bad words | discipleship

Tom Carpenter asked in a comment, "how do you approach the whole arena of discipleship in your ministry?"

Great question.  It brings me to one of those bad words I promised to write about. This post isn’t entirely a response to Tom’s comment (Tom, I hope this doesn’t feel like I’m jumping on you… I loved your question!). But it seemed like a great starting point for the conversation.  Here’s what discipleship seems to mean, depending on what kind of background you come from:

  • Bible study
  • accountability
  • more Bible study
  • theology study
  • something that happens after you get saved
  • more Bible study


Bible study and accountability are supremely important elements of discipleship. Despite what you’ve heard, GCC takes Bible study as seriously as any church I’ve ever known. But it’s not the whole thing. If discipleship is about teaching people to obey everything Jesus commanded, then it has to be broader than learning doctrine or confessing your sins. It’s not one of several categories of ministry that happens in a church. The term has to include every way in which people grow into following Jesus. I can’t think of a ministry at GCC that doesn’t fall under the banner of discipleship.

If a man doesn’t treat his wife the way Jesus would, then Turning Point might be the right discipleship ministry for him. If a couple isn’t honoring God with their cash, then Financial Peace is the right next step. If someone is self-obsessed and doesn’t care for the poor, than joining one of our mission teams would be a step in discipleship. If someone hasn’t decided to follow Christ yet, then attending the weekend service would be a discipleship step for them. (Although I’ve been following Jesus for almost 20 years, and I think the weekend service is a great discipleship step for me, too.)


So at MERGE, we’re not concerned with offering a comprehensive umbrella of discipleship. We’re concerned with creating an environment where a couple of specific things can happen that will be complementary to the discipleship that happens in other arenas. Specifically, we want to make sure 18-25 year olds have a sense of belonging at GCC and that they’re invited into other environments that help them grow. (e.g. We schedule MERGE right after our midweek Journey Bible Classes and 1st Wednesday Communion services because we want the MERGE crowd to be discipled in those environments. At View Point, one of our group environments, we offer tables designated for 18-25 year olds with hand-picked facilitators).


We don’t want 18-25 year olds to see MERGE as their church. GCC is. So we’re not trying to create a full-service discipleship ministry. We’re trying to create a connection environment that makes it easier to enter other areas in the life of our church because MERGE helps you find friends with whom to enter those environments.


And if I had it my way, we’d all stop using the word discipleship, because a lot of us mean something bigger than what it has come to represent. How about the word ‘formation’?  Do you have a word in mind that would better communicate what we’re talking about?


And thanks for the question, Tom!  I hope it gives some perspective on our approach.