Making Disciples in a Bookstore

Posted in christian thought, discipleship by Nathan Creitz on December 10, 2008

images-stained-glass-calling-the-fishermen-tm1Recently I was in a Christian bookstore and I asked an employee if I could see their books on making disciples.

You know that feeling when you are shocked by something you were also expecting? Like you’re surprised but not surprised all at the same time?

That’s how I felt when the employee said he would have to ask the manager. I kept the look of surprise / not surprise off my face when the manager thought for a minute as we wandered aimlessly through the rows of books, and he was telling me they didn’t have a section on discipleship and he would have to think about where I might find something on discipleship. The perplexed look of surprise / not surprise started to surface on my face when he went to look it up on the computer and came back with no results.

I probably wasn’t going to buy anything, I just wanted to see if there’s anything new and interesting. I like to see who is writing about discipleship today and see what they are saying. To the bookstore’s credit, they did have a few books on the subject after I dug through the “spirituality” section and the “pastoral counseling” section. I guess I was surprised because as followers of Jesus we have been commanded to “Go and make disciples”. The Bible is clearly our best guide for that process, but with all the books on prayer and Christian living and world missions and biographies etc. we can’t find a dusty corner of a lonely shelf to place a few books on the matter of making disciples?

On the other hand, I wasn’t surprised. Other than some biographies of a few people who have done discipleship well, a few books that focus on the matter, and a few other books that have a section about it, discipleship is not fun to talk about. Discipleship involves commitment. Most churchgoers are content to attend a weekly service, place a twenty dollar bill in the plate once a month, and try not to snicker at the bad jokes told at work each day (that’s “witnessing” in their opinion). Discipleship is so much more. Discipleship is what Jesus called us to. Discipleship is obedience. Discipleship is discipline but it’s messy at the same time.

Our churches have such a screwed up idea of what discipleship is meant to be that we’ve got to start thinking about it, praying about it, writing about it, speaking about it, and DOING IT! People are led astray by church leaders who think discipleship is another class to attend. Instead, discipleship is living, breathing, and being family together with other believers. It should involve a mentor-type figure through a one-on-one relationship but it definitely involves the community. The community (characterized by words like “small”, “intimate”, “missional”, etc.) disciples the person. They live life together. They get in each others lives. The community confronts, encourages, exhorts, prophecies, and serves the disciple. The community plays together, serves together, suffers together, prays together, and lives together.

These are the kinds of things that aren’t being talked about by the church. It is definitely important to think about how to be missional, but what happens when we’ve unlocked the culture code and God gives new believers to the church? Stick them in a class? Guilt trip them when they don’t make it to the church service because if they don’t get that feeding then they are going to starve the rest of the week? If they were being discipled then the leaders of the weekly worship gathering wouldn’t have so much pressure placed on them to perform.

What is discipleship? What church leaders today are the most effective at calling the church to discipleship? What are the best books, young and old, to read about making disciples?

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10 Responses

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  1. Robert Chapman said, on December 10, 2008 at 11.17 am

    That’s the problem with most book stores today. They have no meaningful system of cataloging books. They have plenty of materials I’m sure they just didn’t know it. I imagine they have plenty of books by Dallas Willard. Just about everything he writes is written from that perspective. I imagine that they have quite a few books on spiritual disciplines from the likes of Richard Foster, John Ortberg and others. Most of these are geared towards helping to teach people to act like Jesus would if he were them. I feel your frustration. There’s been several times I was told they didn’t have a book on something to return and find a book on the very topic I needed.

  2. General Kafka said, on December 10, 2008 at 12.26 pm

    I really appreciate your point: reading about discipleship is kind of boring.
    It is something you do.
    I have a couple of books on small group leadership and the best ones are those with very simple advice, a few verses to boost your motivation or faith, and a few anecdotes.

    Another answer to your question is: “well, we can’t make disciples when we spend all this time bashing gays and other evils”.

    The church has to prioritize: standing against people/ideologies, or standing FOR the gospel.

    Otherwise, it is just a bunch of pharisees. Well intentioned, but completely missing the mark.

    thanks for the post. Inspiring again.

