Putting Ourselves at a Disadvantage?

I have the pleasure of reading some excellent blogs about missions and discipleship. Recently, I came across this excellent post from Guy Muse a Baptist missionary to Ecuador. He writes:

Everyday for the past two weeks and continuing for two weeks more, our team has been teaching groups of fifteen pastors who are coming to Guayaquil from all over the coastal region of Ecuador. They are being introduced to our COSECHA (Harvest) discipleship/church planting training materials that will be used to reach the goal of 1-million disciples in one year.

The heart of the training is making disciples. The only way to win/disciple a million in a year is to begin making disciples that make disciples. Nothing new. But are we doing it? Am I doing it?

If we are out there everyday exhorting everyone about the priority of making disciples, who am I discipling? My biggest fear everyday in the trainings is that someone will bluntly ask me who I am discipling!

These strong soul-searching words hit home. We solicit funds saying that we are going to reach the lost, and yet, as we look at our schedules, our calendars are full of spiritual retreats and Bible conferences. Our to-do lists include research for Bible school classes and fund raising for church projects, but discipleship, defined as reaching and training followers of Christ, seems surprisingly absent. If we were to truly provide evidence of meeting our goals of reaching the lost based on our professional activities, it is highly possible that we’d come up short.

But why? God forbid that we would have intentionally mislead churches into thinking that we were doing something that we are not. I think that we hit the ground intending to see lost people saved and an impact made in the community where we live. So what keeps us from being able to see the results that we so desire?

One reason I believe that this happens is because of our dependence on the local church as we get our “feet on the ground” in ministry. As we arrive in the community where we minister, we look for people to help us establish our lives in the foreign context. We need everything from furniture to handymen to help us to get started and build a secure environment for our families and a base from which we can work. Being representatives of a religious organization, more often than not we find that help coming from Christians.

This in itself is not a bad thing of course. There are few things more assuring to a man or woman who is dealing with his or her second complete move in a year to two separate and absolutely foreign environments than to be able to delegate important tasks to another believer who will treat him or her honestly and amicably as the missionary stumbles through cultural adaptation and adjustment. However, the downside to all of this is that we begin our experience in that new culture by building a cloistered environment for ourselves that keeps us from relating with neighbors who do not have a relationship with Christ and may be seeking the message that we came to share.

Further complicating the matter is the fact that these Christians generally introduce us to other Christians who then invite us to address any number of groups and participate in any number of events generally frequented by other Christians. Before we know it, we are deeply entrenched in a Christian culture and, although busy, have severely hindered ourselves from having a real first-hand impact on the predominantly non-Christian world that we live in.

Now don’t get me wrong, I believe that those of us who serve a predominantly Christian audience, doing leadership training and pastoral conferences, do a great deal of good. Nevertheless, there is a question that haunts me: Does my professional schedule exempt me from fulfilling the Great Commission?

Another often repeated concept is that most of what is learned, that is what is transferred and actually applied to a person’s life comes through the teacher’s ability to model what he or she is communicating. In other words, that which is learned is more often caught than taught. This serves as well to make the reality all the more convincing, we as missionaries can’t just train disciplers we have to be disciplers ourselves.

But how? How can we who have been caught up in the busyness of the ministry refocus our lives in order to prioritize discipleship ministry? I have a few ideas:

  1. Don’t stop preaching discipleship. Our continued involvement and reflection on the theme will continue to motivate us to “practice what we preach.” It will also enable us to explain our inability to fulfill expectations that others may try to place upon us that do not enable disciple-making ministry to take place
  2. Expand our circle of influence intentionally to include non-Christians. This requires an honest look at our lives in order intentionally create relationships with those who do not know Christ. Are we truly like our Master who was known as a friend of sinners?
  3. Look for opportunities everywhere. Discipleship opportunities can take place over a play-date with the kids or a late night greeting across the street. But we need to look out for them, recognize them for what they are, and utilize them to bring seekers closer to a relationship with their God.
  4. Be in constant prayer. When I prepare for a meeting or a teaching, I can control the elements. I pick the theme, the illustrations, and the length of time that I am going to speak. As a discipler, I don’t have these luxuries. I have to rely on the Holy Spirit for direction and clear insight into the matter at hand. Hearing his voice is only enabled as I practice acknowledging his presence in every moment.

These things are coming to pass in our lives as we have evaluated our ministry and daily life here in Mérida. I’m happy to report that we can count many non-Christians now as our friends. Pray for us as we engage ourselves in their their lives and adjust our schedules to keep discipleship a true focus of our ministry.

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  1. Dan Van Veen’s avatar

    Hey Dave,

    Nicely done. I enjoyed this article quite a bit. Really hit home. I don’t have too many non-Christian friends . . . well, actually, I don’t have too many Christian friends, either — mostly just acquaintances (few deep friendships). But this was inspiring. Thanks.

    But anyway, here’s another topic coming to light in the U.S. I did a story on tithing for AG News…long story short, people are getting tired of giving their money to the church so it can purchase big screen TVs, high-backed conference-room chairs and serve lattes from its own coffee shop. So instead of tithe/money going to the church, it’s now starting to go to organizations that are concerned about people with real needs . . . and you know, judging by the headlines, that list of people in need is going to explode here in the next few month. If the church focused on meeting needs, sharing the gospel message and discipleship instead of being consumed with creating some “country club/entertainment” atmosphere, I think we’d see a church filled with deeply committed Christians instead of fair-weather fans whose faith is based upon having their physical “wants” met rather than their spiritual needs…not that I have an opinion on this or anything. : ) Take care, Dave, and keep up the good words and works!


  2. Dave’s avatar


    I’m glad that this last post was helpful. I think discipleship is the proverbial elephant in the room that no one talks about. I thought that even the latest issue of Enrichment on Discipleship missed the boat a bit as it seemed to equate it to church membership, baptism, and the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Although we do need measurable goals, I think to end here is missing the big idea. Discipleship is at its center the expansion of the kingdom. Those who are reached will undoubtedly require training and thus the Great Commission will be completed. Those who disciple will continue to be challenged as they search for answers to real life issues in the pages of the Bible.

    However, the key is to have a constant influx of disciples into community. Not having this will cause us to continue to focus on high-back chairs and coffee shops. The need for new disciples requires us to take an interest in those who do not know Christ, to reflect the mission of the Master, “to seek and save that which was lost.” We must constantly challenge ourselves to this end and focus ourselves on this task. The rest, our buildings, programs, and even our statistics will, as the Bible says, be added to us.

  3. Guy Muse’s avatar

    Thanks for the link. I really like your four suggestions for prioritizing discipleship. The whole issue of not having non-Christian friends is key to this whole subject. The longer we are believers, the fewer non-believing friends we have. That’s why most new disciples come from new believers, not the old pew warmers in our churches.

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