Does the Quest for Members Conflict with the Call to Make Disciples?

From the time I was young, every church service I attended ended with something called The Call to Discipleship. It’s suppose to be one of the greatest commitments a person can make. However, so many pastors find themselves disappointed when someone comes on Sunday, or whenever that call is made, and discover that this is the last time they see that person. Were they looking for increased membership, or did they truly communicate what they meant by discipleship? I often wondered whether there’s been something lost in translation or if there’s something else behind it.

Jesus with his disciples (Image credit Jupiter Images).

Jesus with his disciples (Image credit Jupiter Images).

When you look at the ministry of Jesus, he called people unto himself and said, “follow me.” Paul likewise told people, “follow me, even as I follow Christ.” Those who followed Jesus, Paul, or any of the other Apostles did so, with a certain understanding. The understanding, was that discipleship came and comes with a cost. Following, carries a price tag. Jesus said to many, they must deny themselves, put God before all others.

So many came before Jesus desiring to follow him as a disciple, only to be turned away because they were too attached to their way of doing things, things they deemed too important to let go of; family, wealth, prestige and status. All of those things got in the way of them accepting what he wanted to offer them. Other people were too enamored by Jesus’ works of miracles, his what he gave. These people soon fell off as Jesus changed his strategy to focus on those who truly had a desire to become as he was.

Is there too much emphasis on a gospel of salvation, that the commitment of discipleship is lost for many? Should there be a required number of attendances to your church before such a call is made? How well is it communicated what being a disciple means?

Discipleship is a two party relationship; the one who disciples and the one who is discipled. It is an act of covenant (which is another thing that many don’t fully grasp). Discipleship goes deeper than raising your hand, saying a few words in response to a leading by a pastor, and having your name certified on a church roster. That’s membership. That happens in any organization, club, or place of exclusivity. There is an interdependence in discipleship. The teacher teaches, and the disciple learns the ways of the teacher, with the end result being to replicate it. It is the epitome of what God has wanted since the Garden; an earthly family that filled the earth, looking and doing only what they saw Him do. Jesus embodied this even as he said, “I can do nothing of myself, but what I see my father do.”

The essence of being a disciple is to become a student, pupil, or to be disciplined in the teachings of another. An example of such would perhaps be Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In the process of becoming the great communicator of non-violent protest, he sought the tutelage of Mahatma Gandhi. He was his disciple in the area of non-violence. This did not conflict with his spiritual upbringing, but it enabled him to raise up many others during the Civil Rights Movement to likewise choose non-violence over that of others who sought to obtain equality by any means necessary.

Somewhere along the way, it seems that this got lost. It happens in so many other areas. Whether you are an apprentice to someone who is a skilled laborer, such as an artist, a blacksmith, a chef, a seamstress, or a scribe, it all appears very apparent. There are many aspects of life and livelihood that lend themselves to discipleship, apprenticeship, or mentorship.  However, in the context of the ecclesiastic body, it seems to only happen for a very fortunate few.

Some will say that the Jesus model of discipleship is the very reason why there should not be a such thing as a mega church. This does have to be the case. As Jesus sent forth his disciples to disciple others, they learned an invaluable lesson in structure that enabled them to be able to still effectively disciple people. Church administration plays an invaluable role in how effective a church can practically do this. They had to recall that when Jesus also had thousands of people following, they were the ones given the responsibility to keep order so that he could do whatever needed to be done. Jesus, more than likely understood this from the example left by Moses.

Of course, even in discipleship, there is an order to be followed. You don’t disciple another until you as the disciple have been released to do so. This does not mean you necessarily have to have a degree or ministry license; although they do lend some sense of credibility to those within the body, if you are to disciple one another in the body. Jesus, however sent forth his disciples to disciple others even while he yet was discipling them, as a means of training and gaging their level of commitment.

Dare to look beyond membership within your local church. Look for real ways to make disciples and to emphasize the discipling of one another within the body. It begins right in your own front and backyard, and extends abroad. I remember a neighbor of mine who used his camper as a place to disciple others. A minister friend of mine frequently uses his home office and study to raise up others. In my last job, it was often an eatery or open court area where I often reached others. The ultimate goal is in making sure that disciples are being made of every nation. As we focus on teaching what Jesus taught, loving how Jesus loved, and living as lived.

QUESTION: What do you see emphasized more, membership or discipleship? Do you see a conflict? If so, what?


  1. […] Does the Quest for Members Conflict with the Call to Make Disciples? ( […]

  2. […] Does the Quest for Members Conflict with the Call to Make Disciples? […]

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