    • Nathan Creitz said, on December 12, 2008 at 3.40 pm

      Hey Kafka, I agree, discipleship is better in real life than in a book. My friend Lewie Clark teaches on discipleship and does a great job, but does a much better job of actually doing it. Maybe we don’t read about it as much is because the model is to just do it. The people who do the best job of discipling others are those who had a great discipler. Paul discipled Timothy and told him to disciple others that they might disciple others. That’s a discipleship of multiplication, and not just a seminar or a book. However, books help us to get the info out to a larger audience. The truth is, there are few Christians discipling or being discipled and books and seminars can help us kick start an ethos of discipleship in a church. So, thanks for your comment because it helps me to clarify that I believe the Bible teaches that we learn about discipleship in the context of a discipling relationship, but sometimes books and seminars can be helpful to keep us thinking about the subject, and they are crucial for a person or church that has no clue about what discipleship is all about.

      I would also say that biographies of men and women of the faith is a form of discipleship and books on other disciplines can be helpful for a disciple who may be lacking in that area. All of it is discipleship in that sense, I guess it just frustrates me that we need more discussion and challenges to get out there and do it.

  3. Tim said, on December 10, 2008 at 4.56 pm

    You would think with books like Purpose Driven life, it would have prompted people to write books on the five purposes. But like you mentioned, Discipleship is the least entertaining to write/read about.

    • Nathan Creitz said, on December 12, 2008 at 3.23 pm

      Hey Tim, yeah, I’m hoping more people will take up the call to write about discipleship. It’s such an all-encompassing topic for a Christian. It’s simple but challenging. Simple because you could say that discipleship is modeling and teaching someone to obey all of Jesus’ commands. Or, you could say it is to love God, love people, follow Jesus and teach others to do the same, etc.

      Regardless of how you define it, definitions tend to leave out a lot. So, it is challenging because what about the theme of suffering and sacrifice in the call to make disciples? What about hospitality? What does it mean to share your life with someone? Do you have to move in together? Or can you just get together for an hour on Wednesdays? Neither one seems to quite fit the bill. It’s challenging because it forces you to care for people and not just send them money or give them a tract. It means actually spending time with them, maybe in your home, maybe when it’s not convenient.

      It’s challenging because we don’t want to be discipled, that might mean we have to share some sensitive info with someone in order for them to hold us accountable. We might realize we need to give something up. We might be encouraged to start doing something more often.

      It’s challenging because we don’t want to be a discipler. That might mean we have to hear someone else’s sensitive info. Then we need to say something encouraging or challenging or confrontational or sensitive. We would need to approach the time with the disciple after much prayer. That means we need to make extra time for them, not just our time together with them. Maybe we should be praying for them anyway.

      These issues just scratch the surface of discipleship. What about you, Tim. What are some of the issues of discipleship that are rarely talked about? Anyone else want to join in?

  4. Breezy said, on December 10, 2008 at 7.10 pm

    You have made some very good points. I feel new comers, or new Christians need to get plugged into something at the church as soon as they can. That way they can meet and talk to people in a small group atmosphere, where it is more friendly and intimate. But a church has to make joining something easy, since most people are very shy. They need to reach out to the shy, I go to a very small church, we don’t even have our own building yet, but we have all kinds of things to make people feel wanted and welcome. We have a 15 min before church group you can go to and just talk and get introduced to new people. We have a dream team where you can attend and give suggestions to new ministries or ideas. There’s a scrapbooking team, the read the bible in a year group, there is a metal rack with sheets describing all the things available & contact people/numbers to call if you are interested in any of it. We have community projects on a regular basis where we pick something to do for the community.. like taking a fruit basket with other goodies in to the fire dept with notes of our appreciation. Teaching others to experience the joy in giving, encouraging, and helping others in need is hard to do. Some people have a hardened heart and it takes awhile for them let down the wall they have built and accept the love and joy and give it in return. Sometimes we Christians are the only Bible certain people ever see or hear and if we aren’t walking the Christian walk with true conviction, then we are quick to be labeled as a hypocrite. We aren’t perfect but we could all try harder to be a better example of Christ’s love. You have heard that quote ” People don’t care what you know until they know you care.”

    Our pastor really teaches about out reach to the lost and the community.

    I don’t know of any books about discipleship, but my brother and I enjoy the Magazine called Discipleship Journal. It has a lot of ideas for bible study groups, tips for leaders, and some deep articles.. the one on Humility was especially good.

