Jim Putman’s book called DiscipleShift is filled with great information. Here are a few quotes from my reading…
What we need in our churches today are fewer “Christians,” at least in today’s popular definition of the word. Now, I don’t want fewer saved people. Far from it. I want as many to be saved as possible. But the point is that fewer than we think are actually saved. What I want are full-fledged followers of Jesus Christ, and to produce that in our churches today, we need a radical shift. We need more of the engine that Jesus used to change the world, the engine he instructs us to use. This engine will not create perfect churches, but it will create effective churches. It’s relational discipleship.
The solution to our ineffectiveness as churches is to train people to be spiritually mature, fully devoted followers of Christ, and then in turn to have those disciples make more disciples.
- The first is focus. Think of a church’s focus as the primary emphasis that it commits its time and resources to achieve. It’s the engine that drives everything else in that church.
- The second component is methodology. This is the way a church sets itself up systematically to accomplish its purpose, or the manner in which it tries to achieve its focus.
When looking at the different kinds of churches, leaders disagree over how many categories of churches exist today. Some hold that there are only two main categories — attractional and missional. Others add a third — organic (sometimes called “house”). Others add a fourth — educational.
- Educational A pastoral-educational focus with a classroom methodology.
- Attractional An attractional focus with an entertainment methodology.
- Missional A missional focus with a service-opportunity methodology.
- Organic or “Home” A fellowship focus with an organic methodology.
In the organic category, the emphasis is biblical relationships, or fellowship. These churches focus on Bible verses that talk about how people need to be devoted to each other in brotherly love and close fellowship.
Something is Missing:
DISCIPLESHIP, NOT EVANGELISM – A solution emerges when a church shifts its focus to biblical discipleship using the methodology of relational environments.
Focus = Biblical Discipleship Methodology = Relational Environments
We believe that discipleship should be the core focus for the church. And we believe that the relational model Jesus utilized is the timeless and best methodology for discipleship. The “relational discipleship model” embraces all aspects of the main four categories, yet it espouses something different as the one driving focus.
Disciples are not merely converts but also doers, learners, students, Christ followers, or better yet, “apprentices of Jesus.”
Parents were to equip their children to love and obey God. The method was relationship (“when you sit in your house,” “when you walk by the way,” and “when you lie down”). And the whole process was discipleship, or in today’s language, apprenticeship.
The apostle Paul and others also used this same method. Consider 2 Timothy 3:10–14, where Paul describes his relationship with Timothy.
Paul didn’t simply lead a Sunday school class once a week or preach a sermon to a large crowd and end there. He focused on doing life with people he discipled. In the Bible, relationships are the context and environment for discipleship.
Jesus’ method is the best one for the church moving forward. It can be called “intentional relational discipleship.”
Simply put, a church exists to make disciples who make disciples. And the primary methodology is Christlike love expressed in life-on-life relationship. But how? What are the specific shifts that need to happen?
Unified Method to Accomplish the Goal:
It’s essential for the leadership of a church to have a unified understanding of their goal and purpose as a church. And it’s equally important that they have a unified methodology to accomplish that goal.
Think of the definition as a map on the wall. It’s visible, accessible, and easy to comprehend.
1. “Follow Me” The first two words of Jesus are a simple invitation. This invitation indicates our acceptance of Jesus — his authority and his truth — at the head level. In Jesus’ definition, a disciple is someone who knows him (who he is and what he is like) and follows him. Though we used to be self-ruled, now we are Christ-ruled.
2. “And I Will Make You” The next five words in this verse speak of a process of transformation. This tells us that discipleship involves Jesus molding our hearts to become more like his. This second attribute of a disciple is primarily a spiritual response to the Holy Spirit. It speaks to people at the heart level, as they assimilate the Word of Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to transform their inner being (Ephesians 3:14–18).
3. “Fishers of Men” The final three words in this verse indicate a response of action, something that affects what we live for and do. If our acceptance of Jesus begins in the head and extends to the heart, it leads to a change in what we do with our hands. In other words, a disciple of Jesus is saved for a purpose. Being on a mission means that we acknowledge that we’re saved for God’s kingdom purposes. Our mission is not simply to come to church each Sunday, to be nice to other people, or to cram a lot of biblical facts inside our heads. It’s not even to give money to the church so that the pastors can carry out the mission of Jesus. It’s for every disciple to join in God’s mission in this world, to participate with God’s purposes in the world. Ephesians 2:10 tells us that we have important work to do which God had planned before time began.
