Discipleship efforts that are not fueled by obedience to God's Word and missional activation will ultimately result in failure.
Paul wrote, "Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you" (Philippians 4:9.)
James declared, "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says" (James 1:22.)
God's Word and God's mission (the Great Commission) are not merely to be exegeted, analyzed and studied. They must also be obeyed.
This is where many church and youth ministries have failed in their discipleship efforts. Although they may have most of the elements required for effective discipleship they're missing one crucial ingredient...activation.
Motivation plus information doesn't really change anything without activation.
For instance many church leaders will teach on the importance of evangelism (motivation), unpack the theology of evangelism (information) and even give a few helpful hints on how to evangelize (application). But if they don't give their hearers an opportunity to put it into practice right away (activation) their efforts will most likely fail to truly transform their hearers' hearts.
For the last 24 years I've been equipping teenagers to share their faith. It's been an awesome journey. Activation is a key element of our Dare 2 Share events. We activate teenagers by challenging them to put evangelism into practice right away. There's one point during our training event where we have teenagers take out their cellphones and text their unreached friends a question meant to trigger a spiritual conversation. Then we send them out on an outreach experience where they share the message of Jesus with complete strangers in a humble and gentle way. So, while they're doing an outreach in the city, they're simultaneously navigating Gospel conversations with their peers on their phones.
We have seen the power of this brand of missional activation with teenagers. Not only do unreached teenagers get reached, but the Christian teenagers reaching them grow in their faith as well.
If we weren't energizing these teenagers to evangelize we would merely be imparting knowledge. And the last thing the world needs is more over-educated, under-obedient Christians. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 8:1 that, "knowledge puffs up but love builds up."
One of the illustrations I've used again and again to help church leaders understand this concept has to do with a sponge and fresh milk. If I take fresh milk, pour it into a sponge and refuse to squeeze it out then the fresh milk will ultimately spoil. In the same way if we just pour the milk of God's Word into believers' hearts and they don't squeeze it out to others in the form of evangelism and discipleship it will soon spoil in their hearts.
I've experienced this rotten smell in many churches, youth groups and Christian schools. Actually Christian schools are a great way to illustrate my point. Far too many Christian schools are focused on pouring the milk of God's Word into spongy young minds (a good thing) but have no program by which those full-of-fresh-milk teenagers can squeeze the Gospel out to others. This results in spiritually spoiled rotten teenagers who know the truth, can quote the truth but are far from living the truth.
Not too long ago I talked to a business man who was passionate about launching a new kind of Christian school. I asked him what will be so different about his school. He assured me that the students at his Christian school will have the best education and theological grounding available.
Then I shared with him my full sponge/fresh milk theory and asked him, "Even with the best quality milk what will prevent your student sponges from spoiling like so many other Christian school students?"
He scratched his head and asked me what I meant. I asked, "How will the students at your Christian school be activated on God's mission to make and multiply disciples as a central part of their Christian school experience?" He admitted to me that he had no idea. These thoughts had not been on his grid. But as we continued to talk I could see the wheels turning and the lights coming on. This influential man told me that he was going to talk to his leadership team about it and see what they could do.
I pray they do something...for the sake of Christian education.
I pray that pastors do something...for the sake of the church.
I pray youth leaders do something...for the sake of the next generation.
When we, like Jesus in the Gospels and the church in the book of Acts, put the mission of making disciples who make disciples in the middle of our agenda then, not only are non-Chirstians reached, but the discipleship process is acclerated.
For help in doing this I challenge you to pick up a copy of my new book Gospelize your Youth Ministry. Whether you work with adults, teenagers or Christian school students the principles in this book will help you build a Gospel Advancing Ministry that helps those you minister to become "doers of the word and not hearers only."
Let's keep pouring the milk but let's start challening our hearers to squeeze what's in their sponge out to others as well.