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Everybody knows that our primary call as church is to continue Jesus’ call to make disciples. However it still remains a challenge for most of us – how are we to actually do this? What does a disciple making process look like in our context?
These are topics I’ve been wrestling with for years and I got asked recently to speak to a couple of different groups of church leaders in order to stir up a conversation on the topic. How are we doing when it comes to making disciples?
I’ve written extensively on the topic of discipleship on this blog and if you have followed so far you will know I don’t believe the solution is to import a simple 3 step program into your environment. I wrote recently about the importance of leading according to the season we are in. We are in a complex world and so we need adaptive solutions.
What follows are 3 principles I am currently discussing with our leadership team to review how we are doing when it comes to discipleship.
1. Spirit Led
One of the most important things we can do when it comes to our processes is to follow God’s lead. As we help others follow Jesus we must also follow through the lead of the Spirit. Whilst all that we need to know about making disciples is found in the bible, we need the Spirit’s help to apply it to our unique circumstances. A model that works for one community may simply not work for others.
Being Spirit led is best described as discerning God’s voice together in community with others and then following that lead to the best of our ability.
It is important however that we realise that when we are in step with the Spirit it does not mean that all will go swimmingly. Sometimes following the Spirit can be costly.
I recently heard a leader of a large church share about how he was challenged to change how their church operated. Over a process of 2 years he turned his church towards the goal of disciple making. Before this process he perhaps had 1200 people gathering across 7 different locations. Afterwards only around 400 gathering in homes – though he admitted to really not sure on the number.
Sometimes following the Spirit is costly but it is important to remember what success looks like. We are called to make disciples not fill buildings. It begins by following the Spirit in your community.
So as leaders, the question then becomes how are we creating environments to hear from God and discern a way forward as a leadership team? What is the Spirit asking you to do to make disciples?
2. People Over Program
Disciple making is an intensely relational process. It asks a lot from us.
There are some problems to thinking about the process programatically. Firstly creating a new discipleship process may simply be an attempt to find and apply a technical solution – something that doesn’t work well in an unpredictable and complex world.
Programs allow us as leaders to pat ourselves on the back and say well done. We are now discipling people. Yay! The people who attend such a program can also check a mental box that allows them to say that they are now being discipled.
This can give a false sense of progress in an area that is inherently messy and relational.
Perhaps rather than thinking, what course can I run and how many people can I get in the room, we need to think who are the 3 or 4 people I can invest in.
If those people then invest in others we get a process that actually multiplies.
When we think about people over program we also get to know individuals and can better call out their gifts, and their unique call. We can give specific feedback, which we all need on the journey. We work alongside and inspire people in all their lives. Not just when they are in attendance at a course.
Programs can play a role in a church community however is our approach to disciple making primarily program based or people based?
3. Transformation Over Information
What we are after in the process of disciple making is life change, not simply better Christian education. We are looking to produce fully formed people who look like Jesus.
As someone who personally absolutely loves learning, gathering new information, reading and studying theology it is important that you hear what I’m not saying.
Sometimes information is exactly what people need. Truth can after all set people free, just not truth in an abstract sense. Truth must be applied to do its work.
Our maturity will not be measured by our bible knowledge but our love.
Our culture loves to collect information. To such an extent that it’s easier than ever to become a supposed ‘expert’ in any topic. However there is a difference between knowing facts and living our lives well. The information age has not necessarily led to a more moral or wiser humanity. Unless I’m missing something?
Making disciples needs to be a deeply practical pursuit. We are called to make apprentices not just students who sit in a lecture theatre.
As Jesus says the wise man who built his house on the rock is the one who puts his words into practice.
How does our community help people discover transformation? What sort of community makes transformation more likely?
These are the sort of questions we need to keep asking.
A Disciple Making Health Check
We’ve been wrestling with these questions as a leadership recently. It has been a great conversation starter as we look to fulfil our mission as the church. We are still in the process of exploring what we can do but we don’t want to shortcut the journey at the expense of jumping to an overly simplistic solution. The journey and the wrestling is part of our forming. Embracing a process is almost more important than the potential outcome.
Nothing could be more important than our call to make disciples so I think it’s worth the time.
What do you think? What has helped you in this process?
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