These are my reading notes from the Greg Ogden book, Transforming Discipleship.
Jesus staked the future of his ministry on his investment in a few. Do we do the same? Why did Jesus choose the Twelve and spend so much time with them?
- First, disciple making is about relational investment. It is walking alongside a few fellow travelers in an intentional journey together over time. You will hear this constant refrain: Disciple making is not a program but a relationship.
- Second, we rightly associate disciple making with multiplication. Yet the promise always seems to far exceed the results.
- Third, making disciples is a transformative process. When we bring together transparent relationships and the truth of God’s Word in the context of covenantal accountability for life change around a missional focus, we have stepped into the Holy Spirit’s hot house that makes life change possible.
- Finally, in chapter ten we will explore the critical contributions and limitations of preaching in the disciple-making process.
When the urgency for disciple making can be fanned by the vision of the biblical pattern of investing in a few at a time and then translated into a practical strategy, there is the hope that we can truly fulfill Jesus’ mission statement for everyone in his church, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
In 2004 they did an internal audit, which later became the REVEAL Spiritual Life Survey. It revealed some glaring gaps in their self-image. Ministries and programs they thought were effective were, in fact, ineffective. But they had the mettle to allow the truth to provide course corrections.
None of us wants to dispute the extraordinary growth of the church. But it has been largely numerical and statistical growth. And there has not been sufficient growth in discipleship that is comparable to the growth in numbers.”
Barna has sadly concluded, “My research shows that most Americans who confess their sins to God and ask Christ to be their Savior—live almost indistinguishable from the unrepentant sinners, and their lives bear little, if any fruit, for the kingdom of God.”
Ministers: Passive versus proactive. The Scripture portrays the church as full of proactive ministers; the reality often is that majority of church members see themselves as passive recipients of the pastor’s ministry.
The church today has been compared to a football game with twenty-two people on the field in desperate need of rest, and fifty thousand people in the stands in desperate need of exercise.
Christian Life: Casual versus disciplined. The Scriptures picture followers of Jesus as engaged in a disciplined way of life; the reality is that a small percentage of believers invests in intentional spiritual growth practices.
Dallas Willard captures this attitude toward training with a pithy phrase: “Grace is opposed to earning, but is not opposed to effort.”
Discipleship: Private versus holistic. The Scriptures picture discipleship as affecting all spheres of life; the reality is that many believers have relegated faith to the personal, private realm.
Os Guinness summarized this disconnect between personal faith and the totality of life by saying that our faith is “privately engaging but socially irrelevant.”
Church: Conformed versus transformed. The Scriptures picture the Christian community as a countercultural force; the reality is that we see isolated individuals whose lifestyle and values are not much different from those of the unchurched.
Ron Sider introduces his book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience with this devastating summary: “Whether the issue is divorce, materialism, sexual promiscuity, racism, physical abuse in marriage, or neglect of biblical worldview, the polling data point to widespread, blatant disobedience of clear biblical moral demands on the part of people who allegedly are evangelical, born-again Christians.”
David Kinnaman concludes that “if we peel back the layers, many Christians are using the Way of Jesus as a means to pursuing the Way of Self.”
This requires a church culture with a clear disciple-making agenda supported by a covenantal mentality. Yet increasingly this reality has been undermined by radical individualism.
Church: Optional versus essential. The Scriptures picture the church as an essential, chosen organism in whom Christ dwells; the reality is that people view the church as an optional institution, unnecessary for discipleship.
Many people today like to say, “Jesus, yes; church, no.” To do so is a fundamental misunderstanding of the place the church has in God’s grand scheme of salvation. To be a follower of Christ is to understand that there is no such thing as solo discipleship.
David Platt describes an evangelistic event where the preacher was driving to a conclusion, crafting his call to decision. “Tonight, I want to call you to put your faith in God. I am urging you to begin a personal relationship with Jesus. But let me be clear. I’m not inviting you to join the church. I’m inviting you to come to Christ.” Implicit in this invitation was that you might be able to carry on a relationship with Christ apart from the church.
Christian leaders live with the tension of serving a community of people with a tenuous commitment. How can you call people to the discipline of discipleship if they can so easily walk? Juan Carlos Ortiz observes that we could not be effective parents if our children could decide they were going to become a part of another family if they didn’t like the discipline in the home.
Bible: Illiterate versus informed. Followers of Christ are often called “the people of the book” because we believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be the unique written revelation of God; the reality is that believers’ knowledge of Scripture is woefully inadequate.
Yet with all these lofty claims, the Bible is far more revered than it is read. Only 14 percent read the Bible on a daily basis, and another 14 percent several times a week.