Putting all three attributes together, we see that a disciple is a person who
1. is following Christ (head).
2. is being changed by Christ (heart).
3. is committed to the mission of Christ (hands).
When a church has a commonly understood definition of discipleship, they have begun to make the first shift toward a renewed emphasis on discipling people.
Steps in the Discipleshift Process:
Level 1: Spiritually Dead We begin at the top of the circle (in the twelve to one o’clock position). Ephesians 2:1–5 describes those who are “dead in [their] transgressions and sins.” People in this stage have not yet accepted Christ as Lord and Savior.
I believe we need to set our expectations for spiritually dead people accordingly.
You can think of the “phrase from the stage” as a set of typical statements or questions that a spiritually dead person might say to you, such as:
- I don’t believe there’s a God.
- The Bible is just a bunch of myths.
- Religion is a crutch for the weak.
- Christians are just intolerant and homophobic people.
- There are many ways a person can get to God.
- I don’t believe in hell. People just make their own hell.
- I’ve been a good person, so when I die, everything will be okay. I’ll take my chances with the big man upstairs.
- There is no absolute right or wrong. If something’s right for you, it might not be right for me, and vice versa.
- I’m spiritual, but I don’t connect with any one religion.
Again, we teach our people to recognize these phrases so that they can know where a person is — not to judge them or condemn them but to help our people better know how to pray and respond, to understand what part Jesus wants to play in their lives right now.
Level 2: Infant Looking again at the diagram of spiritual stages, we see the next category in the two to three o’clock position on the wheel — the infant stage. First Peter 2:2–3 describes people who are like newborn babies, craving spiritual milk so they can grow in their salvation.
As you talk to a person in this stage, you may hear one or more of these phrases:
- I need to go to church regularly? I’ve never heard that before.
- I need to pray regularly and read the Bible regularly? I’ve never heard that before. How would I do that?
- I didn’t know the Bible said that.
- Tithing? What’s that?
- I’ve always connected with God through nature. Being outdoors is my church.
- I don’t need anyone else. It’s just me and Jesus.
- I need someone to regularly care for me.
- I know Jesus is God, but isn’t karma real too?
- Trinity? Huh? Now you’ve got me confused.
- My wife and I just got baptized, and on the way home from church we got into a big fight. What’s up with all that? I thought Jesus was supposed to take care of all our problems.
As you can tell, there are usually lots of questions. The key concept is that infants don’t know much. They don’t understand yet what it means to follow Jesus.
Level 3: Child The next stage of spiritual development is the child stage, found at the three to six o’clock position on the diagram. The apostle John often referred to the early Christians he pastored as his children (1 John 2:12).
The “phrase from the stage” for spiritual children often involves one or more of the following statements:
- I don’t know if this church is meeting my needs anymore. Maybe I should go to a different church that does better.
- Don’t branch my small group into two. We won’t get to be with our friends.
- Who are all these new people coming into our church? The church is getting too big. It’s too hard to get a parking spot anymore.
- Why do we have to learn new songs? I like the old hymns better.
- I didn’t like the music today. They should play more contemporary stuff.
- No one ever says hi to me at church. No one ever calls me to see how I’m doing. No one spends time with me. The pastors don’t care about me. Today in the lobby, a pastor looked right at me and didn’t even say hello.
- My small group is not taking care of my needs like they should.
- I wasn’t fed at all by that sermon today.
- Why don’t they have a ministry to singles at this church? This church must not care about singles.
- No Christian should ever listen to hip-hop or rock. That kind of music is just unchristian.
- Well, I’d join the worship team, but no one’s ever asked me.
- I was helping in children’s ministry, but they didn’t appreciate what I was doing, so I quit.
I am sure that even now you are remembering one of these statements being made to you by a Christian who had been in the church for years.
Level 4: Young Adult Young adults are found at the six to nine o’clock position on the diagram. First John 2:13–14 describes people who are spiritually young adults.
As you speak with a spiritually young adult, you may hear one of these “phrase from the stage” statements:
- In my devotions, I came across something I have a question about.
- I really want to go to Uganda on a mission trip this summer. I know I’m ready for it. I know God has big plans for my life.
- I just love being a worship leader. I think it’s something God has gifted me in, and I love to see an entire congregation lifting their hands in worship when I’m leading.
