The following is an excerpt from Dallas Willard‘s The Spirit of the Disciplines. Dallas Willard has written a number of outstanding books regarding discipleship. He teaches at the University of Southern California. This is a candid piece on the failure of the modern church to practice discipleship:
The word "disciple" occurs 269 times in the New Testament. "Christian" is found only three times and was first introduced to refer precisely to the disciples…. The New Testament is a book about disciples, by disciples, and for disciples of Jesus Christ.
But the point is not merely verbal. What is more important is the kind of life we see in the earliest church is that of a special type of person. All of the assurances and the benefits offered to humankind in the gospel evidently presuppose such a life and do not make realistic sense apart from it. The disciple of Jesus is not the deluxe or heavy-duty model of the Christian — especially padded, textured, streamlined, and empowered for the fast lane on the straight and narrow way. He stands on the pages of the New Testament as the first level of basic transportation in the kingdom of God.
For at least several decades the churches of the Western world have not made discipleship a condition of being a Christian. One is not required to be, or to intend to be, a disciple in order to become a Christian, and one may remain a Christian without any signs of progress toward or in discipleship. Contemporary American churches in particular do not require following Christ in his example, spirit, and teachings as a condition of membership — either or entering into or continuing in fellowship of a denomination or a local church…
…So far as the visible Christian institutions of our day are concerned, discipleship is clearly optional….
(Cited in Richard Foster’s Devotional Classics, pp. 14-15.)