Part 6: Aim Discipleship At Real Life


By: Justin Anderson

In our series on Building a Discipleship Culture, we have covered a number of topics including how to define discipleship and how to measure it. Today I wanted to talk about the aim of discipleship.

It may seem simple enough to say that the point of discipleship is to make disciples, and this is true. But my observation has been that the kinds of disciples that we make are often simply good church members. Much of our discipleship curriculum and structure has centered around getting people to give, serve, and attend services at our churches. This may not be the explicit aim of our discipleship, but it tends to be the outcome.

We may teach Bible, theology and even some apologetics but the last class of most discipleship programs includes a sign up sheet for a group, a class, or a team. That’s not a bad thing, but is it the point of discipleship?

Considering the fact that full participation in a church would only account for maybe 6-10 hours a week at the most, how are we preparing our people to be Christians for the other 100 or so of their waking hours?

I’d argue our discipleship should be focused on preparing people for those other 100 hours, or in other words, for real life. So what does it look like to prepare people for real life? Here are some thoughts.

  1. 1) Help them think about their world.

First, a primary aim of discipleship should be to give your people a Christian worldview. Worldview language and studies have fallen out of fashion as of late but it has never been more important. We have to equip our people to think critically about their world. That doesn’t mean that we teach them how bad everything is, but we need to give them the tools to see the world clearly and discern between the good, the bad, and the waste of time.

Apologetics is a big part of this. We have to teach our people to see the world as Christians and to understand why the Christian worldview is more coherent and satisfying than any other option. So, for instance, when we teach them our theology of gender and sexuality, we need to equip them with more than just the rights and wrongs of it all. We need to give them the reasons why and teach them how to explain it to their co-workers and neighbors.

  1. 2) Give them a theology of work.

A theology of vocation may be the most practically helpful thing you could give to your people. Why? Because most of them spend the majority of their waking hours working and thinking about work. If they don’t have a vision for it, the world will give them one. Either work will be a means to an end, simply toil in order to make money to bankroll the life that you want, or it will be their very identity and they will pour themselves into their careers in an idolatrous way.

A proper theology of work begins in Genesis 1 and works its way through the whole Bible. A biblical theology of work equips your people to be great employees, find satisfaction in their work, be a great witness to those they work with and keep them from making their work into their identity. No matter if your people are lawyers, doctors, construction workers, or stay at home moms, they need a theology of work.

  1. 3) Give them a vision for their family.

The other thing that takes up the majority of our waking hours is our family. And just like work, family can easily become a chore, or worse, a dream-killing, soul-sucking monotony, or on the other end of the spectrum, the center of life and identity. Absentee parents and helicopter parents come from the same malformed vision for the family.

Similarly to a theology of work, a proper theology of the family will be immensely life-giving, practical, and a source of hope and purpose. A vision for family should go beyond parenting advice and 10 steps to a healthy marriage. It should answer questions like, What is the family for? Why did God give you a home? How should your family practice hospitality? What are your family values and goals?

All of these things are theological in nature while being immensely practical.

  1. 4) Connect the Bible to Theology to Ethics to Practice.

Lastly, we have to teach our people how to read their Bibles, show them how that translates into theology, help them see how theology shapes the big ethical questions of life, and how it should dictate the everyday decisions we make. Most churches are good at two of these things but not all four.

These are broad generalizations, but liberal churches tend to focus on ethics and practice yet fail to ground those ideas in the scriptures. Conservative churches do the opposite; they teach good exegesis and sound doctrine but stop short of connecting their theology to big ethical issues that flow into practical application.

Practical, seeker churches (is that still a thing?) go from Bible to Practice but don’t connect all the dots for people. And probably just seminary professors do theology and ethics alone.

Regardless of where the chain breaks at your church, we have to show people how what we do is informed by our answers to the big questions of life. We have to show them how we have built a theological system from clear exegesis and how that system helps us address those ethical questions (and where our system fails to do so and needs constant reformation!).


All of these ideas will help you make your discipleship intensely practical without losing the core aim of teaching people how to faithfully love and follow Jesus. We don’t want to skip the Bible and Theology stuff at all, we just need to make sure that the “so what?” of those things matters for more than just filling your Sunday School classrooms, Small Groups, and Serve Teams.