In Sunday School at Arbor Drive, we are covering some core convictions we have as a church. One of them is a conviction that believers should be disciples and should be discipling others. Due to some good discussion, we did not get to the final section of the lesson which addressed barriers to discipleship, so I am writing this to help address that issue. If we are honest, we all have barriers to discipleship. Overcoming those barriers ultimately flows from two things, namely, a conviction that Christ commanded us to disciple others, and a love for/desire to obey Christ. That said, I believe there are some practical things that we can think through in overcoming barriers to discipleship.
#1: I Don't Have Time
In our culture, time is a commodity. There doesn't seem to be enough of it in the day to do what we need/want to do. I understand the time crunch. I often feel that my week doesn't have enough hours in it to do everything. That said, there are certain issues that arise with how we manage our time and how we prioritize our time that play into this barrier. Think about this: Is there anything more significant or important that you can be doing than discipling someone? That will have an eternal impact if prioritized. It does however take intentionality. I would suggest taking an inventory of your week. Where do you spend your time? Does the time you spend in various pursuits (many of them probably noble and good) reflect the priorities God lays out in Scripture for the believer? If intentional time with others with the aim of talking about eternal things is not in your week, I would submit your priorities don't line us with the priorities of Scripture. Two brief thoughts before we move on. First, if you are a parent, your primary calling to disciple people is in your home. Being intentional in pointing your children to Jesus and discipling them IS discipleship, and it's where you should prioritize discipleship first. Second thought, discipleship can begin as simply as asking someone to meet for coffee or inviting a family for dinner and having a conversation. It can be as easy as inviting someone to drive to Lincoln with you to run an errand or inviting someone over to have a game night with the family. Don't over complicate it. Don't over program it. Just start with simple steps to build relationships with people in your life with the aim of pointing them to Christ and the gospel.
#2: I Don't Feel Like It
Let's be honest, we don't always feel like being obedient. Here is the interesting thing though, as you take steps of obedience in faith, with a heart that desires to see God honored, the result is excitement and joy. We have a saying in our house... "obedience brings joy". We know that when we are intentional in pointing others to Christ, we receive joy in that. Yes, it can be hard. Yes, we might not feel like it initially, but in the end, we know that obedience to God from a heart that seeks to see him honored always results in joy. Let me ask a couple of diagnostic questions. First, if you knew that being intentional in discipleship would yield eternal results, would you want to do it? Second, what if God himself came to you and said "I want you to do this for me because I have decided to use you to encourage others and bring them to faith"? Would those two things change your desire? While we may not see the immediate results, we can know for sure that when we are faithful in discipleship, God uses it. I have seen this not only in my own life, but in the lives of people I have invested time in discipling. There were people who were discipling me before I came to faith that probably thought "man, this is a waste of time". It wasn't though, because God used them in ways they didn't even know. But what if God directly told you that he was going to use you to advance the kingdom? Well, he has. That is what the call to discipleship is. It's a call from God to his people to be used by him to impact lives for eternity. When you think about it in those terms, for a believer who wants to honor God, discipleship becomes a desire, not a duty.
#3: I Don't Know Enough
Sometimes we think that we have to know all this stuff before we can be obedient. That's not always true. If you read Acts 9, you will see that Paul started sharing the gospel with others almost immediately after the scales fell from his eyes. You don't have to know a lot to encourage others with the gospel. You just have to know the gospel. If you are a believer, you know the gospel. You can simply encourage others with the gospel and share the gospel with your friends who don't know Jesus. "What if someone asks me a question I don't know the answer to"? Here is a little pastoral secret: those of us who are pastors don't know everything. There is nothing wrong with saying "I don't know but I will get back with you", and then going to someone you trust and working through that with them after looking at Scripture for yourself. I can tell you this, the more you spend time in the word and grow in your relationship with Christ, the more you will be able to answer those questions you don't know the answers to. Don't forget, as a believer, you have the Holy Spirit within you. You are equipped to be able to do this by sovereign grace. At the very least, you can remind believers and tell unbelievers about the basic truths of the gospel and how that plays out in our lives as Christians (Titus 3:1-8)
#4: I'm Not Gifted To Disciple Others
Let me ask a question: Did Christ say that one had to have the "gift" of discipleship to disciple? I cannot find that anywhere in Scripture. Yes, some people are naturally better at it than others. That doesn't mean that you are not gifted to disciple others. The first step is being a disciple yourself and having that relationship with someone else. Odds are, that will give you a model of what it looks like that you can replicate. Remember, discipleship has three elements: Relationship, Experiences, and Information. I would be willing to bet that you have some relationships in your life. Start there. Redeem the conversations you have with others to point them to Christ. Invite them over for dinner and have them sit in on your family bible reading time. Be willing to speak the redeeming and healing truth of the gospel to someone who is hurting. Discipleship is simple... not easy, but simple. When we make it a program, we make it hard for everyone to do it. When it is a process, we can all participate in it. You can speak the truth in love to others. You have the Holy Spirit. You have other believers that can come alongside you. You have the word of God. You have prayer and grace to empower you. You have everything you need as a believer to do this. Discipleship is about bringing God's truth to bear on people's lives and it is not divorced from the local church. If you're struggling in this area, talk to a trusted believer that you know will be able to come alongside you and help you.
A Closing Challenge
Pray about someone in your life that you can start being intentional with. Pray that God would point you to someone you can speak the truth of the gospel to. Someone you can invite into your life and come alongside. Someone you can point to Christ and the gospel. When you have that one person or family, share that with another believer and ask them to keep you accountable and pray for you. Then take a step of faith and go after that person for Jesus. Your joy and fellowship with God will increase and you will have an eternal impact on someone. The gospel empowers us to overcome these barriers by reminding us that we are redeemed and that God is for us. He is active in our lives and will use us to accomplish his eternal purposes.
Husband to Carlee, Papa to Fin and Ainsley, Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Arbor Drive Community Church in York, Ne., and co-host of The Pastor Discussions Podcast.