Witness: Inactive versus active. The Scriptures picture all believers as those who share the story of their faith in Christ with others; the reality is that a relatively small percentage of believers make it their intention to do so.
Relativism is the belief that there is no absolute truth. The only truth we have is personal truth or what is true for me. This is what I would call designer truth or religion. We each pick and choose from the salad bar of options according to our personal taste. Nothing is right or wrong; what matters is what works for us.
John Kotter in Leading Change says that a primary reason why change does not occur is that there is no sense of urgency.34 Leadership is about instilling urgency.
How have we gotten to this state of discipleship? It is one thing to describe where we are; it is another to identify the root causes of the problem.
“Keep a laser focus on this mission. Don’t take your eyes off of it. And do what you can to ensure that making disciples is the central focus.”
C. S. Lewis has stated the main thing in a most powerful way: The church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose. It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose.
Diversion from Primary Calling – The first cause of the low estate of discipleship is that pastors have been diverted from their primary calling to “equip the saints for the work of ministry.”
Their focus was on everything but intentional disciple making. When it came to this final topic, the convener readily admitted: “As you can see, I left this topic for last. The reason is that I don’t know what to do about this subject. In this day and age, how does a church significantly help people in spiritual formation? If you can get your people to worship, do outreach and volunteer weekly in a ministry, that’s about the best you can do.”
Pastors have been consumed by pastoral care. Assigning caregiving to the professionals has had a disastrous impact on people’s ability to grow into adulthood in the faith. When someone is in the hospital, grieving the loss of a loved one, dealing with a marital crisis or experiencing the pain of a rebellious child, the pastor is expected to be present. We have honed an interlocking set of expectations from people to pastor that comes in the form of an emotional contract: “If I am having difficulty, pastor, I expect you to be there to get me through it. If you don’t show up, you are failing to do your job. If you have failed in providing care, you have failed as a pastor.”
To the extent that pastors overperform by assuming responsibilities given to the whole body of Christ, the ministry of the people of God is undermined. We have created a system in which we pay pastors to do ministry and the people are the recipients of the pastors’ care. I call this the “dependency model of ministry.” Instead, we need to move to an equipping model of ministry.
Discipling Through Programs – The second cause of the low estate of discipleship is that we have tried to make disciples through programs. The scriptural model for growing disciples is through relationships. Jesus called the Twelve to “be with him” (Mark 3:14), for their lives would be transformed through personal association. Proximity produces disciples.
Though these programs can contribute to discipleship development, they miss the central ingredient in discipleship. Each disciple is a unique individual with growth factors particular to him or her. Unless people receive personal attention so that their precise growth needs are addressed in a way that calls them to die to self and live fully to Christ, disciples will not be formed.
In other words, programs can make it look like we are growing disciples, but that is more of an illusion than reality, and we know it.
Programs tend to be information or knowledge-based. Programs operate on the assumption that if someone has more information, that information will automatically lead to transformation.
Programs are the one preparing for the many. Most programs are built around an individual or a few people who do the hard work of preparation. The rest come, to a greater or lesser degree, as passive recipients.
I have concluded that the preached Word needs the context of community, where its meaning can be discussed and its implications considered. To the extent that we listen to preaching week after week without processing it, our spirits can build a resistance to it. Only as we wrestle with the Word, particularly in a relational setting, does it seep into our being and transform us.
Programs are characterized by regimentation or synchronization. The nature of most programs is that they do not take into account an individual’s growth rate or the issues he or she is facing, which is essential to growing disciples. But regimentation and synchronization are counterproductive to disciple making. Every individual is unique.
Programs generally have low personal accountability. How many of us have someone to hold us accountable to our obedience to Jesus Christ? Programs of discipleship often give the illusion of accountability. But on closer examination the focus is on completing the assigned curriculum rather than committing to life change.
Reducing the Christian Life – The third cause of the low estate of discipleship is that we have reduced the gospel to the eternal benefits we get from Jesus, rather than living as his students.
What is the gospel that has led to nondiscipleship? One that is focused on the benefits we get from Jesus. This is what Willard has sarcastically called “barcode” Christianity. All we are interested in is getting rung up by the great scanner in the sky. I have dubbed this the “transactional gospel.”
John Ortberg says that we are preaching the gospel of minimal entrance requirements to get into heaven when we die. He notes that in the New Testament there is a natural progression as people move toward Jesus. People start out as strangers to Jesus. They then move from strangers to admirers.
But Ortberg adds the stunning suggestion that we have added a category in our day between admirer and follower. We have inserted user of Jesus. The gospel we have been communicating suggests that we use Jesus to get into heaven when we die.
We have transformed the gospel into the benefits we receive from Jesus rather than the call to be conformed to the life of Jesus. We want abundance without obedience.
