Four Common Barriers to Making Disciples of Jesus
My husband, RJ, and I were deeply motivated to care for the ethnic minority students in our ministry and to make our ministry feel more welcoming for everyone. We love these students deeply, and we were grieved to hear how they were hurting. Of course we’d want to make changes to serve them!
But when we began to do so, I was surprised by some internal resistance that rose up within me.
It would be easier to just keep things the same.
What will the majority of those in our ministry think about these changes?
Do I have the time to learn new songs and styles of playing the guitar?
What if my guitar skills aren’t good enough?
Though we may recognize that disciplemaking is a calling from God, that it’s a good thing, and that we should be doing it—and though we may be highly motivated to do so—we may encounter some internal opposition that keeps us from making the changes we want to make.
A recent discipleship study by the Barna Group provides some insight into the most common challenges and barriers to overcome in disciplemaking. According to their research, some themes emerge from these challenges and barriers to disciplemaking. We can break them down into four categories:
- A lack of resourcing (i.e., wanting to learn from someone how to do it well and not having the right materials)
- Prioritizing disciplemaking among other responsibilities
- Not wanting to “make it weird” (i.e., finding ways to keep it engaging over time and feeling like your beliefs would be imposed on someone else)
- Lack of confidence in disciplemaking
Can you relate to any of these challenges? The good news is that you’re not alone—and you have what it takes to conquer every one of these challenges. Challenges can feel daunting in the abstract, but when we take a closer look at them, more often than not we can find a way through.
LACK OF RESOURCING
Do you want someone to teach you how to disciple well? Don’t just find someone to teach you, find someone to disciple you. Learn from experiencing it firsthand. Don’t get me wrong. Resources on disciplemaking can be incredibly helpful, and they’re an excellent starting point for gaining knowledge, learning techniques, and finding inspiration. (Please keep reading this book!) But you’ll learn what disciplemaking actually looks like if you’re being discipled.
Ask your pastor, your discipler or mentor, or someone whose walk with Jesus you admire for resources that have been helpful to them in their disciplemaking.
PRIORITIZING DISCIPLEMAKING AMONG OTHER RESPONSIBILITIES
If we’re to restore disciplemaking as a priority in the Christian life, we must start with the conviction that it is a calling not just for pastors and those in full-time ministry but for all disciples of Jesus. We must talk about disciplemaking from the pulpit, within our church communities, in our friendships, and in our discipling relationships. Disciplemaking must be a regular part of our conversations about what it means to live the Christian life with others.
And then we must make an honest assessment of our lives: Is what I am giving my time to reflective of what is most important in the kingdom of God? Are my life and priorities truly aligned with God’s? And if God led someone who wanted to be discipled into my life, does my pace of life provide enough space to do so? What would it cost me to obey Jesus’ calling in this way?
NOT WANTING TO “MAKE IT WEIRD”
Being in authentic, life-giving relationships means being vulnerable with others. It means allowing all of yourself to be seen for who you are—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and experiencing the deep connection that comes from being accepted just as you are. Transformative relationships happen when we allow another person close enough for us to risk being hurt or rejected, and to risk making things weird.
But our instinct is to hold back from being truly vulnerable in relationships. We have been in hiding ever since Adam and Eve hid from God in the Garden. We have hidden our sin, our longings, our truest identities for fear of being rejected. We have become fearful of being truly known.
Jesus changed all of that, allowing himself to experience the vulnerability of being human—and not just the physical conditions of birth, hunger, thirst, and pain, but the vulnerability of relationship. He gave all of himself only to be rejected, entrusted himself to dear companions only to be betrayed, spoke the reality of the kingdom of God only to be misunderstood.
Jesus risked vulnerability because of the joy set before him—that some might come to know him, follow him, and love him back.
When Jesus died on the cross, our sin, shame, and powerlessness were nailed there as well. In him, we can be free from the fear of rejection or condemnation. We can present ourselves freely before others and even do some pretty awkward (at least to us) things in Jesus’ name, knowing that our confidence, identity, and worth are securely held in God’s good hands.