- I have three friends I’ve been witnessing to, and our small group would be too big for them, so can we branch so they can come?
- Brandon and Tiffany missed our group, so I called them to see if they’re okay. Their kids have the flu, so maybe our group can make meals for them. I’ll start.
- Look at how many are at church today — it’s awesome! The closest parking spot I could find was two blocks away!
The key concept with spiritual adults is they are orienting their lives around God and his perspective.
Level 5: Parent The spiritual parent stage is found at the nine to twelve o’clock position on the diagram. Theologically, we believe that God is the one who births people spiritually. So strictly speaking, none of us are spiritual parents in this way. But this term is helpful in reminding us that those who grow and mature will usually do so under the guidance of spiritual parents; this is God’s plan.
- People who are involved in raising up others to join God’s kingdom mission can be identified by one or several of the following “phrase from the stage” statements:
- I wonder if God is leading me to invest in Bill and help him mature in his faith.
- I want to help this guy at work. He asked me to explain the Bible to him. Pray for me as I spend time in the Word with him.
- We get to baptize someone from our small group tonight. When is the next foundations class?
- Getting him plugged into ministry is essential for his growth.
- Our small group is going on a mission trip. I am praying for God’s wisdom as I give each person a different responsibility to help them grow.
- The most important discipleship is with my children. Will you hold me accountable to lead devotionals with my kids on a daily basis? I get so busy that I am not consistent with them.
- I want to be conscious of the influence of my words and actions when I go to the game with Bill and Betty. I easily get upset at the referees. As new Christians, Bill and Betty are hungry for guidance, and I want to set an example for them.
- I have a spiritual child in my small group who is causing conflicts; pray that I will have patience as
- I lead them through this difficult stage.
- I have a young adult who is ready to be an apprentice in our group; it won’t be long until we are ready to branch our small group.
The key concept for the spiritual parent is a mindfulness of the needs of the less mature disciples.
A person needs to be only one step ahead of someone else to lead him. Many people are leading although they don’t know a whole lot. But at least they know enough to do what they can to follow Christ.
The path of growth is described in a linear fashion to help you grasp the basic concept, but it is often cyclical. We often go back to earlier stages and find areas of our lives where we are uneducated or self-centered.
Spheres of Relationships:
After studying the Scriptures, we identified what we call “the four spheres.” This model is now the what in the midst of the how in our church. It outlines how a disciple grows in four main spheres of life:
1. In his relationship to God – Sphere 1: The Centrality of a Relationship with God As a leadership team, we didn’t just pull the four spheres out of our own minds or experience. We believe that Paul is a great example of discipleship and that he reveals his thoughts on the matter in the book of Ephesians. Here we see the central importance of the first sphere: our relationship with God.
2. In his relationship with God’s family, the church – Sphere 2: Relationships within the Family of God, the Church As we read further in Ephesians, we see that in chapter 4 Paul shifts his focus from the central importance of our personal relationship with Christ and begins to discuss the effect that a relationship with Christ should have in our relationships with other believers. If the first sphere of relationship is our relationship with Jesus, it should naturally lead us to living with and loving others in the second sphere, our relationships within the family of God.
3. In his home life – Sphere 3: Relationships at Home A third sphere of relationships that Paul addresses, in Ephesians 5 and 6, is the family. Paul discusses what the home should look like for a believer, how a husband should lead his wife and love her, and how a wife should respect her husband. He understood that we cannot compartmentalize our relationships, that the Holy Spirit wants to influence every sphere of a believer’s life, and that the best place to make disciples is in our own families.
4. In his relationship to the world – Sphere 4: Relationships with the World Finally, as Paul moves through Ephesians 6, he addresses a final sphere of relationships, what we might refer to as the world. Paul speaks of what it means to be a slave and a slaveholder. We must never forget that the disciple-making process happens in the storm of spiritual warfare. Making disciples is not something we do in safe, neutral territory. There is always a battle to fight. When people become followers of Christ, it’s important that we explain how they’ve entered into a lifelong relationship with him. I find it beneficial to explain the discipleship process to them early on, as well as the stages of spiritual development they will go through.
The solution involves a fundamental shift in our thinking — from informing people to equipping them. You may think, That’s what I’m doing already. I don’t want to give people more information; I want to see transformation! But take an honest look. Is that really the focus of your ministry? I want to suggest that there are two issues involved in this shift. The first has to do with a leader’s personal life, and the second has to do with his professional life. The first issue relates to who he is, and the second issue relates to what he does.
