Rediscovering Discipleship: Has the Modern Church Gotten The Mission Wrong?

I am sure reading this title alone causes you great angst.  How dare you say the church is wrong? Maybe wrong is a strong word but I think the modern church has forgotten or limited the impact and understanding of discipleship.  The reason for the two camps is how we have defined the mission of the church.  The mission and discipleship are linked. Our understanding of mission determines how we prepare folks to carry out that said mission.  As with any organization if we don’t pay attention to the mission, then the mission can get hijacked by nefarious forces. The mission is influenced even shaped by external factors, i.e., declining denominational and local church affiliations.   Decisions made to save the institution shape the focus and direction of the programs and emphasis, what gets lost in all of this is the clear, simple task Christ gave to his church.  “Go, teach and make disciples.”

So, it comes down often to these two options: Is the church’s mission to invite people to connect with the Savior, Jesus Christ (Evangelism)?  Or is the mission to teach people to follow the example of Jesus, learn to obey His teachings, while inviting others to join you on this journey of faith (Discipleship)?  Most would say “yes, both are right”, but we don’t do both.  Sometimes we don’t do either, and we make church about something else.  We make church about fellowship, gathering together, and celebrating that togetherness. Stop and think, if the mission is about evangelism and discipleship then why are we not measuring those things?  Instead, we measure how many gathered together each week and how engaged they are by how much they give. 

This story by David Currens hits home for me.

Thorwaldsen, the great Danish sculptor, portrays this scene in marble. In a church in Copenhagen stands his statue of the risen Christ with outstretched hands bearing the print of the nails and sending His disciples on their errand of peace. On each side of the church are six figures, representing the Twelve Apostles, in which group Paul takes the place of Judas.

To see the group as here represented makes a deep impression on the mind. Here is Christ, not on a cross, but ready for the Throne and yet scarred. The twofold message from His lips, according to John’s Gospel, is caught by the artist’s skill: “Peace be unto you” and, “As my Father hath sent me, even so, send I you.” We have peace through His blood and apostleship through His example. David L. Currens1

 Is the mission to evangelize?
“…go, make disciples of all nations: Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 28:19
The church’s mission is apparently to evangelize.  Jesus gives us a clear mandate to take the peace that Jesus Christ suffered and died to win for the world, to the world.  I love this quote from the book I am reading, “The Great Commission is neither evangelism-centered nor discipleship-centered.  It is gospel-centered.  The command to make disciples is described in three ways: 1) being sent in the power of Jesus, 2) baptizing into the name of Jesus, and 3) teaching the commands of Jesus.  The mission of the church is radically Jesus-centered.”2

Is the mission to make disciples?

20 Teach them to do everything I have commanded you. “And remember that I am always with you until the end of time.”3

For this mission to be accomplished, it can’t all fall on the pastors.  And the new modern reality is fewer people are walking into the church to hear this message of peace.   So, as David points out in the work of Thorwaldsen, the Father is sending His disciples into the world to deliver this message of peace. Discipleship is about preparing the saints to be sent on the mission.  The church has gotten distracted, we have focused so heavily on the gathering we have neglected the equipping of members to be sent.  I have talked to many people sitting in the pew, who have a hunger and desire to be equipped.  Church, your people do not want to sit they want to be equipped and sent!

If you like this share it with anyone whom it may be a blessing or a challenge.

In the Service of an Awesome God!

1Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times(p. 815). Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.

 2Dobson, J & Watson, B, “Called Together: A Guide to Forming Missional Community,” p 49

 3GOD’S WORD Translation. (1995). (Mt 28:19–20). Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group.


12 Comments on “Rediscovering Discipleship: Has the Modern Church Gotten The Mission Wrong?

  1. What a beautiful post.
    Years ago, I was a practicing Jehovah’s Witness. I am no longer and haven’t been for nearly 30 years, but I will say that was one thing they got right.
    When I participated in their door to door activity, I felt myself following in the footsteps of his disciples. I didn’t find a listening ear at every door I encountered as you can well imagine, but when I did, it was joyous. There’s nothing as faith building as to share God’s word with someone who is hungry for it. Sometimes, someone would raise a question I didn’t have the answer to and we would search it out together, so it helped build my faith as well. At the same time it puts one out there to find that one person who is in need and maybe afraid to ask. Can you imagine being in a place where someone is on the verge of suicide when the doorbell rings?
    I know JW’s rely a great deal on their literature and well, I could go on about what wasn’t right but I found that aspect as difficult as it was to do, one of the things that I can commend them for. I know many Christians don’t go door to door, but we have so many ways of sharing the gospel by how we conduct ourselves in our day to day lives. By our actions, we give the greatest witness to the power of Christ. How we respond to an adverse situation can open the door to a conversation and sharing the power that moves us. But to do so, pastors and those with more knowledge must stop dispensing pablum to the flock and give them life sustaining food to equip them to fight the fine fight. Over the years, I’ve visited many churches and I will say, some have begun to take their job seriously while others not so much. It is unfortunate, but some have begun to water down the word to appease their flock. I went to one church where the elders voted out a pastor who was serious about his responsibility and it broke my heart. I think brothers and sisters who are hungry and thirsty must take this to heart and if they cannot change the church they belong to, to go where they will be fed well before they no longer hunger for it.


  2. I walked into the church in the summer of 1989 after 3 years of Christian summer camp, I was 17 going on 18 and getting ready to go to college. What I encountered was a lot of people who were either not ready for the broken generation of Generation X and then I wondered if I had made a mistake because after I discovered what I was called to do, I discovered that I was in the wrong church.

    I didn’t leave the church completely just went to another church and I was really hoping to grow and get trained in my call and go forward. I am 46 and still floundering around trying to get training. I need to use 1 Bible College curriculum I have and then get the resources to transfer to the campus to get the rest of my training. It has been a long time and I am really not where I need to be going to church and I need prayer and guidance. I am running out of time to do this and I am going nowhere on the whole thing.

    I am called to prophetic ministry and finding the right place to go to church is a bit daunting and I am concerned about not ending up in a church like the previous one I was in. The pastor I knew at the church left and the new pastor was a controlling person and I almost died spiritually and physically in a very spiritually dangerous situation.

    I am still breathing and alive even in a rough state, but I am not giving up.


    • I am glad you found a church that feeds your soul. Know that God has a plan and purpose for your spiritual gifts. Blessings and thanks for taking time to share your story.


  3. Evangelism is discipleship. It is the first step. We shouldn’t separate the two because the goal of discipleship is to disciple. i.e. evangelize.


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