What IS discipleship, really?

By Ben Hardman, gravityleadership.com

Dallas Willard famously said that every church that seeks to be faithful to its calling must ask two questions: 1) What is our plan for making disciples? and 2) Is it working?

Willard’s questions have haunted the Western church for the past two decades since he proposed them. They’ve certainly haunted me.


But when I talk with pastors about these questions, I’ve noticed that the answers to the questions depend almost entirely on what we mean when we say “discipleship.” So it’s probably worth adding a third question: “How would we know if our plan is working?”

In other words: What IS discipleship, really?

Discipleship isn’t programs

At a recent event, I talked with a lot of pastors about discipleship. I noticed that most of them talked about discipleship in terms of programs they had started at their churches. Here are some of the responses I got:

  • “Our small groups are great! People love them.”
  • “We have a six-week on-ramping course for new believers that gets them up to speed on what a new believer needs to know.”
  • “We have a ton of book studies, Sunday school classes and teaching environments where people can learn more about the Bible.”
  • “We encourage everyone in our church to read through their Bible every year.”
  • “We have weekly discussions about the sermon in our small groups.”
  • “We have a mentoring program where we connect new believers or younger believers with older more ‘seasoned’ leaders.”
  • “We have an accountability structure with our men’s group: we meet monthly to pray and weekly to confess our sins to one another.”
  • “We have an assimilation process that moves people from sitting in the seats each week to serving at our church.”

All of these things are probably great programs. But none of them are necessarily descriptions of a plan for discipleship. Or rather, most of them assume a definition of discipleship that might not be all that helpful.

Discipleship starts and ends with people

True discipleship doesn’t start with a system or a program, it starts with a person. It begins with us. We often want to transform our churches before we ourselves have been transformed, but it just doesn’t work that way. We reproduce who we are, not what you know.

Programs may be necessary to connect people in discipling relationships, but it’s important to locate the actual definition of discipleship in the relationships and not in the programs that facilitate the relationships.

Now that we’ve deconstructed discipleship, we’ll hear three key ingredients for healthy discipleship next week, in part 2 of Ben Hardman’s article.

This article by Ben Hardman was reposted with permission from Gravity Leadership’s blog: gravityleadership.com/blog

1 thought on “What IS discipleship, really?

  1. Pingback: What IS discipleship, really? Part 2 | CBWC Church Planting

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s