The discipleship bell is ringing but few people are listening

I must admit I have mixed emotions about the hype surrounding discipleship at the moment.  On the one hand, it’s great that people are talking about it. I’m thankful that people aren’t looking at me with a confused look on their faces when I talk about our mandate to make disciples.  On the other hand, the dialogue also scares me.  My concern is that discipleship will become a fad just like all the other fads we have been subjected to.

Part of the problem leaders face has been described by Martin M. Broadwell in his “Learning Matrix” or what is commonly called the “Conscious Competence Ladder”. This model gives us some insights into Paul’s words, “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming”.  

Level 1 – Unconscious Incompetence – You don’t know that you don’t know

This is the stage often described as “Ignorance is bliss.”  There are practices, principles, and skills that would empower you, but you have no clue they exist.  You are unaware of the skills you need to succeed and, sadly, you don’t realize you lack them.  This is often caused by a lethargic approach to biblical principles.

Level 2 – Conscious Incompetence – You know that you don’t know

At this stage you realize your inabilities.  Humility is the forerunner to this level of understanding.  The longer you live, the more you discover skills you are lacking or areas in which you need to mature.  Additionally, time with other believers helps you identify growth objectives in which to develop.

Level 3 – Conscious Competence – You know that you know

At this level you acquire knowledge, learn further skills, and implement what you know, fully aware of your abilities.  This level is where you sharpen your skills and hone what you do through practice and discipline. You create a powerful self-assessment tool by combining levels 2 and 3; you understand what you know and what you don’t know.  You are still concentrating on the outworking of these activities but, as you get more practice and experience, these become increasingly automatic.

Level 4 – Unconscious Competence – You don’t know that you know

At this stage you operate with automatic ease.  Skills in this level have been stored as habits, and they are executed subconsciously. 

In my experience, most believers operate in level 1 when it comes to disciple-making and even if the discipleship bell has been ringing for years, few people have listened. Isaac Newton’s first law of motion states that an object at rest tends to stay at rest unless a force acts upon it.  Unfortunately, this law is an accurate explanation for the state of the church today.  Too much of the church is asleep, resting comfortably.  And unless something acts upon it, the church will likely remain that way. 

So why has this taken place?  There are at least three answers to this question:

  • We don’t know that we should engage in discipleship
  • We don’t know how to engage in discipleship
  • We don’t know why to engage in discipleship. 

We don’t know that we should engage in discipleship

Maybe one of the reasons why many people in the Church today are not making disciples is because they are not disciples themselves. This may have something to do with how we introduce people to the Gospel today through what is called the sinner’s prayer. It goes something like this:

Dear Jesus. I know I’m a sinner. I believe Jesus died for my sins. I ask you to come into my heart and save me. I’m now a child of God. Amen.

There is no such prayer in the New Testament. ‘Accept Jesus into our hearts’ may be fundamental to modern evangelism but does it lead a person to believe something that is not biblical and stop them from finding the full picture of the gospel? Discipleship is not an invitation to pray a prayer; it is a summons for us to lose our lives for Christ. With good intentions, with a desire to reach as many people as possible, we have taken the challenging words from Christ and turned them into trite phrases in the church. In the process, we have drained the lifeblood out of Christianity and replaced it with a watered down version of the gospel that’s so palatable it’s not even real. Culturally, large numbers of people today call themselves christians but are not disciples of Christ.

We don’t know how to engage in discipleship

The Great Commission is not a logical order of steps.  It’s a set of three participles – going, baptizing, and teaching – all of which support the verb “make” with the object “disciples.”  Go is not a one-time command.  It describes a daily routine of life.  You could say it this way: “As you are already going through life.” Jesus anticipated our making disciples through the natural routine of life with the people around us.

Resist the temptation to view those around you as projects or boxes to check on your spiritual checklist, which tends to become a means of trying to earn favour before God, a subtle form of works-righteousness.  Instead, live out the freedom of the gospel and genuinely display the love of Christ.  People aren’t projects.

Our journey is bookended with the Great Commission words “All authority has been given to Me”…”I am with you always, to the end of the age” and is empowered by the Holy Spirit, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you” (Acts 1:8). 

We don’t know why to engage in discipleship

If we are disciples of Jesus we make disciples. That’s how the kingdom spreads. That’s what we do. The history of Christianity revolves around every disciple making disciples. This isn’t a ministry relegated to a few; it is the mission of every follower of Jesus. We are fishers of men. Every disciple of Jesus has the Spirit in them to guide them to those that God has prepared beforehand.


The aim of our blog articles is to continue the process of looking at the area of discipleship through the lens of the major contextual changes confronting us in the 21st century. If this spikes your interest, you can go to the above URL and register to receive regular blog notices via email (click on Blog Subscription).

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