Why Disciples Don’t Grow

The environment I create in which to make disciples has a greater “formative power” over my disciple than what I say or teach. Although addressing academics, I believe Parker Palmer exposes why our homes, churches, and ministries fail at making disciples of Jesus:

What do students consistently learn that you never intended to teach? . . .the whole culture of the academic community with its systems of rewards and punishments . . . [and its] rules and relationships. . .comprise of a ‘hidden curriculum’ which [has a] greater formative power over the lives of learners than the advertised curriculum.

I am presently evaluating our ministry in Chicago searching for “hidden criteria” or “hidden agendas” that send a double message, which confuses my disciple and invalidates my discipling efforts. The temptation for me is to deflect the responsibility for my disciple’s lack of spiritual growth on him when in fact I may be the problem due to the means by which I am discipling him. I will naturally create an environment that is comfortable for me, catering to my strengths and avoiding my weaknesses, which is great for me but a detriment for my disciple.

One example of this is the time that I had gathered a group together to study the bible as a means to make disciples. Most of the people were growing and enjoying the study but some were not. I assigned the blame for those not maturing on them. My reasoning was, “Others in the group are appreciative and growing, so you must be the problem.” It was not until after I had discovered that two in the group had learning disabilities that I realized that I had made spiritual growth inaccessible to them. (In their mind God was inaccessible to them.) I had told the group that this was a safe place to become a follower of Jesus but then chose a means that excluded those who were dyslexic. I had sent the wrong message not through my words but through my means that if they read well, remembered the information, stimulated by the content, and could contribute to the discussion that they were a follower of Jesus.

In closing,

  • If your disciple is not growing, evaluate your approach with him or her. One approach does not fit all.
  • Look at your discipling environments from the perspective of each disciple. How would an introvert feel with what I am doing? What about an international student? Large group settings stimulate some while others are uncomfortable with more than six people.
  • Gather input from your disciples on what they are experiencing from the environment that you have created. Listen especially to those who seem uncomfortable or not growing.
  • Evaluate your successes. Often ministries give credit to the wrong thing for their success.  For example, usually disciples will list their relationship with their discipler as the reason for their growth, not bible studies, teaching, or group time.

One thought on “Why Disciples Don’t Grow

  1. Hi, Lewie, I think you’re on to something. I suppose you could say I can relate to some degree since I am “handicapped” with not being able to hear well. And, I think I’ve gathered down through the years now, that others think I should be further down the road spiritually than they think I am because of all that I’ve been exposed to (or should I say, “all that I’ve heard”). Again, for me, what people may not realize is that I haven’t “heard” all that’s been said/taught/prayed down through the years by nature of being somewhat physically hearing-impaired.

    I’m thankful as I believe that most of my growth spiritually is directly related to my time in the Word because I don’t generally have any difficulty “hearing” the Lord speak through His Word as I read it. (I’m thankful for my eyesight, as it seems, at times, I pick up on things others do not because I depend so much on my sight and being observant.)

    I’m also thankful, that though I’m physically hearing-impaired to some degree, it does not affect my spirit. The Lord communicates to me through His Spirit, His Word, etc., none of which, thankfully, do I have to be able to “physically hear.” And I remember being encouraged one day when I found a verse where the Lord says, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him dumb or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exod. 4:11) It encouraged me to think that, at times, it’s possible the Lord creates some of us this way to help teach others how to serve us rather than judge us, and that through the loving service taking place, He can receive glory as others observe the Body of Christ at work meeting each other’s needs (John 9:1-3).

    I have a pastor friend who has experienced this firsthand with his son who was born with cerebral palsy. Though his son, Aaron, is now deceased, I heard that there were several people who gave their lives to the Lord as result of Aaron’s life and people watching how Aaron’s family took care of him those 29 years, I believe it was. I was privileged to be at Aaron’s funeral a couple of years ago and was so blessed to embrace the family and encourage them with a “well done!”

    Thanks for the humility in acknowledging that the the problem may not always be with the disciple. That takes courage!


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