Leaders Must Be Genuine, Not Perfect:
Leaders need to model for their churches what it means to stumble (James 3:2) and yet remain faithful to the path. When we fall down (and we all do), we get right back up on the road with Jesus’ help. We model for the church that we do not “claim to be without sin” and that we do not “deceive ourselves” (1 John 1:5–10). Instead we confess sin (appropriately) and point people to the forgiveness and faithful path in the ways of Jesus.
The first part of this shift — from informing people to equipping them — begins with the character of the leader, not with what he does. We have an adage for this point: “you can’t lead where you don’t go, and you can’t teach what you don’t know” (see 1 Corinthians 4:6).
I’ve found that disciple-making churches often produce an environment that is more akin to a twelve-step program than to the educational or entertainment culture that currently defines many churches.
A pastor needs to be genuine at all levels of relationship, but not all kinds of relationships require the same amount of disclosure. A pastor can be open and honest at every level of ministry, but he does not need to be equally vulnerable at every level of relationship.
Four Relational Environments:
1. Intimate Discipling Relationships (one leader interacting with two or three people). Jesus was relationally closest to three disciples — Peter, James, and John — and he invested his highest-quality time in them.
2. Personal Discipling Relationships (one leader interacting with ten to twelve people). The second category of relational discipleship involves a larger group of ten to twelve people whom you personally disciple. Jesus had personal relationships with his twelve disciples. Not all of them were intimately close to him, but they still received quality relationship and spent regular time with him.
3. Social Discipling Relationships (one lea der interacting with up to 120 people). In this category of relational discipleship, we see a leader interacting with a larger group of people. Jesus had significant social relationships with people like Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. He also had a relationship with a group referred to as “the seventy-two” (Luke 10:17).
4. Public Discipling Relationships (one leader interacting with larger crowds of people). In this fourth category of relational discipleship, a leader interacts with a larger crowd of people in a public relationship. This is the level at which Jesus discipled people publicly, speaking to various sizes of crowds and sharing teaching like the Sermon on the Mount.
These four categories of relational environments are interrelated to one another in churches that are making disciples. Although the smaller-size groups are more effective at equipping disciples, all four discipling relationships are important components of a disciple-making church.
The Place to Start:
Here is the simplest way to start being more authentic: begin at the most intimate levels. This doesn’t start in the pulpit. Begin with your close friends, with an accountability partner. If you don’t have one, then this is a problem that needs to be dealt with first.
This is where the shift from informing people to equipping them begins. It starts with honest, humble leaders who are living out in their personal relationships what they want other people to live out in theirs. So begin there, in your closest relationships.
A key verse for pastors and church planters is Ephesians 4:11–13:
But leading in the church is more like being a really good coach. A leader’s job is to guide and equip the saints so that the entire church becomes a mature community in which disciples flourish.
Yet a pastor’s primary job is to shepherd the sheep. This means to lead them in the way of truth. You lead them by example, not just by imparting knowledge.
What kind of spiritual leader are you?
As a professional athlete, you have all eyes on you, watching you perform. You entertain. You inspire. The pressure is on you.
As a coach, you empower other people to work together as a team. Your role is to equip, nurture, exhort, and train. You release and deploy other people to do the boots-on-the-ground work of disciple making.
Results of the Attractional Model:
The attractional model is designed to lead people to an emotional response — to make a decision — so if this is always the goal, those who come, over time, will often believe that Christianity is about emotion rather than sometimes being an act of obedience, whether you feel like it or not.
Attractional models will not take into account that people need spiritual parenting, and because they don’t, it doesn’t often happen. The more mature believers will not be satisfied with just milk every week and will eventually funnel out.
In this case, you are left with immature people who are on fire for a while, but eventually will get bored with even the best shows.
This means shifting how we think about our job, our calling as a pastor or leader. It means that being an effective church leader involves:
- Discovering what the right goal is: making disciples, not just converts
- Correctly defining what a disciple is: someone who follows Jesus, is transformed by Jesus, and joins Jesus on his mission
- Using the right methodology: intentional, biblical, relational environments
- Producing the intended results: disciples who are spiritually and relationally healthy and are continually making more disciples
The bottom line is that a leader is not following Jesus’ example if he’s not personally involved in the work of making disciples in every aspect.
