The Painful Process of Discipleship

As a district family, we have talked at length about the need for our churches to be multiplication centers where disciples, leaders, and expressions of church are growing both in depth and numbers.  (We have 15+ million people to reach!) We have seen multiple definitions of what a disciple looks like and how that disciple encounters the world around them.  The OVD has a common language around what we see as Marks of a Healthy Disciple. 

  • Intimacy with Jesus
  • Grace Testimony
  • Spiritual Fruit
  • Spiritual Gifts
  • Stewardship
  • Circle of Accountability (COA)

If we have these expectations of ourselves and our environments/churches, why is it so difficult to see movement when it comes to creating discipling cultures? 

Growing up, my family was in the church three to five times a week.  Our weekly rhythm had us in the building Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night.  My sisters and I attended Youth Group.  My mom played the piano and organ so most Saturday mornings she spent at the church practicing.  My dad was an elder and attended board meetings bi-monthly which usually went deep into the night.  Whether it was Sunday School, the service, youth group, prayer meetings, or other special meetings like VBS or revival week, I had plenty of opportunities to be discipled by just showing up.  Deep, discipling relationships became a product of meeting together at the church consistently.  I understand that this isn’t what happens in many church settings today, but it was my experience.  This foundation has been priceless!

Recently, all the statistics are pointing to a major decrease in peoples’ consistency of coming to activities of the church, especially after COVID.  This is discouraging for all of us.  However, having higher attendance metrics is not the most vital thing that is lost.  If the lack of consistent attendance has impacted the number of discipling relationships, we need to find ways to foster relational connections outside of gathering at the church.  For most people, attendance to the activities was their maximum level of commitment.  Discipling relationships was more optional and a step too costly to take. 

To be engaged in an effective discipling relationship, we must be vulnerable to the Holy Spirit’s work through the conduit of another person.  We must be willing to confront the lies we believe and our own brokenness that is exposed to allow the Spirit to heal and restore.  This is a slow, painful process that demands a consistency of connection.  This pain though, results in the glorious freedom of experiencing the truth of God’s love and grace applied to our lives.  This expression of life is exactly what the world needs to see, but it is the characteristic that often is lacking in the lives of our people.  The remedy isn’t to get them back into the building, although this may get them into relational connectivity.  The remedy is to find ways of fostering authentic discipling relationships no matter the venue or program. 

Here are some suggestions in how to move toward discipleship cultures.

  • Evaluating ministries – Analyze each ministry to evaluate the desired outcome of that ministry.  Does it include elements of connectivity at deep levels?  Is discipleship a main priority?
  • Birthing ministries – As a leader, you may need to birth something new with a value of deepening relationships.  I’ve watched my son get creative with his friend group when COVID kept them from meeting at the church.  They used a parking lot as a venue for discipling relationships.  
  • Retooling ministries – You can reset an existing ministry to prioritize connecting people in discipling relationships.  These ministries may include a standard list of questions that stimulate vulnerability and openness to places that need growth.  Does your worship team get to this kind of depth, or do they mainly concern themselves with musical competency?  What about your Governing Board?

Brian Scott

Ohio Valley District

Director of Multiplication