Posted by: Philip Rushton | January 18, 2011

The Cost of Non-discipleship?

I’m currently reading a book by Dallas Willard titled The Great Omission. The main point of the book is that the contemporary church in North America has misunderstood The Great Commission given to us in Matthew 28. Jesus’ parting words to his disciples at the end of the Gospel of Matthew is to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Willard argues that we have misread this to mean “go into the world and make converts.”

Willard reminds us that the goal of the church is not simply to get people to believe the good news – we are called to make disciples. Disciples, he reminds us, “are people who do not just profess certain views as their own but apply their growing understanding of life in the Kingdom of the Heavens to every aspect of their life on earth.” Discipleship requires growth and maturity. It means we become an apprentice of Jesus and learn to live for him wholly in all aspects of life. What we have done instead is tell people that all they need to do is sign on that they believe in Jesus and then they can go about living life as if nothing has changed. Discipleship, Willard says, “is clearly optional.”

It is true, I think, that we have missed the mark as a church. Willow Creek came to this same conclusion in their recent publication Reveal: Where Are You?. In this study they survey thousands of their church members and conclude that, while they drew people into the church, they did not disciple them. Not much change or growth seemed to be taking place in the people attending their church.

It is easy for this to feel like a guilt trip, but Willard does not mean it to be. While discipleship is a costly thing, Willard reminds us that it is worth it. Spinning off of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s landmark work The Cost Of Discipleship, Willard turns the question around and asks, what is the cost of non-discipleship? He reminds us that the it is far more costly to ignore the call to discipleship. He writes:

“Nondiscipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil. In short, nondisicpleship costs you exactly that abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring (John 10:10).

As we seek to follow the living God, let us not forget that it is worth the effort! Remember the words of Jesus when he says, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Though discipleship costs much, it leads us to life.


  1. A good read even tho just into chap 2.Perhaps the book will give a ‘how to ‘but for me this sounds like a much harder task than making a “convert”. If LVCC is really going into the disciple business we have our work cut out for us. As for me, I confess, I really don’t know where to start. Keep us accountable here.

  2. Hey Gil,

    That of course is the next big question. How do we follow through with this? That is a big thing I am thinking through right now. I think it starts by providing opportunities for people to be in discipleship groups. One of the things I talked about with all the small group and adult ed leaders this past Saturday is that we need to walk the balance of truth and life in our various groups. Some groups are truth focused – in that it is all about getting information and completing the curriculum. Other groups are life focused – in that they focus on personal issues and perspectives but have no connection to scripture. What we see in Jesus approach to discipleship is that he brought together the two. The goal was transformation – bringing truth to bear on every aspect of life. So part of the way forward is to build into our groups a focus on transformation, not just truth or life on their own. Then we need to expand these types of groups and draw more people into them. That’s part of the way forward I think.

  3. Thanks Phil for giving Willard’s comment on the cost of non-discipleship, which points out for me the natural outcome of discipleship (life abundant). It is so easy to lose sight of that life abundant that Jesus promises. Keep reminding us of the steps along the way and what the goal/outcome is in the process of being disciples.

  4. Maybe a healthy start: One group, there are 12 of us, uses the prayer Pastor John used in his sermon lately. “Jesus, lead me out of my comfort zone” and then we are encouraged to report on it next week. One small step for mankind.

  5. […] reality is that the evangelical church is not committed to year-round discipleship. In a previous post I pointed out Dallas Willard’s observation that discipleship has become optional in the […]

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