Discipleless Churches


Leadership is Broken Because Leaders are Unbroken

Dallas Willard observed that the word “disciple” occurs 269 times in the New Testament while the word “Christian” is found three times.  From this Willard concludes, “’The New Testament is a book about disciples, by disciples, and for disciples of Jesus Christ.’” Yet all around us we see discipleless churches, churches made up of what Willard called “undiscipled disciples.”

How is it that the essence of the Great Commission, the only command Jesus made as He gave His final marching order to His followers, is significantly ignored in churches today?  How can so many pastors, not only around the world, but also in the United States, so completely disregard this command?  Why is it that there are so few in the pews who don’t demand to be discipled?  And what can we say when we see many who make such demands marginalized by their pastors?

One reason is that many pastors have no idea how to make disciples despite our Lord’s model and the clear record of the way He formed His men.  Another reason is that many pastors are afraid to enter into the kind of intimacy that disciple making demands, the kind of intimacy that Jesus demonstrated when He invited His followers to know Him and even go into Gethsemane with Him.  A third reason is that making disciples is not a glamorous marker on the pastoral highway to success—CEO’s don’t spend their time putting up with men like Peter, James, or John.  They have too much to get done to bother with such people.

Yet disciple making is the key to renewing the church in our day.  Laymen and women have always done most of the teaching of God’s truth in the world; laymen and women have always been on the cutting edge of kingdom penetration in every culture; laymen and women, under the tutelage of forward thinking pastors who are not threatened to equip others to do what they cannot do, have always been the difference makers for Christ.  The pastoral calling has always been to move others ahead of us so they increase as we decrease.  That’s what Jesus did and, much to our surprise, that’s what will make us the leaders we have always longed to be.

On occasion I will return to this theme of Discipleless Churches as I seek to call leaders away from the selfishness of success to the sacrifice of disciple making.  This is not an easy transition, as I well know, but we all—ministry or lay leaders—must cross this bridge if we are to fulfill Christ’s purpose for us.  Just as the New Testament does not recognize discipleless churches, so it does not recognize discipleless Christians.  Each of us, pastor, factory worker, business executive, or professional is called to make disciples.  Because of this call, it is time for the church to become disciple makers, not discipleless.

From "Discipleless Churches " on Broken Leadership Blog is about changing the leadership conversation from what we are doing with our hands to what God is doing through our hearts.


Bill Lawrence is the President of Leader Formation International, Senior Professor Emeritus of Pastoral Ministries and Adjunct Professor of DMin Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary where he served full-time for twenty-four years (1981-2005). During this time he also was the Executive Director of the Center for Christian Leadership for twelve years.

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