A Two-Tiered Understanding of Discipleship – The fourth cause of the low estate of discipleship is that we have made discipleship for super-Christians, not ordinary believers.
Why can people affirm being true Christians but are hesitant to identify themselves as true disciples of Jesus? The primary difference, I believe, is the angle from which we approach both labels. In many people’s minds, being a Christian is about what Christ has done for us; whereas a disciple is about what we are doing for Christ. Christian is a noun; disciple is a verb. To be a Christian is passive; to be a disciple is active. To be a Christian means “I get in on the benefits plan”; to be a disciple means “I have to pay a price.” The elephant in the room in many churches is the unstated assumption that a person can be a Christian without being a disciple.
Unwillingness to Call People to Discipleship – The fifth cause of the low estate of discipleship is that leaders have been unwilling to call people to discipleship. David Platt, Francis Chan, Shane Clairborne and Kyle Idleman have been dubbed the “young radicals” who are calling the church to face again the costly call of following Christ. Echoing Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s famous line from The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die,” they are taking on the comfortable American version of cushy Christianity. They raise the question, Why aren’t we willing to lay out the terms of discipleship as Jesus did when he said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23 NIV).
Why does intentional disciple making frighten us?
- For some, it is just too time intensive. We know what it will take. We will have to invest in a few lives on a regular basis, which takes time.
- We live in a consumer culture. The message from the church-growth world is that we need seeker-friendly churches that speak to the felt needs of worldly people.
- The prevailing wisdom has been “lower the obstacles so the gospel can be heard.”
An Inadequate View of the Church – The sixth cause of the low estate of discipleship is that we have an inadequate view of the church as a discipleship community.
Biblically, discipleship is never seen as a Jesus-and-me solo relationship, for the church is a discipleship community.
I am a part of the baby boomer generation, which has been in the forefront of propounding the gospel of self-fulfillment and self-actualization. The self is what counts. Is it any wonder that the parents of my generation have passed on this version of faith to their children?
Their summary label for the nature of adolescent spirituality is “moralistic therapeutic deism.”
“Moralistic Therapeutic Deism makes no pretense at changing lives; it is low commitment, compartmentalized set of attitudes aimed at ‘meeting my needs’ and ‘making me happy’ rather than bending my life in a pattern of love and obedience to God.”
No Clear Pathway to Maturity – The seventh cause of the low estate of discipleship is that most churches have no clear, public pathway to maturity.
So our motto was that we were “majoring in microgroups.” Starting there, we worked backwards, trying to envision how we could best move people from worship to midsize and small-group community on the way to the destination of microgroups.
Lack of Personal Discipling – The eighth and final cause of the low estate of discipleship, and likely the most telling, is that most Christians have never been personally discipled.
Here is my suggestion for the paradigm shift question: How can we grow Christians into self-initiating, reproducing, fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ? My answer is: The primary way people grow into self-initiating, reproducing, fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ is by being engaged in highly accountable, relational, multiplying discipleship units of three or four (microgroups).
The motivation and discipline will not ultimately occur through listening to sermons, sitting in a class, participating in a fellowship group, attending a study group in the workplace or being a member of a small group, but rather in the context of highly accountable, relationally transparent, truth-centered, small (three or four people) discipleship units. In my experience this is the optimum context for transformation.
When the results of our church ministries are so different from what Jesus commanded, we must stop and ask, Where have we gone wrong? If the picture I have painted is close to reality, it should cause us to shudder and weep. We must plead to the One who gave us our marching orders and ask, “Lord, how can we get back on track to making quality disciples, which you said is our mission?”
He said the Scripture is not only a message book but also a method book. In other words, the Scripture conveys not only the what but also the how.
Doing the Lord’s Work in the Lord’s Way – It is estimated that six to nine months into Jesus’ public ministry, he selected from a larger group of followers those who would move from the category of disciples to that of apostles.
This conjures up images of glassy-eyed, cult-like obedience to a personality-negating guru. A closer reading of the Gospels indicates that becoming part of Jesus’ inner circle progressed through stages. A. B. Bruce, in The Training of the Twelve, says that responding to Jesus’ selection to be a part of the inner group was the third of three stages in a process.
- The first stage is recorded in John’s Gospel. Most commentators view our introduction to the first disciples in John 1 as preceding the point where Matthew, Mark and Luke begin their Gospels.
- It is at the second stage that we pick up the story in Luke 6. Jesus has called together his team of disciples, from whom he is to select an inner core of twelve.
- The third stage moves each of the Twelve from the category of one among many disciples to a leadership role in Jesus’ intimate inner circle.This role is reserved for a chosen few. If stage one is “come and see” and stage two is “follow me,” then stage three is “come and be with me.”
