5 Major Mistakes Made in Discipleship

December 10, 2015 Blog

A famous line from an old country song says, “Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble when your perfect in every way.” The song’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics make us laugh, but also hit us between the eyes. It is often hard to be humble. It’s difficult to admit when we are wrong and to own up to our mistakes. It’s easier to pretend to be perfect or at least close to it.

Honestly, perfect people don’t come along very often. I’ve only met one, and He didn’t have any problems being humble. In fact, He was the most humble man who ever lived. Perhaps we all need a bit more humility. Unlike Him who was truly perfect in every way, we all make mistakes. I seem to make more than my fair share.

Thankfully, some mistakes are small mistakes. If you drop the ball playing catch with a friend, it’s no big deal. Nobody gets hurt. However, if you drop the winning touchdown in the big game, it’s a big deal. It’s a really big deal. Everybody gets hurt. But it’s just a game. Right?

Let me take a moment to be humble. For too long I’ve been dropping the ball in something bigger than any game. It’s bigger than life itself. It’s called discipleship. According to Jesus, it’s our supreme purpose in life. When it comes to discipleship, I’m far from perfect. I’ve made many mistakes, and everybody gets hurt when we make mistakes in discipleship. It’s a big deal. It’s much more than just a game.

Over the years, I’ve dropped the ball numerous times in this area of my leadership. Allow me to share five major mistakes made in discipleship and then, in conclusion, some things I have learned from these mistakes.


First, there are those who mistake evangelism for discipleship. Evangelism is essential. People are lost without Christ and we must share the Gospel with them. Because of the supreme importance of evangelism, great programs like Evangelism Explosion, FAITH Evangelism, and others have been used by churches to equip people to share their faith. The results have been positive. Many people have been led to Christ and baptized in these churches.

However, when evangelism and discipleship are not vitally connected, it is common to see people baptized and then disappear a short time later. Some churches baptize great numbers every year only to see those active in their ministries remain virtually unchanged. We must remember that Jesus called us to make disciples, not converts. Evangelism and discipleship are not the same thing, but they must be yoked together for us to fulfill the Great Commission. To mistake evangelism for discipleship is a big deal. The mission of the church is greatly hurt by this grave error. Evangelism and discipleship must not and cannot be separated for us to accomplish our great mission.


A second major mistake is to confuse teaching with discipleship. In most churches, we do a lot of teaching. We teach and preach in our worship services. We teach the Bible to groups of people in classrooms and conference rooms. Most churches have a number of gifted teachers who love to teach the Bible and are very good at doing so. We even bring in special teachers to teach our people or we watch their videos in what we often call “discipleship classes.” However, these are not really discipleship classes; they are teaching classes.

Teaching is important, but discipleship requires mentorship. Both teaching and mentoring are absolute essentials to effective discipleship. This is why Jesus chose only twelve disciples. He could teach the masses, but He could only mentor twelve. Teaching was one part of Jesus’ mentoring relationship with His disciples, but they also went out together to put His teachings into practice. They learned to pray by listening to Jesus pray. They learned how to minister to others and share their faith by observing and participating in these things with Jesus. Jesus mentored them in all matters of Christian living and equipped them to live a life of mentoring others. This is true discipleship.

To confuse teaching with discipleship is a big deal. Again, the mission of the church is hurt by this grave error. We have congregations full of well taught and spiritually educated individuals who don’t really know what to do with all their knowledge. Their idea of discipleship is to look forward to attending the next “discipleship class.” We have created a charade of equipping the equipped who think their purpose is to continue to be equipped. All the while, outside the walls of the church, people continue to die without hope. This is tragic.


A third major mistake is to fail to equip others for discipleship. At the age of thirty, Jesus began His public ministry. It was a short ministry of only three years. During these three years, He gave Himself to one main thing. He literally poured His life into discipling twelve men and equipping them to live a lifestyle of discipleship. He taught thousands and fed them a miraculous meal. However, it was His investment in the lives of these twelve disciples that turned the world upside down for His Kingdom. Jesus modeled a very simple plan for discipleship. If we follow His plan, it will work and enable us to intentionally equip people for a life of discipleship.

