I recently read through the book DEEP DISCIPLESHIP by J.T. English. Over the next few days, I’ll offer an overview of the book’s contents, along with any commentary I think might be helpful.
The premise of the book (as described on the back cover) is that “the majority of Christians today are being discipled by popular media, flashy events and folk theology because churches have neglected their responsibility to make disciples. But the church is not a secondary platform in the mission of God; it is the primary platform God uses to grow people into the image of Jesus.”
In the first few chapters of the book the author lays the foundation with these teachings/observations/declarations:
CHAPTER ONE: A GOD-CENTERED VISION FOR DISCIPLESHIP
- Discipleship in the evangelical church is too deep, but it is far too shallow. We have tried to treat our discipleship disease by appealing to the lowest common denominator, oversimplifying discipleship, and taking the edge off what it means to follow Christ.”
- Instead of asking “What do disciples want?,” we should ask “What do disciples need?” Instead of asking “How do we maintain disciples?,” we should ask “How do we grow disciples?”
- Success in ministry is not found in building programs but in building disciples.
- Ministry that is not oriented to the presence of God is dead. The why behind the what of deep discipleship is God. The source of true discipleship is not better programs, better preaching or better community. All of these, and more, are hugely important tools, but the source of discipleship is God Himself.
- God is not interested in creating an audience; He wants participants.
The author identifies 2 challenges to deep discipleship:
Challenge #1: Self-Centered Discipleship. We have replaced the transcendence of God for the transcendence of self. In this turn toward self, the church has, perhaps both intentionally and unintentionally, tailored its discipleship strategies to accommodate, and even perpetuate, the cultural shift toward self. According to Jesus, discipleship is not about self-actualization or self-preservation; it is about self-denial. We will best know ourselves when we are carrying our cross. In summary, discipleship is not a path to autonomous self-improvement that leads to a throne; it is a path of self-denial that leads to a cross.
Challenge #2: Spiritual Apathy. In the church we are more concerned about apostasy than we are with apathy, but both are deadly to a vibrant walk with Christ. IA domesticated Jesus will never produce deep disciples; a domesticated Jesus is not worth following. If our excellence in ministry is keeping people’s attention rather than the beauty of Jesus, then we have failed. That’s because becoming bored with the true Christ is impossible. One of the reasons our people have grown bored with Jesus is that many church leaders have as well. We have settled for a cultural Christianity that is anemic and will not sustain disciples of Jesus.
CHAPTER TWO: THE CHURCH: WHERE WHOLE DISCIPLES ARE FORMED
Many people believe they have to leave the church to find deep discipleship. But let’s be clear: the church is called to make disciples and it is time for us to stop delegating our responsibility. The local church is meant to be the primary spiritual guide for disciples who are on the journey of growing deeper in the love and knowledge of God. Virtual discipleship cannot create deep disciples because deep discipleship is intensely local. Formation is meant to be personal, embodied and incarnational. The local church is able to supply a place, people and purpose for growth. The local church is uniquely appointed, in God’s providence and wisdom, to make disciples. Thus, it is a responsibility that ought not be delegated or out-sourced. Simply put, churchless discipleship is aimless discipleship.
A few questions posed by the author at the end of the first few chapters:
- Is your church raising or lowering the bar of discipleship?
- How is a God-centered vision for discipleship different from other discipleship paradigms?
- What do you see as a greater challenge in your church: self-centered discipleship or spiritual apathy?
- Do you agree that the local church should be the primary vehicle for discipleship?
- Why does the church sometimes pass the responsibility of discipleship off to other people and ministries?