We use programs to replace discipleship. Programs are distant. Discipleship is up close and personal. Programs are organized and planned. Discipleship is unpredictable. Programs are neat and clean. Discipleship is messy. What do I mean by discipleship? I mean imitating the model Jesus followed as we read the Gospels. Taking a few people inviting them into the rhythms of your life as you teach them, encourage them, and pour yourself into them, all in hopes of strengthening their spiritual maturity. Discipleship is personal. It is relational. It can't be done with just a program. It can't be done only through a sermon on Sunday morning.
Most churches make the false connection that discipleship and programming are the exact same things. It isn't. Churches do a lot of programs that don't produce disciples of Jesus. However I think there is a reason that most of us prefer awesome church programing rather than getting involved in each others lives in relational discipleship. The reason is, programs are way more comfortable. With a program I don't have to confront a brother or sister in sin. With a program I don't have to take a friend by the hand and pray for them. With a program I just have to sit and watch. I just have to sit in a bubble of my own personal spirituality.
We have such an individualistic understanding of discipleship. In our culture today, that makes the individual supreme, we've seriously forgotten how to live in community. While we are the most connected generation in the history of the world, we are also the most isolated. Most of us think that my relationship with God is exactly that, me and God. It is me and God versus the world. We think, "I don't need the church. I don't need anyone to grow in the faith. It is just me and God, and that's all I need!" Although that sounds incredibly good, and even righteous to us, the New Testament calls us a liar. We absolutely need each other. Community is essential to the very essence of what it means to be Christian! We are not chosen in Christ as individuals, but as a people, as a holy nation, and as a royal priest hood. We are a body. We are the bride. Notice that when the New Testament describes the church, the church, although it involves as many people, is a singular entity. The many Christians are one bride. The many believers are one body. The followers of Jesus are one nation.
As we think through discipleship in our local church, may our programming not hinder us from developing the sort of intimate and personal relationships with one another that foster discipleship. Older and mature believers grab a hold of a younger believer and disciple them. Meet weekly for coffee, invite them into the rhythms of your life, and pour yourself into them. Discipleship is messy. It is hard work. But if we are going to be faithful to the New Testament and the people God has called us to be, we can't keep doing what we are doing. There are many in our churches who are heavily involved in programs but completely unknown in their churches. This should not be the case. May we grab hold of one another, get involved in each others life. May we encourage each other, rebuke each other, and press on together as we seek our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.