Had Jesus whittled down the list to fifteen and was in a quandary as to which three to eliminate? Probably not. My best guess is that Jesus was not so much trying to settle on the right ones as he was praying that they would become the right ones.
The Strategic Question – Not only does Jesus’ all-night prayer raise the level of the strategic significance of the choosing of the Twelve, but so does the manner in which the selection was made. Luke tells us, “He called his disciples [together] and chose twelve of them” (Luke 6:13). In other words, from the larger group Jesus called publicly those who would be part of his inner circle.
Why would Jesus create an atmosphere that would foster jealousy on the part of those not chosen and potential pride in those who were? I hear objections from pastors who say they can’t choose a few to invest in because they will be accused of having favorites.
Jesus thought that investing in a few was so important that he made the selection process public, even at the risk of stirring up jealousy and pride. What was so important about having a few in his inner circle that Jesus was willing to risk the dynamics of jealousy? What were the strategic reasons behind this selection of the Twelve to be his intimate associates? Of the many valid reasons for Jesus’ investment in a few, two seem most directly related to Jesus’ goal of making self-initiating, reproducing, fully devoted followers: internalization and multiplication.
Internalization – The only way for Jesus to (1) help flawed and faithless common people grow into mature disciples and (2) make sure that his kingdom would transcend his earthly ministry was to have a core group who knew in-depth his person and mission.
Why not stake his future on his popularity? In fact, we see in Jesus a healthy and appropriate skepticism of the masses. Jesus was well aware of the crowd’s ignoble motives for following him. John gives an insight into Jesus’ understanding of human nature: “When he [Jesus] was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone” (John 2:23-25).
Yet Jesus knew that those who clamored to be near were fickle. As soon as the demands of discipleship were articulated, his fan club would dwindle. The very nature of a crowd is the ability to be lost in it. It costs nothing to be a part of the masses.
Someone in a crowd can be anything from a curious observer to a skeptic or bored pew sitter.
There are twin prerequisites for following Christ—cost and commitment, neither of which can occur in the anonymity of the masses.
In spite of Jesus’ clear strategy of calling people from the crowds and focusing on a few, we continue to rely on preaching and programs as the means to make disciples.
Preaching can be a solitary one. The worshiper tends to be an isolated, passive recipient of the preached word. Preaching at its best calls people to become a disciple by pointing people to disciple-making settings, such as reproducible, discipling relationships.
Jesus appeared to rely on two means to carry his life and mission forward: the Holy Spirit and the Twelve. His life was transferred to their lives by his Spirit and by his association with and investment in them.
Multiplication – With Jesus’ focus on the Twelve, one might conclude that he was unconcerned about the multitudes.
We think we need to put on events that draw crowds to reach the multitudes. We equate vision with the size of our audience. Jesus had vision of another sort. He had enough vision to think small.
The irony is that in our attempt to reach the masses through mass means we have failed to train people the masses could emulate.
By investing in a few, Jesus intended to transfer his life to others so they would participate in extending his redemptive life to the multitudes. Robert Coleman writes, “The initial objective of Jesus’ plan was to enlist men who could bear witness to his life and carry on His work after He returned to His father.”
George Martin takes Jesus’ strategy and challenges pastors to apply it to the way they think about ministry today: Perhaps today’s pastor should imagine that they are going to have three more years in their parish (church) as pastor—that there will be no replacement for them when they leave. If they acted as if this were going to happen, they would put the highest priority on selecting, motivating, and training lay leaders that could carry on as much as possible the mission of the parish after they left. The results of three sustained years of such an approach would be significant. Even revolutionary.
Their assignment is to rewrite the job descriptions of the paid staff, knowing that they had only three years left in their ministry and no one to replace them. I say, “Here’s your chance. You have always wanted to tell your pastors what to do.” The lay leaders’ responses are perceptive. They realize there must be a radical shift in priorities. There are many things their paid staff must cease doing if they are to leave behind self-initiating, reproducing, fully devoted followers of Jesus.
How can it be that someone could do greater works than the Son of God? The “greater works” were most likely a matter of quantity more than quality. By Jesus’ multiplication of himself in the Twelve, they would geographically cover far greater territory than he ever did in his limited itinerant ministry.
By focusing on a few, Jesus was not displaying indifference to the multitudes. Instead, Jesus had a different vision for reaching the masses than our approach through mass gatherings. Jesus had enough vision to think small. Robert Coleman captured Jesus’ methodology with the turn of a phrase: “Jesus’ concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes, but with men the multitudes would follow.”
The Absence of Intentional Discipling – Jesus focused on a few because that was the way to grow people and ensure transference of his heart and vision to them. This kind of relationship, however, has been lacking in many of our lives.
