Part 2: Discipleship Is Hard


By: Justin Anderson

We are in a series about building a discipleship culture because discipleship should always be the top priority of the church. Jesus told us to go and make disciples, that’s our job description. Even though discipleship should be our top priority, it doesn’t always play out that way in real life.

Why? I’m sure there are a number of reasons but the simplest and most obvious is that it’s hard. It’s easily the hardest part of ministry. Putting on a Sunday service is easy, children’s ministry isn’t easy but it’s not complicated. Small groups are a pain to manage but lots of people do it. I hate doing counseling but some people don’t, and outreach is mostly just about effort.

Discipleship is another matter entirely. Discipleship is hard for a couple of reasons.

First, it never ends.

You are never done being a disciple. There is no finish line, no way to win. Being a disciple is like being a runner (which I am not). You are only a runner if you run. When you stop running, you are no longer a runner. You are at best a former runner, and likely just currently lazy. The same is true for discipleship. You are only a disciple if you are pursuing Jesus. The moment you stop, you stop being a disciple.

Second, discipleship is about doing and being.

Discipleship is a set of practices that we adopt but it isn’t only a set of practices. It’s also about what those practices do to you, in you and through you. We do discipleship in order to become disciples, which is honestly kind of confusing, and confusing things are hard for people to do.

Third, “it takes two to make a thing go right. It takes two to make it out of sight.”

Did you know that MC Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock were talking about discipleship when they said that? They weren’t, but it’s true for discipleship. Discipleship usually requires both a discipler and a disciple. Consistently fruitful discipleship is the result of a church that wants to make disciples (not just put butts in seats) AND a willing participant that wants to know how to follow Jesus.

Lastly, discipleship is hard because it’s about the heart.

Following Jesus requires us to take tangible, practical steps and submit ourselves to spiritual disciplines. However, it’s possible for us to do all of those things for reasons that have nothing to do with a genuine pursuit of Jesus. Lots of people have done it throughout the centuries for lots of reasons. Maybe it’s culturally advantageous to follow Jesus, maybe it’s lingering guilt from your mom, maybe it’s about a girl. There are a variety of reasons, but only a heart-level commitment to knowing, loving, and being like Jesus can really be called discipleship.

If discipleship is hard, then what do we have to do to overcome this and actually build a discipleship culture?

Count the Cost.

Before you go out and start a discipleship program, make sure you are in it for the long haul. It isn’t going to “work” out of the gate. And if it does, it will wane. I started a Sunday evening discipleship class at a former church and we had 200 people the first night. 12 months later, as we wrapped up the program? Only 25 diehards remained, and I was related to or paying half of them. My point is that discipleship is hard and you need to count the cost ahead of time. Know what you are getting into. Root your ministry in the great commission. Success, momentum, popularity, the respect of your peers and acceptance from your parents are never going to happen. Do it anyway. Do it because Jesus said to do it.

Make the Commitment.

Commit to making discipleship the center of your ministry and say it out loud. Write it down. Paint it on things. That way everyone will know that’s what you believe so that when you have your inevitable doubts and want to quit, you can’t. Because if you do, everyone will know that you are a quitter who quits. Seriously though, write it down and put it on a wall somewhere. You are committed to making disciples – not fans, not attenders, not even givers, but disciples. And that’s the expectation that Jesus has for your people too.

Never stop never stopping.

No matter what, you can’t stop doing discipleship. You can’t stop pushing people to greater and greater commitment to Christ. If the numbers are down, don’t quit, consider tweaking your methods a bit. I really believe that at the end of it all, we pastors will stand before God and give an account for the disciples we made, not the size of our churches or even the numbers of converts we had. Don’t quit, if anything double down.

The greatest gift you can give your people is to never stop calling them to more. Don’t do it with shame or guilt like their dad did. Do it with grace, woo them to more. Tell them, or better yet, show them how much better life is with Jesus. Show them that the more faithfully and fully they follow Jesus, the more joy and satisfaction and peace they will have.