Main Roles of a Disciple Making Pastor:
If you want to make the shift from informing to equipping and be a disciple-making pastor, your ministry needs to revolve around the following four main roles.
1. An Authentic Disciple We’ve already talked about this in the previous chapter, so I’ll just summarize by reminding you that biblical leadership begins with who we are and our walk with God. There is an old saying: “Who you are thunders so loud that it drowns out your words.” Pastors must learn to walk with God daily.
2. A Discipleship-System Builder A church leader, especially one involved in church planting or pastoring, is not just a disciple or even just a disciple maker. A disciple is a person who follows Jesus, is transformed by Jesus, and joins Jesus on his mission; that’s the job of every believer. A disciple maker makes disciples. Every Christian has that job. A pastor is more than that. He has been given the task of leading a church in which he is to create a system in which people are taught how to be disciples. In other words, he and his team are called to lead in the development of a church-wide system that will make disciples who make disciples. As a church leader, your job is to create the community-wide system in which people can be involved in relational environments for the purpose of discipleship. You are an overseer of a disciple-making community.
3. A Developer of Leaders The third main role of a church planter or pastor in a disciple-making church is that of a developer of leaders. Everyone is a disciple and should grow into an effective disciple maker, but not everyone is gifted as a leader. A church planter or pastoral leadership team should identify emerging, gifted leaders and help them grow.
So we really face three problems.
First, most leaders are too busy trying to do the work in the church themselves, and they don’t have time to see and develop the leaders God has sent them.
The second problem is that church leaders are looking for already-developed leaders. They don’t see the potential in their midst because it’s not yet visible. A college coach goes all over the country looking for developed and talented players, and then he offers them scholarships to come and play for him. But a high school coach needs to get his players from within his own school district. Every once in a while, a talented kid will move in, but that seldom happens. If you want to win at the high school level, you must create a program that develops an athlete from the kids program to the junior high level and finally to the high school level.
Third, pastors tend to look for a person who can do everything — an all-star player, if you will — rather than a person who can play a specific position on a great team. I don’t believe there is anyone who can do it all. That’s why we need the whole body of Christ.
This leadership apprentice model can be replicated in every ministry in a church, from hospital visitation to children’s ministry to the role of a senior pastor (training an associate or church planter). I do. You watch. We talk. I do. You help. We talk. You do. I help. We talk. You do. I watch. We talk. You do. Someone else watches. Jesus modeled something similar to this when he was working with the disciples, and a careful review of Paul’s writings will show that he did something like this with Timothy and Titus.
4. A Vision Caster A church leader must also be able to cast the vision that creates the disciple-making culture of the church. He not only makes it clear that everyone is to be involved in making disciples; he constantly points people to the method — relational environments — for doing this. That means sharing the vision from the pulpit and at every opportunity he has with the other leaders and the people in the church.
The third shift that churches need to make is to foster a culture of personalized discipleship. It’s a change from program-based, informational environments to hands-on training in relational environments. It’s a shift from program to purpose, and it begins by asking the question, What is the true role of the church?
We recognize that in our culture today, it’s a challenge to be relational the way Jesus was with the people of his day. Most people today lead busy lives in which they are physically separated from other people. Some work in cubicles and rarely see their coworkers. Times have changed from the day when most people worked in a town with a central location where they would meet their neighbors or see them on a daily basis.
But a small group designed specifically to promote discipleship has a clear purpose. We define this purpose by saying that a small group must display the following characteristics. It should be
- intentionally directing people to the goal of spiritual maturity
- a place where people can honestly talk about their lives and work out what it means to follow Jesus.
This is about more than a seven o’clock to nine o’clock commitment each Wednesday night.
CASTING A VISION FOR RELATIONAL ENVIRONMENTS – At this point, you might agree that there is definitely a need for biblical relationships, but you also see a problem: your congregation has always done things differently. How do you change the way things have been done?
We are not in biblical relationship with one another if all we do is sit next to each other on Sunday morning.
Two key Scriptures point to the give-and-take nature of biblical relationships within the context of the church.
1. The first Scripture speaks to church leaders. First Peter 5:2 says, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care.” This verse points to the pastor’s responsibility to see that the people are being cared for spiritually.
2. The second Scripture refers to the people of God. As a leader, I am often reminded of my responsibility to care for and serve God’s people. But it is also true that every Christian has a responsibility as well — to obey and submit to the leadership of the church.
