Why Spend A Year Studying “Discipleship”?

discipleshiptitle 12 months is a long time to study a single topic. Every year I pick a single subject that I am going to dive into and study for the whole year. It’s never an easy process for me to narrow down the subject I will study. After all, if you pick a subject that is going to lose your interest three months in it makes a for a long year. This year my decision was made easy. I was invited to participate in a research project on the subject of discipleship. The research aims at taking a particular theological methodology and applying it to the discipline of discipleship to see if it helps formulate a healthy, whole-person, philosophy of ministry. Discipleship deserves this kind of attention.

There is a reality that within the church we know the importance of discipleship. There is also a reality that many of us are awful at it. We tend to either over-complicate discipleship or be simplistic in our approach to it. We narrow discipleship down to “knowing the right things” or we launch formal programs with 16 weeks of course work and a quiz at the end. Disicpleship in the American Evangelical church needs a bit of an overhaul. Willow Creek came to this conclusion just a few years ago. As they evaluated the spiritual health of their congregation they concluded that they had been doing it all wrong. After studying for there church and six other congregations for three years they saw their failures and determined an immediate and drastic change was necessary. Many of us still need to learn from their example. It is my hope that the research I participate in will provide some helpful reminders to what Biblical discipleship should look like.

Since discipleship is a crucial, essential, part of the life of the church it is worthy of our attention. Jesus instructed the disciples that their great commission, indeed the great commission of the church, is to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20). Making disciples is what we are all about. All Christians are instructed to participate in this kind of ministry (Eph. 4:11-16). Such truths compel us then to think carefully and clearly about what discipleship is, and how we should do it. If we are commanded by Christ to do it, and if we aren’t doing it well, then we need to think through the issue. That’s what I hope to help do this year.

In particular this project is combining both a theology of discipleship and a philosophy of ministry. Books on the subject have generally been guided by one or the other of those interests, but we want to see how theological foundations can actually inform and determine our philosophy. In particular we believe that the Bible’s anthropology is going to guide our pedagogy, and as such it is going to fuel a more comprehensive philosophy of disciple-making. Fleshing all of this out is going to be exciting.

I am looking forward to working with a team of researchers and engaging with them on study and interaction. I am looking forward to consulting with the guiding theologian and his research in particular. I have high hopes for the project and am thankful for whatever part I may play in it.  For regular readers of this blog you will be able to peek behind the curtain a bit as I share some of the insights and gleanings from all the research I participate in. As I am allowed I hope to help us think about how we can deformalize, simplify, and improve our discipleship efforts. And you, if you are so inclined, can participate. Recommend literature that you come across on the subject of discipleship, share you insights with me, interact with blog posts. Since this is a subject that affects the whole church, I’d love to have more interaction from the whole church.

Studying one subject for a whole year can be tiresome. But a subject like discipleship warrants our attention.


  1. Do you have a definition of discipleship narrowed down to a sentence or two that would help make sure I fully understand what is meant by discipleship?

    In the past, I conducted small group mentoring for moms of young children. I also created and managed a one-on-one mentoring/discipling program for women. Both resources were a “success” for only a few women. The problem: Women were too busy to make the time to disciple or be discipled. I also ran into a general attitude from women that they didn’t need discipled. They felt very self-sufficient. It was disappointing.

    I look forward to learning more about what discipleship is, what it should look like, how it can happen and how I can plug myself into it!

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