What do we mean by ‘making disciples’?

In this “Heartbursts” column, Thomas Bandy describes making disciples among five lifestyle groups.

Ministry Matters

The church goal to “make” or “multiply” disciples is so universal today, among so many different denominations and traditions, and in so many different demographic contexts, that the phrase has lost any real meaning. Indeed, one suspects that churches want to keep the term deliberately vague. It sounds good, but allows churches to continue doing whatever it was they were doing previously.

On the other hand, literally any change or creative idea can be rationalized to fit whatever definition of “disciple making” is deemed to be in the best interests of the institution in any given context. For example, a recent e-newsletter from a well-known church consulting firm recently stated: “Most mainline denominations are spending more time, energy, and money on issues other than making disciples — racism, sexual relations, being a service organization, to name the big three.”

Some lifestyle groups would agree with that; but other lifestyle groups assume that spending resources on such things is precisely what being a disciple means.

United Methodists have generally jumped on the bandwagon. Judicatories and congregations declare that they are all about “making disciples,” but few are very articulate about what exactly that means for faith, interpersonal relationships, daily behavior, or economic risk (to name the big four). It leaves clergy confused. They will be evaluated on their ability to lead churches in “making disciples,” but the criteria for that evaluation in any given urban core, urban, exurban, suburban, small town, rural, or remote context is unclear. This fog is one major reason that the church (of any stripe or tradition) finds itself increasingly on the sidelines of contemporary cultures.

In my newest book, Sideline Church: Bridging the Chasms between Churches and Cultures, I identify five major lifestyle groups that have emerged from the era of the 1990’s when Tex Sample described the “cultural left,” “cultural right,” and “cultural middle.” It may help clergy to know what the peculiar cultural diversity in their particular demographic context hears and/or fears when your church declares they are in the business of “making disciples.”


~photo: Lyricmac at English Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons



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