What’s the Missing Discipleship Ingredient?
What’s the Missing Discipleship Ingredient?

By Michael C. Mack

“If you make disciples, you will always get the church. But if you try to build the church, you will rarely get disciples.”

This quote from Mike Breen jumped off the page as I read his article, “Why the Missional Movement Will Fail,” several years ago. Apparently many others also found it compelling; the last time I checked, the article has more than 20,000 shares online.

As a discipleship and small groups guy, I’ve read lots of articles and have been involved in many discussions about whether churches and groups should emphasize discipleship or being “missional” (or discipleship vs. evangelism)—as if they are somehow diametrically opposed. Rather, I believe a strong commitment to discipleship—our mission—will lead us to serving our communities better, reaching lost people with the gospel, developing more and better leaders, and multiplying our churches and groups.

Breen said,

If you’re good at making disciples, you’ll get more leaders than you’ll know what to do with. If you make disciples like Jesus made them, you’ll see people come to faith who didn’t know him. If you disciple people well, you will always get the missional thing.


I think all church leaders would agree with that, so why are so many churches struggling to make disciples? Why are so many not growing, not bearing fruit, not winning the lost, not multiplying?

As I read our November issue about missions featuring the story of J. Russell Morse and his family, I kept coming back to the word commitment. I believe commitment is the missing ingredient in many American churches and small groups.

Churches struggle to carry out the Great Commission for a number of reasons, but I’m starting to think lack of commitment to biblical endeavors—or a fear of asking others to make such a commitment—is a primary cause.

Do we sometimes become distracted or overwhelmed by other lesser priorities?

Are we often afraid people may walk away if we ask for too much commitment?

I wonder if we sometimes lack the all-in, totally surrendered, self-forgetting, wholehearted devotion to God and his will that the early church had. Jesus calls us as he did them, “Come, follow me.” Jesus beckons us to a high call and high commitment. We know how his first disciples left everything to follow him (Matthew 4:19, 20; 19:27). And we remember that when want-to-be disciples chose not to make that kind of commitment, Jesus loved them but let them walk away (Mark 10:17-22; John 6:66).

The words that describe the actions of Jesus’ earliest followers after his death, resurrection, and ascension are vital: “They devoted themselves . . .” (Acts 2:42).

These committed followers devoted themselves to the right things, and the result was, “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (v. 47).

What will it take in today’s church to restore that kind of costly commitment?

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  1. Avatar
    Carl Douthit
    October 28, 2018 at 9:09 am

    Commitment is vital to discipleship and mentoring. I’ve seen people try to disciple others when they themselves have not yet totally committed to Christ or when they are not totally committed to the process of discipleship.

    When discipleship is merely a calendar entry that can be overwritten or canceled at convenience, the aspect of total commitment seems to be lost from the process.

    How can someone teach total commitment to Christ when that person (myself at times in the past) doing the discipling does not demonstrate that total commitment in their own life?

    But relationship is also vital to discipleship. We must build a relationship with the person (or people) we are discipling. We must share openly, deeply, and without holding back. This is a process over time, not a TMI dump in the first meeting, of course. When we offer that deep look into ourselves, the person being discipled not only sees our example of being Christlike, but also sees that we are also struggling in some areas.

    I’ve seen this motivate the people being discipled to share where they are struggling, motivate them to offer support back regarding where I was struggling, motivate them to grow in Christ, and motivate them to look to discipling others.

    Discipling out of a deep relationship with Christ can lead to a meaningful love for each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus said that his disciples should be known for their love for one another. I believe that discipling is one of the contexts in which that is shown and developed.

  2. Avatar
    October 29, 2018 at 8:26 am

    Thanks Carl. I agree! I especially like how you put it: “Discipling out of a deep relationship with Christ . . .” Discipleship happens in the environment of a committed relationship—with Christ and one another.

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