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  • Writer's pictureDarrell Stetler II

Why I Don't Do Shallow Discipleship Teaching

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

Discipleship that Nurtures a Robust, Orthodox, and Biblical Christianity

In the realm of pastoral ministry, the task of discipleship holds a central place. The responsibility to guide believers in their development is a sacred duty that demands diligence, wisdom, and a commitment to the profound truths embedded in orthodox Christianity. Unfortunately, the landscape of discipleship in America today often finds itself plagued by the allure of superficial teachings.

In this blog post, I will explore the reasons behind my decision to steer clear of shallow discipleship and instead, focus on nurturing a robust, orthodox, and biblical Christianity.

What is Shallow Discipleship?

Bonhoeffer famously insisted that Christianity needed a view of grace that he called "Costly grace" instead of "cheap grace." In a similar sense, there is a type of teaching prevalent in American churches that I would call "shallow discipleship."

Here are some examples:

Discipleship without self-denial & the Cross

  • Issue: Discipleship may sometimes be reduced to a form of self-help or prosperity gospel, where the emphasis is on personal success, comfort, and well-being rather than sacrificial commitment and obedience to Christ's teachings.

  • Impact: We may fail to produce disciples who live out the call to self-denial and the cross in the teachings of Jesus... and Jesus says if they don't, they are no disciples at all! (Matthew 16:24).

Superficial Bible Study:

  • Issue: Some discipleship programs may focus on skimming the surface of Scripture without delving into its deeper meanings or historical context.

  • Impact: This can lead to a superficial understanding of the Bible, preventing believers from grasping the richness and depth of its teachings.

Overemphasis on Self-Help:

  • Issue: Discipleship that solely focuses on self-improvement or personal success may neglect the broader theological foundations of Christianity.

  • Impact: While personal growth is important, an overemphasis on self-help can result in a distorted view of faith, reducing Christianity to a mere tool for achieving personal goals.

Neglecting Doctrinal Education:

  • Issue: Some discipleship programs may shy away from teaching fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith, fearing they might be too complex or divisive.

  • Impact: Without a solid doctrinal foundation, believers may struggle to articulate and defend their faith, leaving them vulnerable to false teachings or cultural pressures.

Isolation from Cultural Realities:

  • Issue: Discipleship that ignores or isolates believers from the cultural challenges they face may fail to provide practical guidance for navigating the complexities of modern life.

  • Impact: Christians may find it difficult to wholly integrate their faith into their daily lives, leading to a compartmentalized faith that cannot articulate relevance to contemporary issues.

Exclusive Focus on Attendance and Activities:

  • Issue: Some discipleship models may prioritize attendance at church events or participation in activities without ensuring a corresponding growth in spiritual maturity.

  • Impact: This can result in a checklist mentality, where discipleship becomes more about fulfilling requirements or sheer "busyness" than about deepening one's relationship with God and understanding real faith.

Lack of Mentorship and Personalized Guidance:

  • Issue: Discipleship that doesn't provide opportunities for personalized mentorship and guidance may leave individuals feeling disconnected and unsupported in their faith journey.

  • Impact: Without mentors to guide them through challenges and questions, believers may struggle to apply biblical principles to their unique circumstances.

Ignoring Social Justice and Compassion:

  • Issue: Discipleship that neglects the call to social justice and compassion may create a faith that is inward-focused and indifferent to the needs of the world.

  • Impact: Christianity should be actively engaged in addressing societal issues; discipleship that ignores this aspect may produce Christians who are disconnected from the broader mission of the Church.

Rote Memorization without Understanding & Application:

  • Issue: Some discipleship programs may encourage memorization of Bible verses or doctrinal statements without fostering a deep understanding of their meaning.

  • Impact: This can lead to a faith built on rote memorization rather than genuine comprehension, hindering the ability to apply biblical principles to real-life situations.

Addressing these pitfalls and striving for a more comprehensive and intentional discipleship approach can contribute to the development of a robust, orthodox, and biblically grounded Christianity.

