What problem or problems do you expect your discipleship pathway to solve?
Pause and answer before continuing.
Your answer is important because it will uncover your motivation and expectations about why you are building (or have built) one in the first place.
Churches everywhere are working to build a discipleship pathway. It’s in style. And with that style comes the temptation to expect that it will solve every church problem, especially the discipleship problems. Disappointment and frustration are the fruit of unrealistic expectations. And these often come as soon as the work is done because the problem a pathway of discipleship solves—and the problem it doesn’t—may surprise you.
Typically, there are two problems churches expect their discipleship pathway to solve.
Problem #1: Complexity
The first problem church leaders build a discipleship pathway to address is complexity and busyness. To be clear, this is an organizational problem, not a discipleship one. Organizations in the US and other “developed” countries constantly battle complexity. This is especially true in churches where Christian education is often viewed as the answer to our problems. There are so many good church programs (such as the 2:7 discipleship series, Financial Peace University, Stephen ministries, the Perspectives course, to name just a few) that people don’t know what to do or where to start.
As many social scientists have observed, complexity and choice overload cause big cultural problems. When complexity reigns people typically respond by trying to do it all or by doing nothing at all. Church members either run themselves ragged or simply run away—and the first often precedes the second!
A discipleship pathway can combat complexity. Well-built discipleship pathways are designed to channel energy and movement toward a specific destination. Since culture is like a river, pathways function like the banks of a river by providing a course for the water to run. In this context, a discipleship pathway is a viable solution to the problem of complexity.
Problem #2: A Shortage of Disciple Makers
The second problem discipleship pathways are usually built to solve is the problem of too many sheep and not enough shepherds. This isn’t a new problem. Jesus was grieved over it in Matthew 9. The disciples wrestled with it throughout Acts. And today, church after church laments their shortage of mature disciple makers. As the needs of the masses press in on church leaders, they seek a solution in a discipleship pathway. Many view the pathway as the missing link between frustration and fruitfulness. Their hope is that a systematic approach to disciple making will make disciple makers en masse.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work.
Building a discipleship pathway expecting to solve this problem is a mistake. It’s not that churches shouldn’t build the pathway. They should. However, it should be built as an admission of the current reality; not as the solution. It should be built as an accommodation—as a recognition that there is a problem and that this is a move towards alleviating it.
Consider this question: if a church of two hundred adults had one hundred mature disciple makers, would they need a discipleship pathway?
No. It’s not that they couldn’t have one, but it’d be far more effective to simply have the spiritual parents raise the spiritual children. After all, children are intended to be raised in families, not orphanages.
So then, a church’s pathway is an admission of a problem that can never be solved by a discipleship pathway.
The pathway is simply a choice to do something instead of doing nothing. It’s a way to help individuals who don’t have spiritual parents. The pathway will never be a solution to the problem. It’s an accommodation. Disciple makers are meant to be formed in relational environments, not in systematic ones. So, building a great pathway should never be your measure of success. It is a measure of progress. After all, it’s better to have systematic help to raise orphans than to abandon them altogether.
Building a discipleship pathway is a mark of a mature disciple making culture. Build one!
Pathways streamline movement and serve as guards against stagnation. They help people see that a disciple’s life is a process of maturation that leads to multiplication. But, for as much good as pathways do, they won’t solve your church’s disciple making problem.
There’s incredible power in simply acknowledging that! Such clarity puts the pathway and the problem of too few disciple makers in perspective. Remember, a discipleship pathway won’t make disciple makers, disciple makers do that. The way to solve your disciple making problem is to make more disciples and then growing them to maturity. More disciples should always lead to more disciple makers. Such clarity causes church leaders to act differently by emphasizing relational disciple making instead of involvement in systematic programs.
So, build your pathway, but build it with realistic expectations. It can solve your church’s complexity problem, but solving your disciple making problem requires making disciples like Jesus did, not like systems do.
This post originally appeared at: A Discipleship Pathway Solves THIS Problem, but NOT This One — Justin G. Gravitt (justingravitt.com)
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