Off the Shelf Discipleship



Leadership is broken because leaders are unbroken

Recently I ran into a researcher who received a grant to determine how pastors are doing discipleship these days. When I asked him what he’s discovering, he said, “Pastors are going to the Christian book store and buying what’s on the shelf.”

Off the shelf discipleship. Whatever looks good. Whatever works.


Now there are several good discipleship resources on the shelf, and many pastors are consulting what others have done while putting their own thinking together, a very good step. Yet many others could be making two serious mistakes that are giving disciple making a very short shelf life in their churches.


They mistake their purpose for a program.


For these pastors making disciples is just another program like Sunday school or Adult Bible Fellowships or men’s or women’s ministries or any of the other activities they must organize and oversee. They’ve missed the point of Christ’s command to make disciples and fail to realize that the Great Commission is a whole church, whole-life process. Making disciples is not a program but the pastor’s very purpose, a purpose that encompasses all they do from giving birth to new believers to releasing mature believers to the Lord. Discipling does not end with the Ten Basic Steps or the Two Seven workbook (both excellent resources). Making disciples is not about civilizing new believers into good Christians who pray, love their wives, and give money. Making disciples is an all-encompassing lifetime process of guiding believers into an ever-growing Christlikeness that forms the entire life of every believer. Discipleship is what the church is about, the pastor’s purpose, not just another program.


They’re more interested in what works than what matters.


Some pastors won’t pay the price it takes to make disciples. They’re busy, too busy to put the time into thinking through what it means to be a disciple maker. Some don’t want to be that involved with people. They know disciple making doesn’t come off the shelf, but out of the heart, that if it isn’t from their heart, it won’t change anyone else’s heart, but they don’t want to pay the price that relating from the heart demands. All they’re looking for is something that works, something they can call discipleship so they can quiet the critics who say there’s no discipling going on in their church. If it works, they’re satisfied. But it doesn’t matter if it works in their minds. If what they’re doing isn’t making lasting radical changes in their followers at every point in their lives, it isn’t working.


That’s because making disciples is not a program but our purpose; not what works but what matters.

(From "Off the Shelf Discipleship" at

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.