As the twenty-first century barrels on, growing complexity marks our cultural moment. From political chaos to racial division, gender and sexuality issues, and the marginalization of Christian morality, the church faces challenging days ahead. Since Justin Martyr and the Roman Empire, the church has faced the challenge of being a faithful witness in an increasingly hostile world. Throughout the centuries, different solutions have been tried. Still, the church has faced significant opposition, from martyrdom to social and political ostracization. To say that we are in a completely new season would be disingenuous and misleading. We’ve constantly faced pressure like this. However, the consistent response of the church has been a strong culture of discipleship. And that is exactly where the modern church is weakest. Our generation’s challenge is that many know little of biblical community and biblical literacy. We have a discipleship problem. Because of this, the church must commit to fostering robust Christian discipleship as we strive for faithfulness in our generation. Plainly put, we must know our church family and know our God if we want to live as faithful Christians in this world.
The need for intentional discipleship in the local church has long been a part of the recipe for healthy Christianity. As one who regularly disciples men, I can testify to how effective discipleship can be. So many church members don’t know what they don’t know. They have faith in Christ yet know little of our God’s glory. In 1 Corinthians 3:1–2, Paul writes, “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready.” This description of the early Corinthian church could easily be written to the evangelical church today. Many of the people in our churches need the maturation of graduating from milk to solid food. This discipleship happens in the Sunday gathering, but it is more than that. We must know people on a deeper level than Sunday attendance allows for in order to disciple Christians into maturity in Christ.
“We have a discipleship problem.”—Justin Honaker
There are a few ways to do this. First, there must be a clear and significant commitment from the disciple and the one doing the discipling. At my church, we outline a yearlong discipleship process in small groups. We meet every other week. In those meetings, we discuss a section of the Bible, examine a theological topic, and pray for the church. This approach prioritizes the Word of God, teaches theological language, and incorporates the practice of prayer. Through the years, men have begun this discipleship program as hesitant participants and concluded the year as sharpened men of faith. Because this small group approach creates an intimate setting for discussion, confession and repentance are encouraged and common. Men who barely talk at the beginning of the year grow into men who lead their households in faith, love their wives and children well, and serve as fully-integrated church members. The key is that the group grows to know one another, trust one another, love one another, and hold each other accountable.
A few years into one of these year-long groups, I received this note from the wife of one of my men:
I wanted to encourage you to know that your seemingly small acts of obedience to disciple just a few men is, in turn, changing the family culture of my home and I’m sure others. This last weekend at church, my son was sitting with his ‘notes’ and Bible just like his dad. My husband never saw his dad do this, but I believe the tide is turning in our family because of God’s grace and a faithful friend like you.
I do not recount this note in any way to applaud my effort but to thank God for His faithfulness to his plan of biblical discipleship. To see men walking into the church with their families, engaged in worshiping our God, Bibles opened on their laps, asking questions after sermons, all of this is a testimony to the greatness and steadfastness of Christ. Jesus will build His church. The bride of Christ will be beautiful. As pastors, we are part of the means for seeing the body of Christ mature. This mission has many hurdles and many valleys. I wish I could say that all the men I have discipled are faithfully walking with Christ, but that is not the case. By being challenged to grow, some have shown their stubbornness to graduate from milk to solid food. This mission is not for the faint of heart but for the Christian willing to lay down time, energy, tears, and much more for the sake of seeing brothers and sisters in the faith walk in a manner worthy of the call of the gospel. To this end, we strive for the glory of God.