Pastors & Pews Vastly Disagree on Discipleship Success

On behalf of The Navigators and NavPress, Barna Group studies the state of Protestant spiritual growth.

“Pastors acknowledged that encouragement when it comes to their own churches. While only 8 percent said they are doing ‘very well,’ another 56 percent said their church was doing ‘somewhat well at discipling new and young believers.’”

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Ed Vasicek's picture

The problem with these polls are the people who write the questions.

In the mind of most people, the term "discipling" does not equate to "growing spiritually."

The whole discipleship thing is really based -- no only upon Biblical usage -- but upon evangelical innovations.  We have created an aura or atmosphere around the term.

If someone meets one on one or in a small group and follows a curriculum that includes memorizing and some sort of mentoring, that is called "dsicipleship."  Indeed, it is this "one on one" version of discipleship that Navigators is built upon.

Spiritual growth, however, is a different story.  If people attend church and perhaps a Bible study, have devotions, listen to Christian radio, read their Bibles and develop a prayer life, they are growing spiritually!  But have they been "discipled?"  According to the Navigators and most evangelical usage, No!

To many, discipleship means a PROGRAM with a clearly prescribed process.

So when you ask pastors if churches do a good job of discipling, most say "no" because they are thinking of one on one. When  you ask church attenders if they are growing spiritually, they say "yes" because just maybe they are.

Someone needs to wake up and smell the coffee and conclude that discipleship includes much -- and is not this rigidly proscribed procedure (although that procedure does seem to people believers get on the fast track!).  And the pollsters need to avoid a "word switch" in their questions. Shame on them.

"The Midrash Detective"

Bert Perry's picture

And hope to hear more from others here.  

One thought on my part is how we ought to "measure" discipleship.  Sure, some of it is subjective, but I would think that we might get a "gut check" of how well our discipleship is going by tracking more metrics than is typical--beyond the trackings of membership, baptistm, and the like.  It's difficult in a mobile society like ours, but if we saw that people were getting save, but not baptized, we'd wonder how we might change that.  Or if we saw our young people walking away from the faith in college, or if we saw a lot of people marry outside the faith, and so on.

All of this is certainly not proof of growing in Christ or even being in Christ, of course, but it ought to at least get us to think.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

And hope to hear more from others here.  

One thought on my part is how we ought to "measure" discipleship.  Sure, some of it is subjective, but I would think that we might get a "gut check" of how well our discipleship is going by tracking more metrics than is typical--beyond the trackings of membership, baptistm, and the like.  It's difficult in a mobile society like ours, but if we saw that people were getting save, but not baptized, we'd wonder how we might change that.  Or if we saw our young people walking away from the faith in college, or if we saw a lot of people marry outside the faith, and so on.

All of this is certainly not proof of growing in Christ or even being in Christ, of course, but it ought to at least get us to think.

I think there is a difference between discipling people and people continuing to walk with the Lord. Many of the people Paul influence walked away from the Lord.  When John Mark deserted Paul and Barnabas on a missionary trip, it was not because he was not discipled.  On the other hand, baptism is measurable and certainly part of discipleship. So would be some basics, like memorizing key verses, having read through the Bible, knowing how to pray privately and aloud, how to witness, how to study the Bible, etc. 

But this is back to the ambiguous nature of this article in the first place.  If you have no rubric, you have nothing against which to measure it.  The pastors were measuring discipleship by people going through a particular PROCESS (usually on an individual basis with a specific criteria), the members of congregations by taking advantages of a church's group ministries.  Both roads can lead to discipleship, depending upon the depth of a church's teaching ministry -- and the ability for people to "break in" and actually do ministry.

 

 

"The Midrash Detective"

Bert Perry's picture

Ed, others, would love to hear your take on whether it's even possible to measure some of the signs that people are walking in Christ as a proxy for discipleship without getting into works righteousness.  My take is that you would need some exceptional maturity on the part of church leadership to even dare try.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Thanks, Brett, I would be happy to share some thoughts on measuring dsicipleship.

First -- and this is my point -- we have to get over the semantics.  The Bible emphasizes spiritual maturity -- which is the goal of discipleship.  It is also the goal of edification  

In the CT article, the Barna people wrongly used the word discipleship when asking the pastors their question.  To most pastors and Christians, discipleship is about going through a PROCESS and has little to do with result.  Spiritual maturity, however, is the result of EDIFICATION (the body building up one another, and much of the focus is the Word and implementing the Word). Discipleship -- as evangelicals use the term -- is an INTENSE SHORT PERIOD OF EDIFICATION.