Part of what keeps us from disciplemaking is the fear of imposing our beliefs on others—and if we’re honest, we may even be afraid that talking about Jesus is going to make things weird.
To be in a relationship with anyone is to accept the reality that things may feel weird and vulnerable at times—and this reality only intensifies as we risk putting ourselves and our beliefs out there. But we have to remember: there are people around us who want to learn about Jesus and Christianity. Who will tell them? Who will help them grow? If anything is worth putting yourself out there for, it’s that some may come to know and love Jesus and be transformed by his amazing grace.
LACK OF CONFIDENCE IN DISCIPLEMAKING
Of the reasons American Christians aren’t interested in disciplemaking, most are a result of a lack of confidence: What makes you so sure I can do this?
I often feel this way. What can I possibly offer to someone else? I’m just a mom who throws sticks and rocks in the pond with my son. There has to be someone more qualified and equipped than I am!
Some giants of faith in the Bible struggled with confidence as well. But in the Scriptures, we get to see the amazing things that can happen when someone overcomes their lack of confidence to partner with God in his bigger story—like in the story of Moses.
Moses was born a Hebrew slave in Egypt but became royalty when Pharoah’s daughter took him in as her own son, and Moses lived separated from the people of Israel.
Later in his life, Moses made a fateful choice: taking justice into his own hands, he killed an Egyptian who was harming one of his fellow Hebrews. When word reached Pharaoh, Moses fled for his life and spent the next forty years as a shepherd in the desert.
That brings us to the incredible words in Exodus 2:23-25 (NLT):
Years passed, and the king of Egypt died. But the Israelites continued to groan under their burden of slavery. They cried out for help, and their cry rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and he remembered his covenant promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He looked down on the people of Israel and knew it was time to act.
So now what?
God called Moses to lead his people out of captivity. All two-plus million of them.
That’s no small task!
When Moses encountered God in the desert, he asked some questions familiar to any of us who have struggled with confidence.
First, he asked God, “Who am I to do this?” God assured Moses that he would be with him the whole way (Exodus 3:11-12).
Then Moses asked, “What do I say? What do I do?” and God told him to gather the elders of Israel and lay out an entire plan that God would give him to share with the people of Israel, including what would happen when Pharaoh refused to let the people of Israel go (verses 13-18).
When Moses responded, “What if they don’t believe me?” God gave him a few miraculous signs to perform for the people of Israel to establish his credibility as the deliverer God had sent (4:1-9).
Moses responded, “I’m not eloquent! I don’t speak well!” and God assured Moses that he would give him the words to speak (verses 10-12).
Finally, in Exodus 4:13 (NLT), Moses said, “Lord, please! Send anyone else.”
Whew. How many times have I asked God a billion questions before finally getting to the heart of the issue: I can’t do it. Please don’t make me do it! Please send someone else!
What I love—and what makes me squirm—is that God didn’t give Moses an out. He said, “You’re doing it!” But he also met Moses where he was, graciously allowing Aaron to come alongside and bolster Moses’ shaky confidence. And then God assured Moses of his continued presence.
As Moses trusted God and stepped forward into his calling, he began to move from a lack of confidence in himself to an unwavering confidence in God. Moses started out his ministry by speaking to the people through Aaron, but by the end, he spoke to the people of Israel directly. And as Moses lived in obedience to God, he cultivated a deep friendship and intimate companionship with God (Exodus 33:11) that he would not have experienced otherwise.
As you think about God’s calling to make disciples who make disciples, can you relate to Moses? Lord, who am I to do this? What can I offer? I know I do. When I find myself lacking in confidence, what helps me is the assurance of God’s presence, his Holy Spirit within me, helping me do something I can’t even imagine as I step forward in obedience. Even when I lack confidence, I experience his companionship and friendship along the way, with more than enough of his grace to cover every success and every stumble.
Adapted from How to Save the World: Disciplemaking Made Simple by Alice Matagora. Copyright © 2022. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Alice Matagora is the Leader Development Initiatives Program Coordinator for The Navigators and serves with The Navigators Collegiate ministry at the University of California at Irvine. She lives in California with her husband and children.