Misunderstandings abound out there when it comes to how you should train up others in the faith. Discipleship is weak in the institutional church precisely because we buy into false assumptions regarding what discipleship is and how it should be accomplished.

Here are 5 common myths about discipleship, debunked.

1) Clergy have the corner on discipleship

This is a major reason why churches are full of burned-out pastors and members with stunted spiritual growth. Clergy cannot and should not attempt to provide all the spiritual formation and training a person needs for everyone! Instead they should be equipping and inspiring others to use their gifts to disciple others.

2) Discipleship is only teaching people how to pray and read their Bible

At vital as prayer and reading the Bible are, this perspective is a sure way to keep people from developing spiritually. Discipleship can never be limited to one or two spiritual disciplines. Not only does discipleship training encompass more than a couple disciplines, it ideally expands far beyond all of them to include things like theology, Church history, family, service, money, and discerning vocation.

3) Discipleship shouldn't feel like work

Of course we should look for creative and engaging ways to teach the faith and facilitate spiritual formation. But at the of the day…

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23 ESV)

4) Rote learning should be avoided at all costs

One aim of discipleship is greater understanding of the faith. In order to understand the faith (and especially the Christian faith, which is grounded in historical reality) it is helpful to learn the basic facts from memory first, and then process them for greater understanding. This is why we teach our children the alphabet by rote in the form of a song. It allows them to better process and interpret those letters when arranged in to words. Examples of useful rote learning for children and adults include:

  • Question-and-answer format overviews of the faith (catechisms)
  • Memorizing the Lord's Prayer, Ten Commandments, etc.
  • Learning songs that reinforce truth (Jesus Loves Me, In Christ Alone, etc)

5) Small groups are where the real discipleship happens

Look, I agree that small groups are undoubtedly an essential part of an effective plan for discipleship. That said, the more nuanced teaching points and deepest heart-issues are often best addressed in a one-on-one mentoring relationship. The single best “program” a church could have today would be to facilitate these kind of spiritual friendships.

How do you think addressing some of these myths could transform discipleship in your life?