The Master Plan of Evangelism:
Dr. Robert Coleman, a coauthor of this book, presented a similar pattern fifty years ago in his book The Master Plan of Evangelism. Dr. Coleman uses nine words to describe these same stages. We’ve taken his nine-word description of this process and overlaid it onto our four-word strategy. Why? Because we believe that seeing how these grids fit together offers a fuller, more complete picture of what we are talking about in the disciple-making process.
1. Share In the first stage, we incarnate Christ’s life in a lost world and then invite people to respond to Christ. Incarnation means that, like Jesus, we enter into a lost world as ministers. Loving relationships are the bridge to communicate the gospel and begin the discipleship process. The Engel Scale is a popular model that can be used to help people better understand the idea that conversion is a process, not a one-time event. As the scale indicates, a conversion to Christ is not the first moment in this process.
2. Connect In the second stage, we help new Christians associate with other disciples and consecrate themselves to God. Association means that, like Jesus, we establish ongoing relational connections with those who respond to him. Jesus stayed with people whom God had raised up and who were responsive to his call. Consecration means that, like Jesus, we help people to obey God’s teachings. Obedience is a word few people like to hear today, but obedience to Christ is the means by which we grow to be like Jesus.
3. Train to Minister In the third stage, we demonstrate service to others, delegate service opportunities, and supervise the progress. Demonstration means that Jesus showed his disciples how to minister. Jesus connected with his disciples and let them see his priorities and values lived out in everyday life. Delegation simply means that Jesus gave his disciples something to do. You delegate when you assign someone a task. Jesus gave his disciples specific ministry tasks to accomplish. Delegation means we not only encourage people to do ministry in Jesus’ name but also supply opportunities and places for them to do ministry. Supervision means that Jesus made his disciples accountable. Supervision (sometimes called coaching) is tremendously important to the discipleship process.
4. Release to Be a Disciple Maker In the final stage, we expect mature disciples to learn to reproduce other disciples, and we trust the Holy Spirit’s impartation in their lives to guide them. It is difficult for me to say that someone is truly mature in Christ if he or she does not personally obey Jesus’ teaching to make disciples, as stated in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19–20). Can we truly be like Christ, who personally made disciples, and not personally make disciples ourselves? Reproduction means that Jesus anticipated fruitfulness. Jesus instilled a vision for multiplication in his disciples. Impartation means that Jesus gave his followers his Spirit. Jesus doesn’t send us anywhere. He goes with us wherever we are.
The Necessity of Alignment:
Within this shift, we are advocating the principle of alignment, in which every program and ministry of a church exists in harmony with the overall goal of making disciples.
They are not silos functioning as competitors for resources and leaders. If a program is to exist (and clearly some should), it must move people to venues where spiritual growth can occur. Everything the church does relates in some way to the primary mission of discipleship.
The reality is that many ministries within a church exist without any clear, overall sense of purpose. They operate in isolation and don’t end up reproducing people who are committed to the Lord and know how to make disciples.
Ask yourself, What happens in a church if a program functions without any tie to discipleship? If we dig down deep, we find that the program exists only for itself.
Having a lot of unconnected programs in a church not only raises the question of effectiveness; it also creates a quality problem. The more programs you have and the more they are disconnected from a common purpose, the harder it is to lead, organize, and do things that really matter.
To summarize, the principle of alignment means that
- every program must be evaluated to see if it is really producing what Jesus values
- every program that has the potential to make disciples, but isn’t doing so, must align itself with the overall goal of biblical relational discipleship
- we do fewer things in the church, and we do them well.
One good exercise is to have your church’s leadership think through every program in your church, with an eye to discipleship.
However, if we don’t align people, ensuring that each and every ministry is matched and fitted to the purpose of making disciples, the real mission of the church, we will end up with a mismatched, disconnected community of people pursuing their own goals and programs that take on a life of their own. This is why every program in a church must be aligned with the goal of relational discipleship in view.
When church leaders asked if they could help them develop a strategy for discipling people toward spiritual maturity, the parachurch ministry leaders declined. They said they were just overwhelmed with need, and while they believed discipleship was a good idea, all they really needed was volunteers.