    • Nathan Creitz said, on December 12, 2008 at 3.12 pm

      Hey Breezy, I’m familiar with Discipleship Journal…good stuff. Thanks for the comment. It sounds like your church is doing a lot to try and be welcoming. That raises the issue of hospitality as a part of discipleship. I think what I’m talking about has to do with stuff outside of the church gathering event. Real discipleship happens in homes, at work, and along the way. I know what you are saying though, sometimes our worship gatherings can seem so foreign to someone when they visit that they never want to return. That shouldn’t be. Those are some great ideas that reflect your church’s desire to connect with people.

      I think the only thing I would say by way of encouragement is that many of those ideas happen to be affinity related. There is something more common than scrapbooking or community service and that is, eating. The meal is something basic that allows us to serve one another. Having an “outsider” over for lunch or dinner is a great way to connect. Then, when you find out what he or she (or they) is (are) interested in…join them in that. Find a way to come alongside him in his interests. In other words, befriend him. I was in church leadership for quite some time and am taking a sabbatical (you could say) while I finish my degree. So, as a regular member of our new church I enjoy contributing to the various programs the church in which the church is involved. We packed a Christmas box and donated it to a child through Samaritan’s Purse, we volunteered at various outreaches, etc. All good things (great things in fact.) But without waiting on people to reach out to us, my wife and I have invited numerous people over to our house with the goal of getting a diverse group together each time and sharing a meal with them. Some are new believers, some aren’t. That’s the beauty of serving a meal, you get to spend time with someone, giving them something that we all need: food. Sure, some people need socks, some people need mental health, some people need a car fixed, and we could start ministries to help in each of those areas – and should. But where the real ministry comes is serving someone a meal. Whether it’s a Christian or an outsider, it gives you a chance to talk and laugh and tell the stories of your lives. That’s a good context for discipleship.

  5. Austin said, on December 11, 2008 at 8.44 am

    In full agreement on this one. I would like to add one thing: discipleship should begin with parents investing in their own children. Parents have been ‘outsourcing’ the job to the church for a long time. They think that if they just bring their children to church, that is enough. This has strained the resources of the church and put a burden on it that it cannot carry in most cases.

    • Nathan Creitz said, on December 12, 2008 at 2.58 pm

      Great point Austin, I think the main call to discipleship in the church should be with families. One-on-one discipleship is important, as is intergenerational small groups of families within the church, but in between is the family. What sets the family apart is that it is in the context of marriage. Discipling relationships are not an institution, but marriage is an institution. If our focus is not on marriage and family, then there’s no point in moving on to lesser relational models. In fact, I wonder if, in our Americanism, we push the discipleship of the individual too far. This doesn’t cancel out one-on-one discipleship (say, an older man and a younger man), but it gives that relationship purpose: to strengthen the younger man’s relationship with God and with his family as well as with others. The goal of a discipler, then, is to equip men and women to be good family members. As good biological family members, they then consider how they might be better spiritual family members. Anyway, thanks for the comment, it got me thinking. Feel free to continue this train of thought.

  6. Breezyneon said, on December 12, 2008 at 7.08 pm

    Some great comments and great responses. Your comments brought to mind a service we had on Serving. How Jesus washed the disciples feet. Teaching humility, service and love. Then the pastor and his wife went out to the congregation and washed serveral peoples feet. It kind of shocked us, but he made his point about servitude, and how we are here to do God’s work no matter who we are or what it is. Which brings me to the other comment you made about how how challenging it is to be a discipler. I think that is one major issue that people don’t want to be inconvenienced, or do anything that takes time away from their personal plans. When I am too tired or would rather do something other than do a needed service. I have to just tell myself to quit being lazy and selfish and provide the help I can . I am always glad I didn’t back out. A meal is an excellent way to serve and fellowship.

    You asked what are some issues of discipleship that are rarely talked about. One thing I struggle with is trying not to be angry or frustrated with people that don’t seem to appreciate the help. It is hard to know how to react to hurtful remarks, or complaints. I know some are embarrassed or ashamed they need help and react out of fear. I wish I was quick witted with humor, but I just kind of freeze when I am verbally attacked.

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