The State of Discipleship in the Church

The mission of The Navigators is to advance the Gospel of Jesus and His Kingdom into the nations through spiritual generations of laborers living and providing discipleship for the lost. This mission is carried out through all the ministries of The Navigators. In particular, Navigator Church Ministries (NCM) comes alongside pastors and church leaders to develop generations of disciples in everyday life—disciples who know how to make more disciples.

The Navigators commissioned the Barna Group, a Christian research firm, to perform an extensive survey of adult Christians, Christian scholars and influencers, and ministry and church leaders about their understanding and practice of discipleship.

The study revealed gaps, with only one in five Christians saying that they are involved in some sort of discipleship activity. There was significant difference in the approach to discipleship for Navigator alumni and Christians in general.

Responding to the Barna Group discipleship study results, bestselling author Preston Sprinkle provides a holistic, biblical view that is accessible to all Christ-followers. In the book, Go: Returning Discipleship to the Frontlines of Faith, he says, “To be a disciple of Jesus is to be a learner, an imitator, a follower of Jesus. Discipleship is the process by which every Christian seeks to become more like their Master.”

You talk about the communal aspect of discipleship, versus just individual. Why is this so important in our growth as followers of Jesus?

SPRINKLE: Everyone is hungry for genuine relationships and connection, and yet we don’t always know how to create life-on-life discipleship. Sometimes we get stuck on programmatic elements to gathering together. Rather than thinking about a curriculum for a group gathering, what if we gather as friends and invite each other into living life together? There is certainly a role for tools and curriculum in fostering discipleship, but sometimes the best way to grow together is to have a listening ear and no watch.

You discuss biblical illiteracy in this age when we have so much access to the Bible; how can we grow as disciples in this area?

SPRINKLE: We need to know Jesus, the Jesus in the Bible, in order to follow Him. Rather than just making Bible study an intellectual enterprise, we need the Bible to inform our world view and the pressing issues of our day. Studying the Bible should also make a difference in the rest of our week—the hard questions we face Monday through Saturday. I long to see us tether our study of the Bible to our daily lives and the real challenges of our world.

How can we get beyond performance-based discipleship?

SPRINKLE: Most Christians would agree that our faith is based on grace, but in the way many of us live out the Christian life, we emphasize performance, doing certain things to be Christian. The first step is to identify the performance mindset and offer an alternative that is grace-based. Once people are free from bearing the weight of performance, the light goes on and they find themselves free to truly follow Jesus, to be disciples, in an atmosphere of grace.

In your book you respond to research about the Millennials leaving the church. What do you find hopeful about this generation of Jesus followers?

SPRINKLE: Millennials have a deep desire and need for authentic relationships; they are not satisfied with superficiality that they may find in cultural Christianity. They are asking hard questions and are not satisfied with clichéd answers. Their intellectual challenge can push the church to a more thoughtful, holistic discipleship. The Navigators already connect to this relational need with their emphasis on life-on-life discipleship, an example that I hope the church can follow.

Preston Sprinkle is the author of several books, including Erasing Hell (with Francis Chan). He is vice president of Eternity Bible College, Boise extension, where he also serves as a professor of New Testament.

Purchase Go: Returning Discipleship to the Frontlines of Faith today at or call our publishing partner Tyndale House toll free 1-855-277-9400.


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