Discipleship Is Not A Program – So What Is It?

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There seems to be a confusion of definitions when it comes to defining discipleship. People want to define discipleship as all the things they are already doing. And what churches are already doing are typically programmatic.

Let’s be clear – Discipleship is not a sermon or a Bible class. Discipleship is most likely not your small group ministry. Discipleship is not something you cover in a weekend seminar and now you are a church serious about discipleship.

Discipleship is not a program

You can’t just find one more deacon to do this and one more hire doesn’t automatically fix it. Discipleship was never meant to be run through the typical organizational principles and layers of authority that are in church governance and ministry.

If discipleship is not a program, what is it?

1 – Discipleship is a lifestyle and not a program. Programs are run by particular people at particular times with a particular budget. Discipleship is part of our everyday lives and it is not confined to a specific set of church leaders at the building or a set time of the week.

This takes us back to the problem of definitions. We have a definition problem with discipleship because we have a church paradigm problem. The way we do church is a culture of its own that is not always compatible with a discipleship culture. That leads us to #2.

2 – Discipleship is a Culture not a Commodity

Sometimes church can be viewed as a purveyor of religious goods and services. The ministers serve as the priests of the congregation doing their spiritual duty for the masses. That is a church culture.

That is quite a bit different from discipleship culture where people are intentionally following Jesus and incorporating Jesus’ teachings into their lives on a regular basis in community with others who are doing the same. Discipleship culture is a community on a journey with Jesus at the helm. Brandon Guindon wrote a really good book on how to have a discipleship culture in your church.

3 – Discipleship is Holy Spirit empowered rather than Human empowered

The Holy Spirit is helping, guiding and empowering the lives of the people. We aren’t doing things by our own strength. There is no budget that is sufficient to the task. There is no way to programmize the John 3 Holy Spirit who blows where He wills. This insufficiency on our part drives us to depend on God rather than self. God’s provision is greater than any need we can have in accomplishing what He told us to do.

4 – If you want to define discipleship you look to Jesus.

Jesus showed us the life he wants for us. He lived it. He breathed it. He invited us along on the journey. We can know what to do as we look to Jesus and follow/imitate His lead. Pay close attention in the gospels to how Jesus intentionally trained His followers. Pay close attention to Acts and their ability to replicate what Jesus put in them, in others. Do that and share it with others.


The reality is, all of what I am talking about are what church was always supposed to be about. Let’s get back to that simple faith and that simple church that we see in the Bible – disciples who make disciples who are all following Jesus together.

This is what church is – when you follow Jesus and you look to your left and right and see who else is following and you decide to journey together, that is church!

I would like to hear your experience on this. What type of church culture are you accustomed to and how do you see it like or unlike discipleship culture?

Last, let’s pray that our church leaders will have the courage to start these conversations and evaluate what is going on in the ministries to re-align things around what Jesus called us to do.

One Response

  1. Discipleship is, indeed a lifestyle. But it is a concept that (originally) is not a religious concept. It seems that is where we get into trouble.
    The Greek philosophers had disciples. During the middle ages wandering teachers were followed by disciples.
    It calls for commitment to both the learned and the teacher. A commitment for both good and bad times.
    It calls for understanding the relationship between master and apprentice. The U.S. mentality has issues being submissive to someone. After all, this is the country of rugged individualism. How do you reconcile that with the spirit of discipleship?

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