If making disciples is the mission of the church, why are churches generally not prepared to provide the nurturing environment that grows self-initiating, reproducing, fully devoted followers of Jesus?
They went from clueless to complete in three years. How did Jesus do that?
Internalization cannot happen through a mass transference to an audience but must occur in an interpersonal environment. True multiplication or reproduction is possible only when disciples so internalize the mission that they are motivated to pass it on to others.
As important as Jesus’ teaching was, his person became the vehicle for the transmission of his life to his disciples.
Acts 4:13 echoes Mark’s version of the call of the Twelve to be apostles: “And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him” (Mark 3:14). Being with Jesus in a relational setting served as the basis to shape the disciples’ character and instill Jesus’ mission in them.
Pre-Disciple (Inquiry) Stage – Before I outline the developmental stages Jesus brought the disciples through, it is important to acknowledge that a hard line must be crossed to enter into this growth process. There is no formation without submission.
Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard, in Situational Leadership, state that good leaders do two things. First, they have a readiness goal in mind for their followers. Second, they adjust their leadership style to the level of preparedness of an individual or group in order to progress toward the readiness goal. Hersey and Blanchard define readiness as “the ability and willingness of a person or group to take responsibility for directing their own behavior.”
Jesus acted as a master trainer. His life destiny was the cross. He was the man born to die. Yet converging on that moment would be the necessity of having his disciples prepared to carry on his mission after his resurrection and return to the Father. To get the disciples ready, Jesus played a series of important roles, commensurate with the disciples’ preparedness.
Developmental Stage One: Jesus, the Living Example – At this first stage of their development, the disciples needed to comprehend the nature of Jesus’ ministry and mission, and to ask the all-important question: Who is this person who says and does such phenomenal things?
Jesus stated this principle explicitly when he said, “A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher” (Luke 6:40). At the most basic level a disciple is simply a learner. The first level of learning is the desire to be like a model. Jesus is saying that discipleship training is not about information transfer, from head to head, but imitation, life to life.
The old expression is still quite true: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” The magnetic attraction of the life and ministry of Jesus became the focus of the disciples in this initial stage.
Developmental Stage Two: Jesus, the Provocative Teacher – It is fascinating to watch Jesus’ leadership style vary in relationship to the readiness of his followers. Jesus, though, was not just responding to the disciples’ readiness level. Jesus intentionally changed his leadership style in order to provoke the apostles to a new stage of readiness as well.
The notion of choosing to lay down one’s life became the occasion for Jesus to explain the cost of discipleship for any who would follow him.
There is a great training principle here. If we are to follow the model of Jesus, apprenticeship should be a part of all we do so that ministry can be multiplied.
Developmental Stage Three: Jesus, the Supportive Coach – In the third phase of Jesus’ preparatory model, Jesus acts as the supportive coach by sending the Twelve and the Seventy out on a short-term mission opportunity.
Matthew gives us the most detailed account of the mission Jesus sends the Twelve on: clear instructions, clear authority and clear expectations.
- Clear instructions. Matthew introduces the mission with this line: “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions” (Matthew 10:5).
- Clear authority. To be effective, authority must be delegated along with responsibility to accomplish a mission. Yet in the church, people often feel that they have been given a responsibility without authority.
- Clear expectations. After detailing the clear instructions and authority, Jesus also warned the disciples about what lay ahead (Matthew 10:16-42). He wove together the cost and privilege of discipleship.
What were the benefits for the disciples from the short-term mission?
- First, they gained confidence in the authority of Jesus.
- Second, they grew in competence. Ultimately, you can learn and develop only by doing.
- But third, the disciples also faced their shortcomings. When we get in over our heads, beyond our confidence and competence, we become open to learning.
Developmental Stage Four: Jesus, the Ultimate Delegator – Jesus staked his entire ministry on the preparation of the Twelve to carry on his mission after he returned to the Father. The time had come to send the disciples on their own mission of reproduction.
We are allowed to eavesdrop on Jesus’ final prayer before his rendezvous with death. What was on Jesus’ heart? Two things: he anticipated a reunion with his Father, and he prayed for the Twelve.
Then he makes the transitional mission statement, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18). His ministry has now become their ministry. Not only are they sent but they are also to reproduce. Jesus prays not only for these Twelve but also for those who would believe because of their witness (John 17:20).
Here is the challenge to all pastors and Christian leaders. Where are the men and women in whom we are multiplying ourselves so that the ministry carries on long after we have gone?
If we want to see the mark of our ministry be self-initiating, reproducing, fully devoted followers, we must adopt Jesus’ method of investing in a few as the foundation on which to build our ministry.
Whereas the terms make disciples and be a disciple dominate Jesus’ vocabulary and the historical account of the early church in Acts, they are nowhere to be found in Paul’s letters. In fact, Paul never speaks of having disciples!
