As I thought about this important research and these insights, I finally started to grasp what they mean to us as church leaders desperately wanting to see our people grow into spiritually mature disciples: We must stop pointing people to a program and start pointing them to a person, specifically Jesus Christ.
When I interviewed at my current church and they asked me about discipleship, I said that it happens in a number of ways. I told them that I love mentoring and one-on-one discipleship, as well as small groups. This is still true, but in hindsight, I missed the key to the whole thing. Let me explain.
You Can’t Delegate Prayer
On a regular basis, I see a counselor and I love how I grow personally through therapy. I meet with a mentor and have always been passionate about mentoring, but this just fills me with more knowledge and sharpens me as a leader. I do a lot of one-on-one discipleship, but the truth is that on a quantitative level, I barely make a dent in my congregation.
I can handle maybe three to five (tops) one-on-one relationships with men in my church, and that’s out of a congregation of 500-plus. Like you, I don’t have enough hours in my day or week to meet with everyone individually. Plus, I see nothing in Scripture that teaches our role as leaders is one-on-one discipleship with multitudes of people. And in fact, Move authors Hawthorne and Parkinson point out that, “Taking too much responsibility for others’ spiritual growth fostered an unhealthy dependence of congregants on the church staff.”
What I do see happening in Scripture is Paul writing to a church and encouraging them to read his letter (the Word of God). I also see Jesus often getting away alone to pray. Just last week, God showed me my desperate need for more prayer in my life and that I need to spend more and more quality time with Him—not just read about Him in one of my books or talk about Him with a friend, counselor, mentor or small group. All of those things are wonderful, but repeatedly, Scripture shows us that there is no replacement for my personal relationship with Christ.
I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Dallas Willard in The Great Omission: “The greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heartbreaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as ‘Christians’ will become disciples—students, apprentices, practitioners—of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from Him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence.”
I remember years ago hearing my friend Chris Hodges speak to a group of pastors. He said, “You can’t delegate prayer.” If you get nothing else from reading this post, my plea and prayer is that you’ll grasp this: We need Jesus. We need to be in constant communion with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.