By “radical,” we mean becoming more and more like Jesus in every way. That’s a big, hairy, audacious goal for sure. But it is at the heart of what Jesus did every day with the disciples. He mentored them to become like Him. He wasn’t kidding when He said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” The Christians in Acts weren’t kidding when they were first called “followers of the Way.” Remember, Jesus said, “I am the Way… .”
Radical discipleship is going beyond the accepted norm. It is allowing every facet of one’s life to be shaped by the gospel. It is more than attending a membership class, or attending worship, or even being a tither. It is to walk and talk and act like Jesus. Radical discipleship is of such a nature that if we even come close to it in our daily lives, others will want to know what we have that they don’t have, which opens the door for us to share our faith.
But according to a recent Barna study, less than 20 percent of Christian adults are involved in some kind of discipleship activity. If you ask pastors how well churches are doing with discipleship, only 1 percent say they’re doing a good job. Those two figures are telling. No wonder Western Christianity is in trouble. We are doing little more than shuffling people from one church to another and pandering to their consumer mentality to the point that all we are doing is warehousing those that stick. Most churches have filled with church members rather than Christians who act like Jesus.
Most churches have filled with church members rather than Christians who act like Jesus.
Why is this the case? Let us share three key reasons.
- Pastors have been trained to act as caregivers rather than transformers. The average pastor spends 95% of their time taking care of their members rather than transforming and motivating them to be like Jesus. In essence, most pastors perform as chaplains of a hospital, or curators of a museum, or as funeral directors of dying congregations. None of these are the kind of environments that encourage radical discipleship.
- The focus of most churches now is how to survive a little longer. Many have declined so far they have reached the point of no return, so why try to disciple people?
- Too many pastors and people have given up on the thought of the miraculous and have bought into the secularism of our time. For many church members, the church is little more than a club where they go to find comfort and fellowship with old friends with little thought of the stranger at the gate. Many pastors have succumbed to a corporate mentality where climbing the ladder of success is the only goal in life.
So, what’s the solution?
First, let’s agree that the solution doesn’t lie in a program. Programs don’t grow people – never have, never will. People grow people.
Programs don’t grow people – never have, never will. People grow people.
Second, the solution is found in a change of heart and mind to the point that our behavior is changed. We focus on transformation and helping people become more like Jesus. And we don’t achieve that until we realize the truth of the following formula – You can take care of people and never transform them but you can’t transform people without first taking care of them. This article is not about abandoning your folk; it’s about helping them to be like Jesus.
Third, as we’ve said many times, you are the curriculum. What people see in you should have a tremendous impact on their lives. If it doesn’t, then you have found the problem. Take your Bible and go off and don’t return until your heart burns to become more like Jesus.
Fourth, internalize that the best way to spend your time is with potential leaders who will embrace radical discipleship. Spend time with them, mentor them, take them with you on your rounds, help them articulate their faith, encourage them to share their faith with their networks, and be there for them when they succeed and when they fail.
This is what God created every pastor to do. How do we know? Read the following text from Ephesians 4:11–12:
And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.
Today’s church rises and falls on its leadership. If you’re a disciple making leader, your church will follow … it might take some time, but they’ll begin to follow you (or they’ll get fed up and leave, which is just fine).
Bill Easum has a thirty-year track record of growing congregations in two denominations. His last church, which he re-started and pastored for twenty-four years, grew to be one of the largest United Methodist Churches in South Texas. His record of “evangelization” and “social justice” ministries was acknowledged by Industrial Areas Foundation in New York as one of the finest examples in North America. Since 1987 Bill has devoted his time to consulting, coaching, and speaking. Bill is the Founder and President of The Effective Church Group, formerly 21st Century Strategies.
This article was originally published through Effective Church Group. Used with permission.