His efforts were directed toward helping the church understand that Christians are “in Christ” and vice versa (Christ in you). This does not mean that the concept of discipleship is absent in Paul’s thought.
The Goal of Parenting – In a healthy family the goal of parents is to grow children into independent, responsible and caring adults who live independently.
Paul simply takes Jesus’ mission for the church and states it in his own words. “It is he [Jesus] whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me” (Colossians 1:28-29).
Paul uses a couple of images that describe the transformation or makeover that is to be a continuous lifestyle of apprentices of Christ. Makeover is an appropriate term because Paul speaks of undressing and redressing.
For Paul, the fully devoted, reproducing disciple is one who has grown to reflect the character of Jesus in his or her life. The goal of transformation is to remove all that reflects the old, sinful self, while the scent of Christ permeates the whole being from the inside out.
Developmental Stage One: Imitation (Infancy) – Paul combines his parental self-understanding with a call to the Corinthians to imitate his life. He views his relationship to them as a father to his “beloved children.”
In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul qualifies his previously unqualified admonition to imitate himself by adding, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” In other words, his converts were to imitate the evidence of Christ in him. Why doesn’t Paul simply say, “Imitate Christ”? Why does he place himself between Christ and the Corinthians? When I first read these exhortations to self-imitation, my thoughts were, Paul, how can you say such a thing? You arrogant so-and-so, how conceited can you be? But as my understanding of the ways God developed, I realized Paul was espousing good incarnational theology.
Developmental Stage Two: Identification (Childhood) – Loving parents tie their welfare and happiness to the welfare and happiness of their children (see image). In this regard Paul had the heart of a parent when it came to the welfare of his spiritual children.
Imitation becomes motivating through identification. “Identification is the process in which a person believes himself to be like another person in some respects, experiences the successes and defeats as his own, and consciously or unconsciously models his behavior after him.
Paul selects three verbs to describe the nature of his fatherly discipling relationship with the Thessalonians. Each of these words conveys a different motivational strategy that depends on the individual state of growth and disposition. “We dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging . . . encouraging . . . pleading.”
Developmental Stage Three: Exhortation (Adolescence) – The adolescent stage of discipleship is very much like the adolescent stage of a teenager (see image). During adolescence a critical issue is building confidence so that teens can blossom into their own persons.
Elton Trueblood proposed the image of player-coach as the best modern metaphor for the equipping pastor. “The glory of the coach is that of being the discoverer, the developer, and the trainer of the powers of other men. This is exactly what we mean when we use the Biblical terminology about the equipping ministry.”
Developmental Stage Four: Participation (Adulthood) – The goal of the discipling process is to arrive at maturity (see image). Regarding the goal of parenting, the Balswicks say: “God’s ideal is that children mature to the point where they and their parents empower each other.”12 Mutuality marks the stage of maturity. Parents get to the point where they can learn from their children.
Making people replicas of himself was not on Paul’s agenda. He did not see himself as the sage on the stage but the guide by the side. Paul’s missional model of discipleship conveyed that we are in partnership to take the gospel to those who desperately need to hear of the love of God. When mission predominates, partnership and mutuality mark the relationship between a leader and God’s people.
Summary of Jesus and Paul’s Model Jesus intentionally called a few to multiply himself in them. He intended his ministry to become the ministry of the Twelve and be the means by which he extended himself to the world. To prepare the Twelve, Jesus followed a situational leadership model, adjusting his leadership style to the readiness of his followers. As Jesus adjusted his leadership to match the readiness of the disciples, he also changed styles to provoke them to the next level of growth. Jesus shifted his roles from living example to provocative teacher to supportive coach and finally to ultimate delegator. Though Paul’s language and images differed, his goal and process mirrored the model of his Lord.
Why isn’t the model of disciple making clearly practiced by Jesus and Paul so commonplace and second nature that a book like this is unnecessary?
What are we missing? We seem to be missing the hinges. Hinges that allow a door to swing freely on the door frame and therefore to function the way it is designed to do. The frame in our analogy is the biblical vision just described in chapters three through five. The door is our ministry. But without hinges, the door merely leans against the frame and doesn’t accomplish its intended purpose. In order for our ministries and churches to grow reproducing disciple makers, three hinges need to be attached.
On the one hand, we want to grow as big of an audience as possible. Numbers are the game. It tells us whether we are being successful. In addition, the pastoral-care model creates an air of dependency. The pastoral staff does ministry, and the people are the recipients. Even if there is a concerted effort to gather people in educational communities and small groups, or send out occasional mission teams, the idea is still to grow people in Christ internally. People become end users. There is little to no expectation that they will adopt of lifestyle of discipling others.
