Study kits are great tools, but they don’t make disciples
COMMENTARY | Heath Tibbetts
Discipleship doesn’t come in a box. Lessons come in boxes, neatly packaged with DVDs and participant guides. And for years, discipleship to me was the newest lessons from great teachers. It was all I had ever known, until God called me to a church outside the Bible Belt.
Our Southern Baptist church in Pennsylvania was mainly comprised of former Catholics, Methodists, or unchurched people. Many in our congregation
came from a background where they had never been encouraged to read the Bible. One former Catholic who joined told me, “Our priest said if we ever needed to know something from Scripture, he’d tell us.” It became quickly apparent that doing discipleship the same old way wasn’t going to work.
And then I began to ask myself a tougher question: Did it ever work?
Much of our discipleship today fails because of a lack of biblical literacy. We have assumed for so long that those within our congregations are having a personal devotional time of some sort because they’re Christians. The reality is that many lack this important time with the Lord, not because they don’t love God, but because they were never discipled on how to do it.
So we scrapped our random discipleship efforts in Pennsylvania. We canceled all the classes, not because the subjects or teachers were bad, but because there was no fruit. Our pastoral staff and wives established discipleship groups. We didn’t promote them in the bulletin, but as individual leaders we identified potential future disciple makers. We established these as regular groups, meeting at least on a monthly basis. We prayed together, ate together, and studied the Bible together. As group leaders, we did this to make disciples who would make disciples.
When God called our family to northern Illinois this year, I had the opportunity to step back and look at my group. Corey had been silent and plagued with guilt over his lack of depth as a believer. He’s now the leader of the group, and a new deacon in the church. Matt was becoming serious about studying the Bible, but often unwilling to commit. He’s now leading the youth ministry since my departure and learning to be a doer. And after two years, another man finally left the comfort of those friends to invest in a new group, where he will pass along the lessons of personal discipleship he learned.
Jesus’ earthly ministry over a three-year stretch was marked by twelve disciples. That ministry would barely register a blip on the radar of many church leaders today because of its humble beginnings. But as a result of Jesus’ personal investment in those men, churches were started, the Gospel spread, and many were saved. Jesus gave us a simple model: love them then lead them. This is the lesson I am now living out.
Here at First Baptist Church in Machesney Park, Ill., there are many dreams I have for our church. I dream of a church that is debt-free. I dream of a church that is focused outside of our walls. I dream of a church where our people live in a passionate relationship with their Savior. And all those dreams are tied to personal discipleship.
Disciples will give, disciples will go, and disciples will grow. But for these dreams to become reality, I must set the example as pastor. So I will invest in the lives of our people, finding those who can be grown not only as disciples, but disciple makers. It will grow our First family closer to God and each other.
Christ called us in Matthew 28:19 to “Go therefore and make disciples.” Andy Stanley and Beth Moore are great teachers, but they can’t make disciples for you. Discipleship requires personal investment that a box cannot provide. I challenge you to examine discipleship in your church. How can you personally invest in the lives of your church family such that you will make disciples who make disciples?
Heath Tibbetts is pastor of FBC Machesney Park, Ill.