Discipleship Degradation

Degradation (from Latin: degradatio, literally — reduction), regression — the process of deterioration of characteristics of an object with time; moving back; gradual decline; decline in quality; breakdown of matter due to the impact of external forces in conformity with the laws of nature and time.*  Degradation can be used in the following ways:

  • Biodegradation – The processes by which organic substances are broken down by living organisms
  • Chemical decomposition – The degradation of chemical compounds
  • Corruption – Philosophical conceptual degradation
  • Degradation – Telecommunications, the loss of quality of an electronic signal
  • Elegant degradation – In engineering, the gradual failing of a machine
  • Environmental degradation – In ecology, damage to the ecosystem and loss of biodiversity
  • Computing – the corruption or degradation of a file, program, image, etc. 
Each of the above can be applied, by way of analogy, to discipleship.  I’ll draw some analogies and invite you to add others in the comment section.  But first a simple definition of discipleship:
“Ever moving closer to Christ & His Gospel while serving, teaching, encouraging, facilitating, and empowering others do the same.”
Do you like that definition?  Again, use the comment section below to suggest any changes.  Regardless of how we define discipleship, it must always have at least two components.  Being and Doing.  We “be”come a disciple when we begin to follow.  Inward discipleship is the obeying of all that Christ commanded.  When we Make Disciples by doing – going, gospelizing, teaching others to obey all that Christ commanded and by baptizing, we are disciples and help others to do the same.  
Discipleship, personal or external, is about following.  One can not follow a stationary object. Discipleship always requires message and movement.  
Now, let’s get back to degradation:
  • Is it possible for discipleship, both personal and external to degrade?
  • Can we be broken down by other “living organisms?”
  • Can the chemistry or elements of discipleship decompose?
  • Can the message (the gospel) of discipleship become corrupt?
  • Can the quality of the signal degrade?
  • Can the machine of discipleship simply give out?
  • Can damaging our ecclesiastical ecosystem destroy the church’s biodiversity?
 The implied answer in each of these cases is, of course, yes.  How does it occur in each of the above examples?  Again, I’ll leave that to you to comment on below.  While some deny that 2 Timothy 2:2 is about discipleship, the principle contained therein applies here.
And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.”  Here we have the passing on of the medium and message for four generations.  The medium is Christ and the message, His Gospel.  This leaves little, if any wiggle room for degradation.  If Christ lives in us personally and in community, then the church shouldn’t be biodegradable.  Further, when we discuss the natural order of things, specifically with regard to entropy, we understand that nature tends from order to disorder in isolated systems.  Degradation is natural.  The church however, shouldn’t be an isolated system.  It’s not natural, it’s Supernatural.  Degradation is Counter-Kingdom.  It is in God that we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28)  God works all things to the order of His will (Romans 8:28,28,30) (Ephesians 1:11) (Isaiah 25:1) etc.
I find it fascinating, that in digital technology, a file or program can degrade or become corrupt.  If it’s hacked, that’s easy enough to understand.  But if you make a perfect copy of something and a perfect copy of the copy, then how do electronic copies degrade?  Likewise, if we’re making disciples who make disciples, then shouldn’t the process always be “upgrading” instead of degrading?
Related Links:
My Ebook, “14 Shifts in Disciple Making and A Framework,” will not be free for download At Amazon until after the first of the year.  But you can purchase it HERE





0 thoughts on “Discipleship Degradation

  1. Jailer says:

    I think your point is good, but I might respectfully quibble that it comes across as perhaps a little too man-centered, making degradation appear to be a natural process rather than a spiritual consequence. Kindly indulge me while I explain my thinking here …

    Perhaps a look at Christ’s words to the Ephesian church as a guide here:

    “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” (Rev 2:4-5)

    Might it be said that the Ephesians, despite their outward conformity (“your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance”) had ceased to draw nearer the Lord (forsaking their first love), and were therefore in danger of invoking God’s holy judgment–in this case, the removal of their “lampstand” (that is, their church as a visible entity). So in this way, they were degrading, yet ultimately the consequences were not merely natural but spiritual.

    I don’t mean to sound critical–in fact, I thank you for posting this, as I am in the midst of an attempt to refocus my own church in this direction, and your thoughts have contributed to my own understanding in a valuable way.

    • Miguel says:

      Jailer, thanks for commenting…

      One of the dangers in textual communication, are the perceived gaps of ideology. You make a good point. But, degradation is natural. The natural tendency as stated in the now updated article is that naturally, things go from a state of order to disorder. An effect of the fall and sin on creation.

      Supernatural intervention is opposite. Supernaturally, it is reversed. Things are “ordered” by an opposing but not equal force. (God)

      Of course, our degradation in being and doing discipleship is not completely passive. Our sin nature imposes disorder. Our attempt at closing or isolating systems to suit our God-negating selfishness is very active.

      The last thing I want to do is make this concept man centered. Thanks for pointing it out. My founding presupposition is always “In the beginning God,” from which everything else flows.