So how do we turn the corner and create a culture of disciple making so that growing self-initiating, reproducing disciples is normative? We need to put three hinges in place to connect the frame to the door.
Disciples Are Made Through Relational Life Investment – Disciple making is not a six-week, ten-week or even a thirty-week program. Adding components that make a program more rigorous or time-consuming does not produce disciples.
How does the need for intentional disciple making usually make it onto our radar screen? Perhaps you can identify with one or more of the following scenarios:
- Recycling the saints. You begin to notice that your leadership pool is too small to fill the established leadership roles. So we use the same people time and again. It is like multiple tours of duty for soldiers. Can we keep wearing out the same folks? But who is in the pipeline? Is there even a pipeline?
- Empty ministry slots. A new ministry year is upon us and the scramble is on to find teachers to tackle the rambunctious sixth-grade class. Or perhaps we have reached the ceiling of ministry development. For example, all of our small groups are closed to new participants because we are not developing new leaders to form new groups.
- Tired of putting on the show. After ten years of weekend ministry production, you are exhausted. Meeting the ministry needs of consumer Christians is draining. And what do you really have to show for it besides a bigger audience, which only increases the pressure of producing a bigger and better show? And the more we have catered to consumer desires it seems the less transformation into Christlikeness we have seen. Whatever brings the issue into focus, you recognize that you have a discipleship-making deficit.
The Power of Personal Invitation – What distinguishes program from relationship? It starts with the way we issue the invitation. We have failed to appreciate the power of personal invitation to be with others on an intimate basis over time.
Jesus took the initiative to call his disciples to himself after spending the night in prayer; discipling relationships should be formed on the basis of a prayerful invitation by the one initiating the discipling relationship.
I am putting together a new group whose express purpose it is to help each of us become better followers of Christ. I would like to invite you to meet with me and at least one other person weekly for the purpose of becoming all that the Lord intends us to be. My role is to be on this journey with you. I need a group like this in my life as well. So in a sense I am doing it for me. As I was praying about this relationship, the Lord has put you on my heart. Would you be willing to prayerfully consider joining with me and one or two others as we grow together to become better disciples of Jesus?”
How does this approach differ from the usual church program? Instead of inviting people to a program or class for which they sign up, attend and complete their assignments, they are invited into a relationship of mutual love, transparency and accountability. Can you see how different this kind of invitation is?
First, discipling relationships are marked by intimacy, whereas programs tend to be focused on information. We can easily fall into thinking that transferring truth leads to transformation.
- Second, discipling relationships involve full, mutual responsibility of the participants, whereas programs have one or a few who do on behalf of the many. One of the main limitations of a program setting is the lack of responsibility of the participants. If the presenters have done all the preparation, what is required of those receiving the teaching?
- Third, discipling relationships are customized to the unique growth challenges of the individuals, whereas programs emphasize synchronization and regimentation. A program usually has a defined length. A person commits to ten weeks, and then is done. Churches often follow the academic calendar, beginning a program in September, when school starts, and completing it in June in time for summer vacation.
- Fourth, discipling relationships focus accountability on life change, whereas programs focus accountability on content. Growth into Christlikeness is the ultimate goal. The measure of accountability in programs tends to be observable behaviors such as memorizing Scripture, completing the required weekly reading and practicing spiritual disciplines.
The Attractiveness of Relationships – Invitations to programs seem impersonal. A program is something the church tries to get people to come to “for their own good.” An invitation to relationship, by contrast, is experienced differently. In an impersonal world, people hunger for intimacy, personal care, deep friendship and spiritual bonding.
Build Slowly, Build Solidly If we make relationship the priority, we will need to change from our shortcut approaches to making disciples. Underlying the programmatic mindset is a view that disciples can be made quickly. We are always looking for an instantaneous solution to our recruiting problems or growing people in Christ.
In the model I will propose, three or four people journey together for twelve to eighteen months while they grow toward maturity and are equipped to disciple others. As this relationship comes to a close, each person is challenged to invite two or three others into the same walk of faith and then reproduce, and so on.
Invest in those who will set the pace for the rest. At the same time, one’s leadership base is greatly expanded. Key leaders who are willing to assume responsibility for ministry or initiate new ministries come from this discipleship harvest. Most of us never see that kind of fruit because we do not have that kind of vision. We are too oriented to short-term results, and therefore we try to create shortcuts that don’t produce the growth we want.
Because we have not focused on the principle of building slowly, building solidly, we consistently serve churches of overgrown spiritual children.
Here is my working definition of discipling: “Discipling is an intentional relationship in which we walk alongside other disciples in order to encourage, equip and challenge one another in love to grow toward maturity in Christ. This includes equipping the disciple to teach others as well.”
