerful in our midst.
What do you think?
* Using this link means I receive commission to support the running of this blog and it costs you nothing.