This illustrates why alignment is one of the hardest things churches grapple with. To say yes to your calling, you must necessarily say no to a lot of good things, and when you say no to a lot of good things, you say no to a lot of good people who don’t understand why you’re saying no. You’re saying no to something they are emotionally invested in.
For a ministry to be aligned with other ministries around the common mission of making disciples, it must include the following five key components, or it should be a stepping-stone that leads people to another ministry in the church where these components are present.
1. A clear goal of discipleship. A ministry should exist to help people follow Jesus, be transformed by him, and join him on his mission.
2. An intentional leader who makes disciples. A ministry should have an intentional disciple-making leader.
3. A biblically relational environment. As we’ve said before, the key factors that cause spiritual growth are the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and the people of God.
4. A reproducible process. Those who are involved in the ministry should be growing spiritually in such a way that they are producing more disciples.
5. A supporting organization. The church as a whole must undergird and communicate the vision that God has given it.
Components of a Small Group:
The relational small group forms the backbone for discipleship.
Shepherding – A small group is a place where shepherding takes place. A leader of a small group is a shepherd. He models shepherding for the group, and he seeks to create an environment in which people shepherd one another.
Teaching – A small group is a place where real teaching takes place, with Q&A, modeling, and with the best curriculum in the world (the Bible), people can really learn to understand Scripture and use it wisely in their lives.
But when people think of Bible studies, they often think of a teacher teaching and everyone else passively listening. This is a problem for several reasons. First, many people do not have the gift of teaching, and a person who cannot teach can make a group really boring — and when it’s boring, no one comes. Second, it’s difficult to recruit leaders, because many will feel that they are unqualified, that they don’t have the theological training or biblical knowledge to lead. Remember that we want to develop a method that enables reproduction.
When I speak of teaching in the small group setting, I mean that there is a leader who shares from God’s Word, but it is much more than that. Biblical small groups are more about facilitating a biblical discussion than about directly lecturing. The leader must help group members interact with the Word and with others so that people are participating.
Authenticity and Accountability – A small group is a place where authenticity and accountability are encouraged and modeled. We must remember that love is the foundation. Only with this foundation can there be healthy accountability.
When real-life issues are shared in a small group, sensitivity and tact are needed in big ways. Too often, group members will immediately want to fix other people’s problems. But we encourage small group leaders to train their people not to be fixers. Be listeners first. Be gentle and empathize, because you yourself know you have your own issues and your own past to deal with. Be people who pray. And be people who point others to God’s Word. Note that a leader must encourage transparency for the right reasons.
Philosophy of Church:
The point is that we must champion and reclaim the ministry of all believers.39 If a church hires a pastor to be a paid performer (they would say “paid teacher”) that people want to come and listen to, then the success or failure of a church is all up to him. But if a church hires a pastor to be a coach, then the success or failure of a church is up to the people as well.
Yes, it takes a while for pastors and Christians to start thinking of themselves as equippers and ministers who make disciples, and this is a vision that needs to be presented to congregations and recast more than once.
The person asks this question because he or she thinks it’s the pastor’s responsibility to ensure that a steady stream of baptisms occurs, when really the question needs to be put back to the person who asked it. “Well, do you know anyone who’s lost? Have you shared the gospel with that person and led him to the Lord?” The person who asked the question is just as much a disciple who makes disciples as the pastor is.
The job of a pastor is to lead so that everybody’s on the same page, and that sometimes means some effective pruning. It takes time. Before you make any big transitions, you have to get all your leaders to catch the vision.
I define success in the way a church has accepted God’s mission as its sense of purpose. Every church has, or should have, a mission statement.
The Importance of the Playbook:
At Real Life, we use the playbook over and over again. If you want to be a leader at Real Life, each year you return to class, study the playbook again, and re-sign our leadership covenant. We have found that it’s vital to reinforce the ideas again and again and continually develop consensus.
If you don’t constantly remind them of your playbook, you are in for a real headache.
If you’re a church leader and your church has a playbook, then right up front it helps answer a well-meaning person like this who wants the church to go another direction. It helps articulate to that person the specifics of what you do as a church and why you do it.
If I could leave you with one thought, it would be this: God’s church works. Say those words out loud if you need to. They’re beautiful words, and they’re absolutely true. When I say, “God’s church works,” I do not mean that it is pain free or that it works perfectly. What I mean is that people will be saved and discipled, in spite of the fact that we are in a war and at times will lose a battle and even get wounded. However, God has called you to your church for such a time as this.