I just recently finished reading Greg Ogden’s book, Transforming Discipleship. I was given this book for free to provide a review; therefore, since I enjoy reading and the topic is something that I am passionate about (anything with the word “transform” has my attention [smile]), I decided to write some things about it on my blog.
Even though this book was published in 2003, there were still a lot of relevant points to consider for our generation and beyond. I appreciated Ogden first starting off the book by giving the current situation with the Church and discipleship. He used the word “superficial” to summarize the state of discipleship that we see today. Although, Ogden was describing the Church at the turn of the 21 century, fast forward eight years and this is still the situation today in the Church. There have been some definite improvements, as more pastors and leaders are seeing the current crisis of “superficial” discipleship in the Church. But overall, it has been a slow process. Change always takes time.
It was helpful that Ogden laid out his expectations and ideas of what the biblical standard of discipleship should be in the Church. In fact, he gave seven specific traits of a biblical standard: proactive ministers, a disciplined way of life, discipleship affecting all of life, a countercultural force, an essential organism, biblically informed people, and people who share their faith.
If you look at these traits, it is clear that it describes a follower of Christ who is not passive and someone who is willing to invest in building the Kingdom of God. In essence, true biblical discipleship requires people to go against the flow and choosing to be uncomfortable in their journey with Christ.
As Ogden lays out the expectations of a Christ-follower who is committed to discipleship, he gives us various reasons why there is a discipleship malaise. One big factor that stuck out for me was the issue of discipling through programs. We see this all the time in churches. Pastors and leaders have tried to make disciples through programs; and the track-record tells us that it is not very effective.
Program oriented discipleship is usually focused on head knowledge; but head knowledge alone will not transform people. The sad part is that it usually produces proud and arrogant people who develop a big head, but fail in growing their heart and character. Programs are easy for leaders because it does not require a lot of relational investment. All that the leader has to do is to just “run” the class and make sure that the information is being transferred to the people. But if you look at the life of Jesus with his disciples, it was always based on a relationship. It is only when our lives are intertwined with people that we will be able to make a difference and see disciples being made.
But the biggest failure comes from the top. Pastors and leaders have failed to challenge people into a life of radical discipleship. Whether it is our fear of raising the standard or our lack of knowing a clear pathway to maturity, the leadership of the Church has failed in following Jesus’ command to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19).
One thing I really appreciated Ogden mentioning was the fact that due to people’s “inadequate view of the church as a discipleship community” it has caused an enormous gap in producing quality disciples. What better place than to get discipled through the local church? This is where you can grow in your commitment, accountability, serving, sacrifice, and spiritual depth. Maybe a stronger view of ecclesiology will help people to see discipleship in a whole new way?
Over three chapters, Ogden mentions some key points of how Jesus modeled discipleship and how the Apostle Paul carried out discipleship in his ministry. In essence, everything came down to the relationship between the disciple and the disciplee. As Jesus spent time with the disciples, He was able to influence and impact His disciples. As Jesus spent time with the disciples almost every day over a three and half year period, it had a profound effect on them. In the same way, Paul was focused on the relationship as well, but it was more from a spiritual parenting or spiritual fathering angle. With the idea of spiritual parenting, it helped to see that it is really about assisting people go through different spiritual lifestages such as infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.
It was good to see Ogden draw a lot of reference from Dr. Robert E. Coleman’s books, The Master Plan of Evangelism and The Master Plan of Discipleship. Both these books had a significant impact on me during my seminary years. Also, I had the privilege of getting discipled by Dr. Coleman; therefore I was able to catch the heart behind a lot of the principles that were shared in his books.
Towards the end of the book, Ogden gave a vision (or a picture) of what it would be like if we took seriously the call to discipleship and then started to multiply. It would be a definite shift from “adding” disciples to “multiplying” disciples. The thought of increasing the effectiveness in reach people with the Gospel through multiplication is another powerful reminder that the Church cannot just coast by with superficial discipleship. We need radical people, who are willing to radically disciple people, so that we can radically transform the world.
In order to see genuine transformation, Ogden gives three specific and necessary ingredients: transparent trust, the truth of God’s Word, and mutual accountability. All these things help catalyze a thriving and growing discipleship relationship.
If we can see more churches take on the call to radical discipleship, we will see a revolution on the horizon. Without it, the Church will be filled with people who are just going through the motions of Christianity and not being faithful to the call that Jesus gave to people who would follow Him.
May we remember the word of Jesus, when He said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Lk 14:26-27; 33; Mk 8:34-35).