I work for an organization whose mission is to “make more and better disciples” of Jesus Christ. We’ve long operated on the premise that disciple-making is done primarily through group instruction, so we’ve invested a major part of our time and energy in developing Sunday School curriculum, training events for pastors and teachers, and a convention that brings together thousands of people every year for several days of workshops and seminars on how to improve the ministry of local congregations. 

God has used us and our predecessors to help tens of thousands of people by using these group methods, and we are very thankful for that.

But we’re beginning to realize that making Christian disciples involves far more than gathering large audiences and developing high-tech classrooms. It involves drawing people into transformative relationships. It involves mutual accountability. It involves the joy and sorrow of getting involved in other people’s lives — and letting them get involved in ours.

For example, I know a congregation in western Michigan that has a ministry of restoring pastors who’ve fallen into immoral relationships. It’s not a publicized activity; so far as I know, they’ve never allowed the news media to report what they’re doing. But they quietly approach a pastor who’s left the ministry in moral disgrace, pray with him, and (as the Holy Spirit leads) draw that person into a covenant relationship to seek God’s healing.

The covenant disciple must relocate to that community, because discipleship requires immersion in the life of a healthy congregation. He meets regularly with a group of other ministers and lay leaders to whom he’s accountable. Over the course of several years, more than one pastor has gone through a process of repentance and restoration in this way.

One insight I gather from their experience is that we can’t make disciples wholesale. Discipleship is not a matter of producing some whiz-bang curriculum material or best-selling book that sells millions of copies, so it’s seldom profitable in the traditional sense of that word. It’s long, slow, difficult, risky work. But disciple-making is the Lord’s work, and we Christians must be about our Father’s business.