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Stating the Obvious about Discipleship Today

Nehemiah stated the obvious: The walls are broken down. Jerusalem is at risk.
Noah stated the obvious: Repent; it’s going to rain.
Nebuchadnezzar stated the obvious: I’ve got the world by the tail. (But it was a short-sighted assessment that led to his demise.)

Here’s my attempt at stating the obvious about discipleship in today’s churches.

Most churches settle for gathering people around something, lacking a compelling vision of discipleship to reach a lost world. They settle for a combination of gathering people attracted by:

  • PLACE – The church building is beautiful or the location is close by. They come because of the place.
  • PROGRAM – Members describe the good worship service or the great Bible studies or the fun children’s program, etc. They come as customers for the program that meets their needs.
  • PERSONALITY – They like the pastor. 
  • PEOPLE – The church has people they feel comfortable around. People know them and like them, and vice versa. 

(Thank you to the book Future Church for the four “P’s.”)

It may be unfair to be quite so “obvious.” But just test it out. See if it seems true. Translation: Eliminate the “P” that got them there, and the church is at risk of not keeping them there.

You could do your own assessment of which of the four “P’s” is weak or missing. (Think about how the pandemic chipped away at most or all four.)

The wrong thing to understand is that any of these four are bad. I think it would be best for every congregational leadership to try to “up their game” in any and all of the four.

The mistake that most churches have made, and that might have been exposed during COVID, is that we contented ourselves with a transaction. We provided the four “P’s.” You measured your response accordingly. And we never discipled people to a deeper level of following Jesus.

My experience? There’s something compelling about following Jesus deeper and deeper into a path of discipleship, and dying to self as people embrace that the Son of God lived and then died, sacrificing Himself so that we might be won and made right with God.

So, here’s obvious statement number 2. 

Our churches are unable to engage the four big challenges facing us in the U.S. today because they settled for the four “P’s.” They settled for something less for the vision in our congregations. 

Here are the four challenges we face:

  1. There are 330,000,000 Americans. And maybe 50,000 out of 350,000 churches that are able and willing to reach the 330,000,000. Do the math! We don’t have enough healthy, mission-focused churches to take on the challenge.
  2. We don’t have enough leaders. In congregations…in communities…going into seminaries…coming out of seminaries. Our ways of discipling the next wave of people to become leaders isn’t working! 
  3. A young adult in a major city likely doesn’t know a Christian they respect who can challenge the stereotypes of a follower of Jesus. Count the number of young adults in their 20s and 30s in your church on Sunday morning. Remind yourself they represent the largest—not the smallest—adult generation, and then project that reality onto the closest metropolitan area to you. Make sense? 
  4. The people of God have been invited into the work of the church but not into the mission of God. And, these days, the mission of God is more likely to occur outside the church than inside the church. 

And, here’s obvious statement number 3.

If most Christians are gathering in our churches around Place, Personality, Program, and People, and are not being discipled to follow Jesus, they will have little capacity or concern to challenge the four big American trends.

Finally, fellow leader,

  1. What if you raise your sights beyond four “P’s”?
  2. Scour the landscape for a couple Jesus-believers in their 20s to 30s, and invite them into PLI’s leadership 1,000 Young Leaders?
  3. Can you identify 10 Not So Young Leaders and nominate them for the PLI’s leadership fully online training? 

What do you think?

By the way, PLI is in search of an executive assistant. See this week’s ENews for more information and email us to apply.

One Response

  1. Jim Driskell says:

    We don’t have members who are interested. You try to get people focused on genuine discipleship and “well we just don’t do that here”. It’s therapeutic moralistic deism and if you aren’t juggling, doing sock puppets, and creating a spectacle that has nothing to do with anything you won’t even get attention. You start with a small group who will stick with it, be serious about moving forward and do your best with everyone else. You have too many pastors who are more focused on “people pleasing” and not causing a problem and you have too many in leadership at all levels who won’t back genuine discipling and get nervous if the pastor isn’t a nice people-pleasing boy who does what he’s told. We need much better leadership. I had a circuit counselor ask me in front of two lay people that since they were all nice people, couldn’t I just compromise and give them all communion? Ya, real leadership, you have leaders who don’t even know church doctrine.

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