Pardon the Mess
Business and leadership training almost always has some version of "start with the goal in mind." Envision the desire outcomes, define your goals clearly, and design toward the finished product. You can't measure progress unless you know what you're shooting for. And it all makes sense.
So, we transfer that thinking to discipling people in the faith. To develop a discipleship strategy, we ask "What does a mature believer look like? What qualities do we want to see in the disciples in our church family?" And then we disciple people toward whatever composite sketch of a disciple we come up with. Because we can't be successful unless we have a target in mind, right? How else can we measure progress? That has made uneasy sense to me for a long time.
I accepted it, because that's what everyone did and taught. But there was always something that made me uneasy. It is a model that seems to frustrate 95% of disciples.
Not all good business models are good discipleship models. I wouldn't want our discipleship to be about stealing "market share" from other churches, for example. Discipleship based on a fabricated ideal target is another, as if Henry Ford was in charge of designing the discipleship assembly line strategy.
Rather that looking at the ideal disciple as someone who is fully grown, let's aim for someone who is growing. Our sense of "successful" discipleship is not how close people come to an extreme ideal, but whether or not they are in progress, under construction, and still growing.
"Bad discipleship" is not that the person is far away from the ideal, but rather that he is stagnant.
We don't need to measure progress compared to a target, because that means we only celebrate those who are relatively close, and so we fail to celebrate those who are immature but growing well!
Jesus celebrated the widow who put in her only two coins more than He did the rich who put in much more quantity, but from their excess. It wasn't the amount that mattered (or even the percentage), but that she was growing in Christlikeness. That's what we should celebrate.
And that's how we should look at good discipling. Let's focus on each one being in the process of growing, rather than high-fiving only those who best resemble our fabricated ideal.
Furthermore, our discipleship heroes should not just be those who are closer to the bull's eye we painted, but those who are on the outer ring, but moving ever closer. They are the greatest heroes. (I think this is one of the reasons Jesus pointed to children as examples.)
Jesus celebrated attributes that were hard to measure. Let's not reduce discipleship just to make it easier for us to measure our success.