In the work that I do, I get the opportunity to hear about many different ways in which discipleship is being approached, especially in small group or one-on-one settings. One of my priorities in learning more about effective discipleship is talking with those who are actually participants in it. I get to hear about so many blessings and graces that are flowing through these initiatives, but I also come across many individuals who are frustrated because what they have been told is supposed to happen through discipleship is not actually happening. Over the past few years, I have seen several common mistakes, and I thought it would be helpful to share my observations in the hope that others can learn from them as well.
Here are some of the top mistakes I am seeing discipleship leaders make as they strive to foster an atmosphere of discipleship in their ministry to others:
They Make It “Just” a Weekly Commitment
Many leaders try to fit everything into their weekly meeting time. Discipleship is much more than a once-a-week commitment. It is a relationship and a journey with a disciple.
They Center It Around a Program or Curriculum
Programs and resources are ok, but I have yet to see a program or curriculum do what discipleship sets out to do. What a group does should start with the vision of discipleship, and the choice of a curriculum should flow from that.
They Cancel When Numbers are Low
One of the primary goals of a discipleship group is to get to know the members of the group. A leader may have to adjust their expectations a little, but should capitalize on opportunities for more intimate settings like these. When fewer show up it provides a unique opportunity to really dive in and get to know one another. While it may be uncomfortable, do not get discouraged. Know that the Lord will bless your perseverance as you remain faithful to those who do make the commitment to be there.
They Never Raise the Bar
Members of a good discipleship group should be growing. As a discipleship leader, strive to find moments where the group can intentionally deepen their commitment to the group. This can be done by making a deeper commitment to prayer, commitment to more openness and sharing within the group, or simply making individual commitments for growth.
They Don’t Include the Disciples In the Planning
As a discipleship leader looks ahead, they should be sure to stay in tune with where the group members are desiring to go as well. Be intentional each semester about inviting the group’s input into the planning and vision of the schedule.
They Let Things Get Too Big
Having more youth gain interest in being part of your group is a good thing, but when it gets too big, your group can easily begin to lose focus. Do not be afraid to have the harder conversations with the group and consider breaking off as needed in order to maintain the Four Earmarks.
They Participate Rather Than Coach
I’ve heard it said too many times, “My group is so great I just let them take control of it.” Can you imagine a football coach ever saying that about their team? As a discipleship leader, you have the responsibility to see things in a different light. Do not be afraid to look for ways in which the group can grow, and challenge them to do so.
They Don’t Take Time to Get to Know Their Disciples
It’s pretty hard to come up with a good plan for formation when you don’t know where a person is at. Many leaders feel pressure to get through content, but it’s important to note that in discipleship, you technically don’t even know what things you should be doing unless you first know the student.
They Don’t Plan
Planning is important for many reasons, but one of the biggest is that it communicates to the youth that you have been thinking about them and preparing for them. Again, imagine a football coach coming to a practice and just winging it. A good coach sets goals and benchmarks to meet those goals and never wastes a second of the time he has to help make his players better.
They Don’t Ask Questions
The best leaders are also the best students. Every discipleship leader should be committed to learning as well as praying on the ways in which they can lead their group. The challenges of leading a disciple should demand a deeper commitment to prayer and dependence on Christ.
These are just a few of the common mistakes that I am seeing. I believe that many of them are rooted in simply adapting to a new approach to ministry. As I said before, I am so grateful for the steps being taken to implement new methods of Evangelization. These observations hopefully shed some light on areas of growth that can make those efforts even more fruitful.