The Dangers of Shallow Discipleship

Hollow Foundations

Shallow discipleship often results in hollow foundations. Imagine constructing a building on a weak and unstable base—it might stand for a while, but it is destined to crumble under pressure. Similarly, when discipleship lacks depth, believers are susceptible to spiritual instability. A solid foundation, grounded in orthodox Christian doctrines, is essential for withstanding the storms of doubt and cultural challenges.

Surface-Level Spirituality

One of the pitfalls of shallow discipleship is the promotion of surface-level spirituality. True discipleship should lead individuals beyond mere ritualistic practices to a genuine, transformative encounter with biblical truths. When the focus remains on the superficial aspects of faith, the profound beauty and depth of Christianity are lost.

The Call to Robust Discipleship

The Church Must Re-Center the call of Jesus to the Cross

Discipleship needs to follow Jesus' call to the cross, not as a burden, but as a way to leave behind our old self-centered lives. Jesus isn't asking us to carry a heavy load; instead, He invites us to let go of our selfish ways. This call to the cross isn't about following rules—it's a journey of giving up our self-centered habits and embracing a new life of caring for others. It's like saying goodbye to our old selves so that we can live a life filled with love and selflessness, just like Jesus showed us when He sacrificed Himself on the cross.

The Church Must Embrace Theological Depth

Orthodox Theology: A Guiding Light

Theology has gotten a bad rap over the last few decades in the American church. I once had a sincere Christian tell me, "I don't care much about good theology, I've got good knee-ology." While they were sincere, this is misguided. There is a deposit of truth, a powerful tradition deeper than our current moment. We are, as disciple-making pastors, supposed to be training people to be under the teaching that goes back to the Apostles.

In my commitment to discipleship, I am unwavering in my dedication to orthodox theology. The richness of the historic Christian faith provides a guiding light that illuminates the path of discipleship. Embracing theological depth ensures that believers are rooted in the timeless truths that have sustained the Church through centuries.

The Church must Prioritize Biblical Literacy as a Cornerstone

Digging Deeper into Scripture

Robust discipleship necessitates a deep engagement with the Scriptures. In a culture inundated with diverse worldviews, a solid understanding of the Bible becomes paramount. By encouraging believers to delve into the Word, discipleship can foster a genuine connection with God's revelation and equip individuals to navigate the complexities of contemporary life.

Overcoming Challenges in Discipleship

Investing Time and Resources: Quality Over Quantity

Shallow discipleship often succumbs to the temptation of quantity over quality. As pastors, we must resist the pressure to produce large numbers of disciples at the expense of their depth. Investing time and resources into a smaller group of committed individuals allows for a more effective discipleship experience.

In case you doubt this, remember that prioritizing quality is clearly what Jesus did!

Navigating Cultural Influences

Discernment in a Secular Age

In a world influenced by secular ideologies, navigating cultural challenges is a crucial aspect of discipleship. By addressing contemporary issues through the lens of orthodox Christianity, discipleship can empower believers to engage with culture without compromising their faith.

While I think it's a mistake to bend discipleship too much toward current issues, especially in the area of politics, it would be the opposite mistake to teach nothing about how our faith should create our view on such issues. Deeply formed disciples should have answers for the current cultural currents of the "world-system" that John warns us against!

Conclusion: Let's Move Away from Shallow Discipleship

The decision to avoid shallow discipleship teaching is rooted in a deep conviction to uphold the richness, orthodoxy, and biblical integrity of Christianity. By addressing the dangers of shallowness, embracing robust theological foundations, and overcoming common challenges, pastors can play a vital role in nurturing disciples who are firmly grounded in their faith.

Whatever discipleship curriculum you choose, we must proritize depth and avoid shallowness!

In the pursuit of true, deep well-formed discipleship, we can find a discipleship that not only withstands the trials of life but also shines as a beacon of hope in a world in desperate need of the transformative power of the Gospel.

A way to apply this blog post

If you're interested in learning how to grow your discipleship strategy to the next level, I'd encourage you to consider NewStart Discipleship tools.

This robust discipleship pathway is the opposite of shallow. It's "robust but accessible." It's "orthodox but practical."

It's a bite-sized, but thorough disciplehip pathway that can show you a way to walk with your disciples by being their biggest encourager on a crystal-clear pathway toward full maturity.

discipleship pathway graphic showing NewStart's path

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