Is Your Discipleship Whole?

By Scott Attebery

Holistic DiscipleshipDiscipleship has been used and misused to the point that the word itself has become almost meaningless. It begs for clarification.

Everyone would agree that discipleship should be transformational (Check out Transformational Discipleship by Geiger, Kelley, and Nation). But what exactly is being transformed?

At this point I see three popular, yet incomplete, views:

1)   Belief-Driven Discipleship: This view sees discipleship as the collection of knowledge. It is completely cognitive driven. Classes, lessons, books, and Scripture memorization compose this view of discipleship. Belief-Driven proponents encourage their disciples to study in such a way as to “rightly handle the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).

2)   Behavior-Driven Discipleship: This view sees discipleship as changing behaviors. Many times proponents of behavior-driven discipleship quote James 1:22, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only.”

3)   Attitude-Driven Discipleship: This view sees transformation of the inner state of the heart as the main focus of discipleship. Because major emphasis is placed upon character, affections, and desires; this view of discipleship regards relationships as key. Attitude-Driven disciple-makers resonate with verses such as 1 Cor. 13:13, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

At first glance, you might think, “All three of those views sound great. How could you go wrong by choosing one?”

And that is exactly where the problem lies. While each view is correct, none of the view are complete. The crux of the issue is not about which view you include, but which views you leave out. Discipleship modeled after Christ’s example will include all three views –not just one or two.

Why is this important? Consider a few biblical examples:

The Pharisees had cornered the market on belief-driven discipleship. Nobody knew the word better! And yet they were the object of constant criticism from Christ because they “neglected the weightier issues of the law” (Matt. 23:23). They were all head and no heart.

The rich young ruler was incredibly behavior-driven. He told Christ that He had kept all of the law since his youth. However, when Jesus challenged Him to leave everything behind and follow Him, the rich young ruler “went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:22). Compliance to rules doesn’t always equal obedience.

Paul recognized the Corinthian’s enthusiasm for fellowship. They were a very relationship-oriented people and could be considered a textbook case of attitude-driven discipleship. However, because their relationships lacked the standards of God’s truth, Paul had to continually rebuke them (1 Cor. 1:10).

When discipleship only focuses on one (or even two) of these areas it is dangerous. Heresy, after all, is not always about what is being said, but what is not being said.

The Pharisees knowledge was important, but without a lifestyle of obedience and love, it betrayed the gospel. The rich young ruler was the model citizen –straight as an arrow. Most pastors would love to have him as a member. But yet, his inability to follow Christ whole-heartedly was a tragedy. And the Corinthians, while passionate about relationships, betrayed the gospel by missing the foundations of truth. Therefore, their relationships became perverted and their fellowship tainted.

Christ-like discipleship focuses on all three areas: Beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes. Another way to describe these categories would be,”head, hands,  and heart.” (For more on this concept, check out Larry Richards’ Theology of Christian Education).

Parenting is a great example of how all three of these areas must combine for a holistic approach. A parent may at times teach their child facts (Beliefs). They may need to memorize their address, recite the rules of the house, or learn to spell their name. These are all vital, but parenting is more than that.

At other times, a parent will focus on behaviors (Making up the bed, saying “yes ma’am,” “no sir,” “please,” and “thank you.”). While certain habits are vital to learn, mere behavior modification is rather cold and empty.

Which is why parents must also spend time playing with their children, expressing their love toward them, and communicating deeply with them. The heart attitude expressed to child will be reflected in the child. After all, more is caught than taught.

Any good parent knows that all three of these focuses can take place at any moment of the day simultaneously. That’s holistic discipleship. Or, to put it another way, its transferring one complete life to another complete life –just as Christ has done for us.

Scott Attebery

Scott Attebery

After serving in campus ministry at the University of Central Arkansas and coordinating student conferences for the Department of Church Ministries from 2000-2005, Scott pastored Wyatt Baptist Church in El Dorado Arkansas. In 2008, Scott’s wife, Jill, passed away in an automobile accident. He recalls, “God used our Church to be Christ to my family and me during that time.” After seven years of pastoring, Scott was selected as the Executive Director of DiscipleGuide Church Reources, a department of the Baptist Missionary Association of America. Scott’s most important ministry is to his son, Bryce. They love to play in the backyard and cheer for the Razorbacks together. Scott holds a bachelor of Arts in Bible from Central Baptist College , a Master’s of Divinity from the BMA Theological Seminary, and is a candidate for Doctorate of Ministry from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. You can read his blog at ScottAttebery.com.