This post may spark an argument in your next staff or leadership meeting. Hopefully, it will actually prevent one.
I recently found myself pulled into a discussion with discipleship/education ministers about what real discipleship is. The guys in that room believe discipleship happens best in the classroom. Many lead pastors I talk to believe that their preaching is the primary form of discipleship in their church, which everything else supports. A couple of books I recently read assert that mentoring is the best form of discipleship.
So who is correct?
I don’t disagree that preaching, teaching, and mentoring are legitimate modes of disciple-making, but I do wonder if one method is really better than the other two. Let’s walk through our options.
Is Preaching Discipleship?
Most senior/lead pastors will invest at least a dozen hours into a sermon. I did this for 27 years with the strong conviction that I was making disciples. Pastors are not just serving up appetizers or desserts, while the real meal is being shared in a small group. The lead pastor should be the lead discipleship maker in every church, both on and off the stage.
Most pastors believe that most of the discipleship happens from the pulpit, not in small groups. I know this because most pastors are not in discipleship groups. Also, LifeWay Research asked pastors what they thought was the most effective method of discipleship was, and most said it was through their preaching.
I don’t disagree that preaching is a legitimate form of discipleship.
Are Groups Discipleship?
What do Sunday School, Small Groups, Life Groups, and Discipleship Groups have in common? None of these terms are mentioned in the Bible. I’m not sure why we sweat the terms as much as we do. Secondly, these groups are powerfully being used to make disciples within the context of community.
To know what a pastor believes about small group discipleship, just look on his calendar.
I am currently leading a group of three men in our church in what we call a “D-Group.” We meet once a week at Cracker Barrel to give accountability and support on a level that is difficult to achieve in a larger mixed gender class. Additionally, my wife and I are starting a Life Group for Millennials this month in our church, just like we did in our last church.
Pastor, don’t waste your time preaching about discipleship from your pulpit until you are ready to practice it personally with others. Groups are another legitimate way to make disciples.
Is Mentoring Discipleship?
I have been discipled from good preaching and teaching, but mentoring is where I can attribute most of my personal spiritual growth.
I have written several blog posts on mentoring; for an introduction you can start with this one: Every Pastor Needs a Mentor Like Paul. I have always had at least one pastor who has ten more birthdays than me speaking into my life. I typically have a handful of ministry mentees I am pouring into as well.
Jesus made disciples in groups of hundreds, handfuls, and one-on-one, so why wouldn’t we? At the end of the day, if somebody is helping someone else grow in their love for Jesus and His Word, it does not matter whether it is done in an auditorium, classroom, or coffee shop.