The Bottleneck Holding Many Christian Men Back From Discipleship

This is the main reason a bottleneck has been created in men's discipleship.
This is the main reason a bottleneck has been created in men's discipleship. (Flickr )

Twenty years ago there wasn't enough good curriculum to disciple men. Leaders who attended the annual meetings of NCMM (the National Coalition of Ministries to Men) recognized that as the bottleneck most holding us back, and began encouraging curriculum developers.

Today I'm happy to say there is a plethora of good curriculum to disciple men. It has led to an acceleration in men's discipleship. So what's the bottleneck today that, if removed, would most lead to an acceleration in men's discipleship over the next 20 years? But first, a little background.

A Little Background: The Bottleneck Theory

In the "the bottleneck theory" (officially, the Theory of Constraints), you may have 10 obstacles slowing you down, but at any given moment there is only "one" obstacle that is most slowing you down. 

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So even if you solve all nine of the other issues, you still won't see any acceleration until you remove that "one thing" most holding you back.

Let me give an example. Once I was going through a breakfast buffet at an old-fashioned Holiday Inn. Everything was great until I got about half way through, and then the line came to an abrupt halt.

Why? Someone had put the toaster in the middle of the buffet line! And it had become the bottleneck that brought everything to a standstill.

A good manager would spot the problem and move the toaster to the end of line. Then people could step aside to wait once they popped in their bread. And the line would speed up. But you know what happens next, right? 

Yep. The "next biggest" bottleneck will appear (the new obstacle most slowing you down)—let's say waffles. And once that bottleneck is removed, the next one will show up—maybe eggs. 

But if you fix the waffles before the toaster problem—no acceleration. Why? It's because people are still backing up at the toaster. 

That's why the only way to accelerate is to first solve that one bottleneck most holding you back. So how does this apply to men's discipleship?

The Bottleneck Today

In my opinion the current bottleneck—the one thing most holding the church back from mission success—is "disciples not making disciples, starting at home." 

Of course, "disciples not making disciples" is an oxymoron—an internally inconsistent statement.

What's the underlying problem? We're doing a much better job of inspiring men to grow, but at the same time we're not giving them a compelling vision to reinvest in other men. Men who have been discipled are not discipling other men.

What's really going on? Paralleling culture, in our day there's a lot of "spiritual obesity." There are so many spiritual overeaters who have been gorging on good teaching for years, but haven't been following the Jesus way of discipling others as they have been discipled.

Why does it matter? Most of us don't need more food; we need more exercise. 

Personally, I think "disciples not making disciples" is ignorance, not malice, which is why we urgently need to train men how to make disciples.

How Does God Provide to Solve This Problem?
God, of course, can do anything He wants. He can send a wholesale spiritual awakening even if none of us makes a single disciple. God can reform our governments, churches and families even if none of us makes a single disciple.

But apart from begging God for such a miracle, "making disciples who make disciples—starting at home" is what He commissioned as His designated way to turn things around.

So what's the solution? How can we help people really believe that they can make a difference? That their personal involvement is not only desirable but necessary, even crucial? And what is the structure that will help them make that difference?

The really great news is that while implementation takes a few years, the solution is quite simple. There is a method for disciples to make disciples with proven results. It's the method Jesus inaugurated as the cornerstone of His strategy to bring the gospel of His kingdom to the whole world:

He Started a Small Group

If Jesus was incarnate today, He would take a few men under His wing, show them the ropes, help them become robust disciples, then send them out to disciple others with instructions to, in turn, disciple others—starting at home. 

That's His plan, then and now: "Disciples making disciples." Why? Because He wants to save the world. 

Jesus wagered the success of His entire mission on the success of a single small group to spiritually reproduce themselves.

What makes a small group so special? A small group is where people can get so personally invested in others that they come to believe that what they say and do really can make a difference, and that their personal involvement really does matter. 

What makes a small group work? There are several factors, of course, such as a leader who cares, two more people who really want to grow, and a respect for the process of relationships.

But like a shade tree over all of these is love. Love makes me care. I may love the masses in a general way, but when I really love the most is when I go small.

Why Does It Matter?
Disciples making disciples—it's something anyone can do. And it's something you can know for sure will actually make a difference in the history of the world. Why?

Because "disciples making disciples" is God's designated way to release the power of His gospel on every problem we face. 

Because however we got ourselves into the current situation, the only solution is to disciple our way out. 

Because evangelism without the rest of discipleship is cruel. 

Because discipleship changes marriages, families, the workplace and our communities. 

Because discipleship is the one idea that, once fully understood and truly believed, changes everything.

Are you making disciples who make disciples? If yes, praise God for you! But if you're not sure how, and tired of sitting by while Rome burns, send me an email to and we'll get you what you need. 

Remember, you're not really making disciples until your disciples are making disciples.

Patrick Morley is the founder of Man in the Mirror ministries. For the original article, visit

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