Article by Chopo Mwanza

“An important mark of a healthy church is a pervasive concern for church growth as growth is prescribed in the Bible. That means growing members, not just numbers. Some today think that a person can be a “baby Christian” for a whole lifetime. Growth is treated as an optional extra for zealous disciples. But growth is a sign of life. If a tree is alive, it grows. If an animal is alive, it grows. Being alive means growing, and growing means increasing and advancing, at least until death intercedes[1]

Many believers would agree with the statement above. We all desire growth in our churches; the difference lies in our approach to growth. Many of us default to a variety of programs to manufacture growth. However, the Bible teaches discipleship. Biblical discipleship means growing in the likeness of Christ and encouraging and helping others to do the same. Biblical discipleship in short is relational. The old cliché is correct—it really is “life touching life”. So if biblical growth comes through biblical discipleship, why do we avoid developing discipleship relationships?

Biblical discipleship is time consuming

Training someone requires time, especially if your own life has to be an example to them. This is particularly hard in an extremely busy society and a self-centered one for that matter. It is even harder in a program-driven church where meaningful relationships are not as important. Fellowship is reduced to a program or a service. We are content with meeting each other on Sundays and claiming we love each other when in reality we never share our lives, we never challenge each other to grow, we never keep each other intentionally accountable and consequently, we never spur one another towards love and good works. Biblical discipleship requires time.

Biblical discipleship makes you vulnerable

As we spend time with each other, our lives are soon opened up to other Christians, and they get to know the real us. They see us in our weak moments; they see us respond to pressure; they will know that we are not as perfect as we portray when we put on our best behavior at the church programs and meetings. Committing to invest your life in others and spend time with them is committing to be vulnerable and transparent. It is committing to truly live out the command in James to confess your sins to one another. Biblical discipleship makes you vulnerable.

Biblical discipleship requires energy

Relationships are tiring, and they can be messy. Relationships also require effort to begin and maintain. It is far much easier to organize and run programs than it is to maintain a discipleship relationship. It is even costly at times. As you invest your time and open your life to people, you find yourself exerting lots of energy, and it can be emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually draining. No wonder we would rather build fences around our lives and protect ourselves from messy, exhausting and yet richly rewarding relationships.

Biblical discipleship ensures you do not necessary receive the praise

Just like the majority of ministry, biblical discipleship is done in the background. It is away from the eyes of the world and all that is seen is growth in others. And unless the person (or worse yourself) waxes eloquent about the impact you have had in their life, the world will never know. People who thrive on praise and acknowledgment struggle with the idea that they should invest in the life of someone and see them grow so that the Lord gets the glory. Biblical discipleship removes the focus on us and puts it where it should be, namely the glory of God!

You will notice that there is one common thread in all four reasons presented here, namely, self-centeredness. We do not want to invest time in others because we are self-centered; we do not want to be vulnerable to others because we have built a false image of ourselves; we do not want to exert our energies because we live for ourselves, and we definitely do not want to involve ourselves in matters where we do not receive praise and recognition. Dear Christian, we cannot ignore the task of discipleship; we have been equipped for the very purpose of building others up in the most holy faith. 

[1] Leeman Jonathan. Growing one another. Crossway Wheaton, Illinois: 2012.