What Jesus often did with his inner three and twelve -- roaming the countryside with Him and learning from Him -- is very Jewish and was done by hundreds and hundreds of rabbis with their disciples.  Discipleship toward maturity, however, is adapted for the church (existing mostly outside the culture of ancient Israel)  through its meetings and fellowship.  In other words, the church is the institutionalization of discipleship.  

Ephesians 4:11-14 sets the tone for how spiritual maturity is to occur!

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

Our church meetings should, therefore, be structured around edification, not going to a shrine to worship as Jews did three times a year (although worshipping together is an important part of edification).  In this regard, the church and the synagogue are similar.  This is what we see in I Corinthians 11-14 and Hebrews 10:25-27. 

The rubric for what a church meeting is SUPPOSED to be about is I Corinthians 14:26, this command: "Let all things be done for edification" (NASB) or the ESV, "Let all things be done for building up."  By "all things" the context suggests "all things done in a church meeting."  This idea is virtually ignored in most discussions of what church is about.

Paul gives a process in 2 Timothy 2:2 that is about a type of discipleship we might call "leadership training."  There is an important element in working specially with individuals and small groups to develop them beyond the general scope of spiritual maturity.

The Measurements of Maturity: FAITH HOPE and LOVE

Gene Getz and others have proven that faith [understanding doctrinal content and personal trust], hope [delaying sinful gratification in light of eternal rewards], and love [considering others best interest, the Golden Rule, and obedient affection toward God]  are the Biblical hallmarks of maturity.  The Ephesians 4 passage cited above suggests STABILITY and spiritual wisdom and discernment are part of the equation, which, of course, would be there if we had a good measure of faith, hope, and love.

Although the criteria for an elder or deacon (I Timothy 3) can measure spiritual maturity, it also measures competence for leadership -- an additional element.There are men, for example, who have a good level of spiritual maturity -- but are not able to teach.  Or spiritually mature men whose children are a mess.  Or spiritually mature women who are hindered by their husbands from doing the good works they want to do. These are just examples.

It doesn't matter HOW one gets to spiritual maturity as much as one gets there.

Biblically, a disciple is a learner, and so all Christians are disciples.  In American evangelicalism (at least), a disciple is someone who is trained one on one or with a small group and is more or less mentored.  A spiritually mature Christian has been well-trained and seeks to practice what he or she has learned and is the same as a Biblical disciple (at least as exemplified in the epistles), but not necessarily by modern evangelical defintion. Biblically, you can be discipled by participating in a solid church!  Our churches, therefore, need to provide opportunities to DEVELOP people, and church meetings are to be about DEVELOPING, ENCOURAGING, TRAINING, and EXHORTING Christians, as well as asserting our ALLEGIANCE to our Heavenly King (Worship).

 

 

"The Midrash Detective"

Ed Vasicek's picture

Sorry, Bert, I was interrupted and had to be off  sooner than planned, so I left out perhaps exactly what you wanted.

If faith, hope/endurance and love are the greatest virtues and hallmarks of maturity (I Corinthians 13:14), how do you measure it?

I Thessalonians 1:3  suggests

work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope

1. The answer here seems to be enduring, steadfast faithfulness in serving the Lord.  That is somewhat measurable.  This, then, would mean someone who is jumping from ministry to ministry and is hot and cold in service, etc., is not mature spiritually.

2. This maturity results from the Word -- studying it, obeying it, memorizing it, etc., 2 Timothy 3:16-17.  That seems pretty obvious, therefore a simple rubric is "do I know the Word, am I familiar with the Word," etc.   It is hard to judge whether one is living the Word unless we see that person in a variety of contexts. But we can measure whether one KNOWS the Word. Knowledge itself puffs up, but coupled with love, it makes for a deepening maturity.

3. General conduct -- how we conduct ourselves with others and in our society.

4.  There are many other important factors in maturity/discipleship, but they cannot be easily measured in others (things like sincerity or humility, or the fruit of the Spirit, for example).   We even have a hard time being able to objectively measure them in ourselves!

5. These measurements can easily be wrong. For example, Judas Iscariot endured the same hardships as the other disciples, memorized Jesus' words with them, prayed, and perhaps even healed some sick.  He was discipled by the ultimate disciple-maker.  He knew his stuff, he looked good, and generally did what he was supposed to do (except to pilfering money).  But he did not have sincerity or humility -- or true regeneration.

What we CAN measure is the knowledge and observable skills that spiritually mature people have.  All mature people have those skills, but not all people that have those skills are actually mature or even saved.

"The Midrash Detective"