“Miles Wide and Inches Deep”: When We Fail to Make Disciples (1)
One of the great passions of my life is discipleship – “teaching [believers] to observe all that [Christ] has commanded [us]”. There is something powerful about the truth taking ground in the heart of another believer who then takes that truth and passes it on to another believer who passes it on and so the cycle keeps going. Or so it should.
But if you look at the evangelical landscape, we are reaping the effects of a generation that has not been taught the Word, have not taken it in and haven’t passed it on to the next generation. In some ways, the effects have positive – the rediscovering of the doctrines of grace by so many in the last decade or so has been proof of a real hunger for God-centered, Christ-exalting truth. However in other ways, the malaise continues. I present an example. Here’s Pastor Steven Furtick speaking to his congregation:
While I commend the desire to evangelize and reach people, one has to wonder why the desire to go deeper into God’s Word comes under so much attack. Putting aside that the ‘teaching’ of Furtick is usually rather shallow, one wonders why there is such antipathy to believers desiring to know God and His Word a little deeper. I am even more perplexed when I am presented with the New Testament’s own teaching on discipleship and Christian growth:
Matthew 28:18–20 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Ephesians 4:11–13 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
Colossians 1:28 We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.
The NT seems to posit discipleship as making believers mature, as equipping them to do the work of the ministry. If Furtick (and a whole generation of ministers) truly wish to reach more people with the Gospel, that requires – from the texts we’ve read – the following:
- Making disciples – literally learners, students or pupils – with the syllabus being all that Jesus commanded
- Equipping the people of God for the work of serving the Lord and building up Christ’s body
- Admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom
And all this is to the aim of presenting every man complete in Christ. As The Bible Knowledge Commentary rightly notes:
Paul was interested in believers not remaining spiritual babies (cf. 1 Cor. 3:1-2) but in becoming spiritually mature (cf. Heb. 5:11-14).
How do you do that? You do it through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word at the air level and through one-on-one, life-on-life discipleship at the ground level. Furtick (and others like him) have seemingly missed the blueprint if they want to simply do the work of evangelism without the buttress of sound teaching from the Word to mature the saints so that they can get to the work of evangelism.
In conclusion, what happens if you fail to do this? Well, once again, Steven Furtick will serve as our case study. At the time of writing, Furtick just released his latest book, Greater. According to the official website (emphasis mine):
In GREATER, Pastor Steven Furtick draws on the biblical story of Elisha to empower you to take a God-given dream from idea to reality, stretch your limited resources and abilities in ways you never thought possible, replace the images of yourself that keep you feeling stuck in the past and make a significant impact with your life starting today.
If you’re tired of being ordinary, it’s time to dream bigger. If you’re feeling overwhelmed about where to begin, it’s time to start smaller. It’s time to ignite God’s greater vision for your life.
A systemic failure to orient people in a God-centred direction inevitably means you will orient them in a self-centred direction. Lest I be accused of taking Furtick deeply out of context, simply look over his sermon archive – series after series of well-produced, slick, creative sermons…yet no meat. Nothing that you could honestly say will do any of those points we raised earlier from the NT. And the result? You get a Christianity that is miles wide…yet has all the depth of an evaporating puddle.
 Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1985). The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Col 1:28–29). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.