Real discipleship is messy, imperfect, and honest. I wanted clean, “perfect,” and limited honesty. I preferred to disclose only my successes, to pass on my accumulated wisdom and knowledge while hiding my foolishness and ignorance. It’s not that I wasn’t making disciples; people gobbled up my platitudes and piety. The problem was the kind of disciples I was making, disciples who could share their faith but not their failures.

Why did I embrace this kind of discipleship? Who was to blame—the church or the parachurch? Neither. It was my fault. Although I didn’t understand it at the time, my motivation for obeying Jesus had shifted from grace to works. It progressed from attempting to earn God’s favor, to gaining the favor of my disciples. “Discipleship” had become a way to leverage my identity and worth in relationship with others. I was comfortable on the pedestal dispensing wisdom and truth. The more disciples I made, the better I felt about myself. My motivation for discipleship was a mixture of genuine love for God and lust for praise. I sincerely loved God and wanted others to fall more deeply in love with him, but my motives weren’t always pure. I quickly became a disciple who lacked authenticity and community.

Don’t get me wrong, there were good intentions and good fruit from these relationships, but in a sense, I was still following Jesus alone. The professional/novice relationship created a comfortable distance from admitting my failures in genuine community. I stood at the top of the stairs of discipleship, peering down at those who sat at my feet instead of sitting in the living room with my fellow disciples, where I belonged. I put the best foot forward and hid the ugly one. As a result, disciple became more of a verb than a noun, less of an identity and more of an activity. The center of discipleship subtly shifted from relationships centered on Christ to an activity centered on what I knew.

Jonathan K. Dodson, Gospel-Centered Discipleship (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 15–16.

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