If we, as Christians, are going to develop a holistic approach to making disciples, then we must come to grips with the following eight obstacles outlined by Greg Ogden. We must find ways to remove these hurdles from our path.[1]

First, the gap between those claiming to be disciples and those living as disciples exists because in many churches, the pastor/elder has been diverted from their ministry calling. If pastors and leaders are forced to remove themselves from the lives of the people whom they are called to serve, then the job of making disciples will not get done.

Secondchurch programs have replaced relationship. People find themselves so busy doing a lot of things, that they have difficulties developing intimate relationships.

Third, much of Christian life has been reduced to seeking after the immediate and material benefits over living out the lifestyle of a disciple. The result is that far too many Christians see discipleship as a “non-benefit” because it does not provide the immediate gratification they seek in life.

Fourth, there is a gap between word and deed because discipleship has been presented as a “next step”, rather then as the natural result for every follower of Jesus. This has left the Church with many Christians who are content in their life because they see no benefit in moving beyond their present condition.

Fifth, leaders have been unwilling to call people to discipleship because they are too concerned that some will “fall away”, which is code for “attendance will drop.” The impact has been a lot of church growth, but not a lot of Kingdom growth.

Sixth, far too many Christians have an inadequate view of church and see it only as an event or a place rather than a vibrant community. Consequently, more and more people are finding less spiritual satisfaction in traditional settings of faith; such as the Sunday morning service, and are seeking fulfillment outside the Church.

Seventh, Christian leaders have not provided a clearly defined biblical path to maturity and left to their own devices and definitions, God’s people have exhibited a manifest failure to grow.

Finally, the last obstacle to bridging the discipleship-gap is the lack of personal mentoring. Each church needs more people equipped and desirous of making more and better disciples who are capable of investing their life into the life of others. Jesus provides our ultimate example of what it then means to be a living disciple-maker.

Jesus’ life provides the ultimate blueprint for whole-life discipleship. His disciples share His everyday life–His highest and lowest moments. They saw Him form all sides, not just as a performer of miracles, but also as a man who bore the Father’s burdens, got angry, and even wept. His investment in their lives would reap tremendous returns after His departure.[2]

These eight obstacles are but a few of the many challenges we face. Please feel free to add some of your own in the comments section. If we are to overcome these obstacles and reap a harvest, we must find a way to reach our culture. We must touch the hearts of a people who choose to celebrate self-gratification over personal sacrifice for the community, and who are currently reaping a personal harvest of spiritual and emotional brokenness. Erwin McManus in southern California pastors a church called Mosaic. Mosaic has the vision of taking people with broken lives and blending each person together to make the beautiful Mosaic that is God’s creation. McManus presents a strong counter cultural movement which seeks to bring to life the community of Faith which is now lost in the fragmentation of individualism.

Don’t underestimate the spirit of a healthy community in shaping an individual into a disciple… Our church expects people to invest themselves in serving Jesus by serving people. We insist that isolation and individualism are a part of the problem, not part of the solution… Relationships are essential to health and maturity.[3]

The Church must develop a comprehensive and coherent post-modern approach to discipleship that takes into consideration the ethos, environment, and culture of our day.[4] Without a holistic approach to making disciples in the church, we can never hope to make holistic life change in the people we are called to serve.


[1] Greg Ogden, Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples a Few at a Time (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 40-56. The eight obstacles outlined here are adapted from the ideas presented by Ogden.

[2] Pamela A. Toussaint, “Homemade Disciples,” Discipleship Journal, no. 102. electronic ed. (1999).

[3] McManus, “Broken People Can Become Whole Disciples,” 48.

[4] Ibid.

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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