  2. David Grant says:

    I’m trying to understand the meaning of upgrade. An organized church system can’t actually handle ongoing discipleship happening. If it did happen, there would eventually be no need for the system nor could the system handle a growth model based on multiplication. Also, if the system has a paid leadership model then it actually becomes detrimental to discipleship since the leaders can’t reproduce what they are doing in a sustainable way.

    • Jailer says:

      David — I take your point, but I think you take it too far. Though I agree that church organizations frequently stifle spiritual activity, to argue (as you seem to) that there should be no “organized church system” or “paid leadership model” doesn’t take into account clear biblical instruction on these matters. To wit, appointment of elders & deacons (Acts, 1 Timothy, Titus), as well as on the necessity of compensating workers in God’s harvest field (1 Cor 9).

      On the broader point, I agree we tend to organize ourselves into spiritual paralysis (Holy Spirit by committee).

    • Miguel says:


      My context for using the word “upgrade” is:

      Ephesians 4:12,13 – “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (A constant upgrading)

      1 Corinthians 14:20 – “Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.”


      Galatians 4:19- “until Christ is formed in you.”

      These and similar verses are those that I refer to when using the term “upgrade.”

  3. Carol says:

    We travelled to Sierra Leone for our annual trek to a hospital-church-school complex where we enable WITH the physical labor of Africans (we do simple stuff) projects THEY have designated as priority. This year we were asked to build a covered (protected from hot sun in dry season, heavy rains in rainy season) walkway that adjoins the outpatient building to a building that houses the hospital’s laboratory and physical therapy department. (I mean you wouldn’t BELIEVE the rocky, uneven ground stroke victims, amputees and sick folk had to transverse to get between those areas.). Four days into the project, a letter was delivered to my husband from a church council member. That letter requested an immediate “cease work” and the presence of my husband at a meeting at the church that would include hospital admin, chief of Medicine (good friend and our project liaison), BISHOP of the church of Sierra Leone, and his admin. Assistant (both of whom we have strong personal relationships with). Long story short, these complaints lodged: church was adjacent to project, but not informed of the hospital project (agreed, unfortunate and regrettable); the beauty of the church was effected by this project; a parking space used by a (Mercedes Benz driving) member each Sunday was compromised; “what has the hospital ever done for us? We don’t even get free health care!” Lastly, as an aside (but just as bothersome): “your teams hire non-(mainline denomination) workers…in fact, have non- Christians working on them.” Now to that, my husband accurately countered that we hire no one. We work with a general contractor (same one for last 9 years) who hires the workers he needs for the job requested. To which the associate (soon to be senior?) pastor replied, “so you’re okay working with Muslims?” (Mind you, 65% roughly of that country is Muslim). Bob said, absolutely, we’re ALL God’s children.” In the actual meeting, Bob asked to open in prayer (end of Psalm 19…may the words of my mouth…), read 3 passages from scripture (splinters in other’s eyes/logs in our own, Jesus’s reading of the scroll (Isaiah) wherein he announces his ministry on earth essentially, and the passage from Matthew…change your life–Kingdom is here–prepare for God’s arrival, make the road smooth and straight (our literal project). He said he didn’t have a dog in this fight, that we were given this project to help the community, but if The church deems that is not beneficial, we will tear it out by end of day tomorrow and return it to its former state. Then left the meeting so honest open dialogue could occur. I would say, degradation could be claimed in this instance. You?

  4. David Woods says:

    Yes, I like that definition, although you really should use your new word “gospelizing” in it somehow. 🙂

    Degradation happens when the discipled gets their info. from a theologian, commentary, or extra-Biblical church doctrine instead of from the Scriptures or the Holy Spirit Himself. Kind of like when a cut board is used to measure for the next board, and then that board used for the next. The boards keep getting longer and longer Kind of like theological essays or written church doctrines concerning a certain subject. They just keep getting longer and longer and including things not in the Scriptures themselves. We must each instead use the “ruler” of the Holy Spirit and Scripture as our standard of measurement, so we all end up being the kind of Christians God expects.

  5. Rob Kampen says:

    Being a telecommunications / computer engineer by training I must take this opportunity to comment on degredation in respect to these two disciplines.
    We live in an analog world, albeit a digital age – what do I mean by that? The reality of the world we live in is that there are no perfect conductors, signals loose their power as they travel, until such time as they become lost in the noise.
    Before the advent of digital systems, we used to provide amplifiers along the way to increase the signal level so it would not get lost in the noise – however the signal to noise ratio would deteriorate (degrade?) over longer distances.
    With the advent of digital, the system changes – the signal is now encoded and represented by a binaryl number, thus in the early years of digital we had CD’s where the signal was sampled 44,000 times a second and each sample encoded using 16 bits.
    Why all the detail?, well it is now possible for things to be replicated with no degradation. In well designed systems, it is thus possible to reproduce the original signal, after many hundreds of copies. Having now bored everyone to sleep, how does this relate to the topic?
    As pointed out, it is our interpretation of things that causes issues, we comment on the commentaries – rather than going to the original source – the Holy Spirit and the Word.
    Degredation occurs to all things human since the fall, however under the power and influence of the Holy Spirit we are continually renewed, guided and empowered to achieve all that God directs, His Word suffers no degredation, but carries all the necessary capability to achieve exactly what He has spoken.

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