Tragically, many ministers have dropped the ball in equipping others for discipleship. They pour themselves into preaching, teaching, and ministry. We should strive for excellence in these important areas of our calling. However, a vital part of our calling is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12a). If we are not striving to equip all of God’s people to live a life of discipleship, we must reevaluate our ministry. It’s a humbling reality, but we may be failing at our main job.


Perhaps our greatest mistake in discipleship is to neglect the miracle of multiplication. Most churches and ministries are really dropping the ball on this one. Attempting to grow by addition, they fail to realize the exponential kingdom growth that can be experience by multiplication. How can we miss this? Jesus did not add to His discipleship group. There were twelve disciples, not thirteen or fourteen. He poured His life into The Twelve and then sent them out to make and multiply other disciples. The plan Jesus modeled and taught for His church was not growth by addition, but explosive expansion through multiplication.

A vast majority of churches today have zero ministries that are multiplying. Zero! This is the reason we are failing to win our world to Christ. If one humble Christian would simply disciple two or three others a year and equip at least one in the group to reproduce each year, the results would be miraculous. The second year there would be two groups. Over the next three years they would multiply from four to eight to sixteen groups. This one person would be responsible for multiplying from one to sixteen discipleship groups in five years. If the process continues, in ten years there will be over 500 groups. In twenty years, there will be over 500 thousand groups. And in thirty years, there will be over 500 million discipleship groups reaching well over a billion people in genuine discipleship. This is the miracle of multiplication! This all started with one humble Christian willing to step out in simple faith to make and multiply disciples. If he or she is only ten percent successful, that is still 50 million new discipleship groups in thirty years. This is why Jesus taught us to multiply and not to add in His plan for discipleship. If we truly want to reach our world for Christ, we cannot neglect the miracle of multiplication in discipleship. In fact, where there is no multiplication, there is no real discipleship.


Finally, it is a major mistake to think of discipleship as a program. True discipleship is not a program, it’s a lifestyle. Jesus did not teach a discipleship program. He modeled discipleship as a way of life. He chose a group of very common men as His first disciples to show that anyone can be trained for a life of discipleship. It is not required for one to have the gift of teaching, a degree in theology, or a dynamic personality to make and multiply disciples. If properly equipped, anyone can live a lifestyle of discipleship–anytime and anywhere. Big budgets and big buildings are not necessary. The only resource required is a humble willing soul with a lifetime commitment to a lifestyle of discipleship. If an army of such souls were to arise in the church, the gates of hell could not prevail.


I humbly confess I have made every one of these mistakes. Regretfully, I’ve dropped the ball on discipleship time and time again. I grieve it has taken me so long to learn from my mistakes. I am still in the process of learning, but allow me to briefly share a few things I have learned.

First, as a lead pastor, discipleship must begin with me. I cannot hide behind preaching and teaching. I will continue to be passionate about preaching God’s word, but I must also be passionate about living a lifestyle of discipleship. Like Jesus, I must continually model discipleship as an intentional way of life. For the rest of my life I am passionately committed to meeting weekly with a small group of men for the purpose of making and multiplying disciples.

Second, I must train and equip my staff, other leaders in the church, and ultimately every willing soul to live a lifestyle of discipleship. Like Jesus, to do this I must keep it SIMPLE. Jesus modeled a very simple process of discipleship so that it could be reproduced in the lives of common people. In living a life of discipleship, I must stick as close as I possibly can to the simple plan that Jesus modeled.

Third, I cannot disciple anyone by teaching alone. Mentoring and on-the-job training is essential. I must not only meet with those I disciple for Bible study and fellowship, but I must also lead them outside the walls of the church to share together on a regular basis in the work of ministry and evangelism.

Recently, I stood before our church and made a sincere commitment. I said, “If any man will give me the privilege to disciple you, I will personally train you to make disciples for the rest or your life.” Not long ago I could not make that commitment. By the grace of God, today I can. With God’s help and for His glory, an important new goal in my life is to multiply as many new discipleship groups as I possibly can in the time I have left.

Finally, I encourage you to check out “D-Life.” D-Life is a very simple and effective plan for equipping people to live a life of discipleship. Patterned after the model of Jesus, many are following this plan and using the tools provided to train people to live the D-Life. You can check out D-Life at www.livingthedlife.com.