Intentional relationship. At a most basic level, intentional means that the discipling partners will meet on a regular time schedule, preferably weekly.
Walk alongside other disciples. “Walk alongside” is carefully chosen to convey that this approach to disciple making is non-hierarchical. The intent is to create a mutual, egalitarian interchange, where life rubs up against life.
Three qualities characterize this reciprocal discipling relationship.
- First, in discipling relationships we encourage one another.
- Second, growing into Christlikeness involves equipping our daily lives with spiritual disciplines that place us in the presence of Christ’s shaping influence.
- Finally, in the context of a covenantal relationship, there will come times when our partners challenge us to follow through on commitments we have made, or strongly urge us to take risks.
In love. It is important to wrap all of what is done in love for those with whom we are on the journey. Love and trust are inseparable.
To grow toward maturity in Christ. The goal of a discipling relationship is to become whole, complete or mature in Christ.
Equipping the disciple to teach others. The ultimate goal is reproduction.
The expectation of reproduction needs to be implanted from the inception of the covenantal relationship. It then needs to be reinforced through extended time together. The biggest hurdle is moving people from receivers to givers.
The term discipleship was living. In the community of believers Jane saw the embodiment of discipleship through the love of the community for its leaders and for each other.
Trained by members of the inner circle. The leadership team was the inner circle. The leaders met every Wednesday evening for training and support in their ministry.
Long after you left. A discipling or training model has a much greater chance of outliving a primary leader than does one built around a leader’s personality.
Because of the model I learned. In establishing a ministry to families, Jane and her husband had decided to focus on “small, quality and long-term relationships.”
The fruit of your fruit. I have publicly and privately read this letter innumerable times in the last thirty years, and I never come to that line without a catch in my throat and moisture in my eyes. Even though I had no personal relationship with this young woman, she recognized that the discipling chain had passed through the generations and that she was in a sense my spiritual granddaughter.
Jane captures what has been the fatal flaw in ministry and a major cause for undiscipled believers: “how easy it is to give yourself out and spread too thin and not accomplish much.” This is the epitaph that could be written over the life of many a pastor or Christian leader.
David Platt states the relational challenge: Making disciples is not an easy process. It is trying. It is messy. It is slow, tedious, even painful at times. It is all these things because it is relational. Jesus has not given us an effortless step-by-step formula for impacting nations for his glory. He has given us people, and he has said, “Live for them. Love them, serve them, and lead them. Lead them to follow me, and lead them to lead others to follow me. In the process you will multiply the gospel to the ends of the earth.”
The paradigm shift question that has served as the driving force behind this book is, How can we grow self-initiating, reproducing, fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ? The most befuddling challenge contained in this question, and the conundrum few have solved, centers on reproducing. Perhaps an even greater challenge than growing fully devoted followers of Christ is growing fully devoted followers who reproduce. Multiplication is the key to fulfilling the Great Commission,
Gary Kuhne writes, “Discipleship training is the spiritual work of developing spiritual maturity and spiritual reproductiveness in the life of a Christian.”
I confess: figuring out how to grow reproducers was one of the great frustrations of my ministry.
For fifteen to twenty years I labored with a discipleship model that amply demonstrated the popular definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I thought what I needed to do was refine or improve the same thing I was doing. If I tried harder, prayed more regularly and streamlined my approach, the results would be different.
I was forced to ask some probing questions, which you too might be asking. Why don’t we see more reproduction? What obstacles get in the way? Is it a matter of a low commitment? Is it the fault of leaders who are afraid to ask for more? Have we succumbed to the comfort of Western consumerism, and therefore our Christianity is only about what God can do for us?
What are the barriers to reproduction? Why don’t our intentional discipleship models seem to produce multiplication?
The Usual Biblical Model (Paul and Timothy) – The biblical paradigm that usually serves as the basis for our understanding of discipling is Paul and Timothy’s relationship. These two are linked together as the prototypical unit. Preachers regularly urge every Paul to have a Timothy or even more commonly for every Timothy to seek out a Paul to be a mentor.
In linking Paul and Timothy as the biblical model, assumptions are made about what this kind of relationship should entail: older person with a younger person (like a parent-child relationship) more spiritually mature with less spiritually mature (usually associated with an age difference) teacher-student relationship (learned with the unlearned) more experienced with the less experienced (passing on distilled wisdom) one in authority over one under authority (hierarchical)
The Usual Model of Disciple Making – Because of the imprint of the Paul–Timothy model, we unquestioningly assume the one-on-one relationship as our reference point in discipling relationships.
- In the one-on-one relationship, the discipler carries the responsibility for the spiritual welfare of another. The discipler is like the mother bird who scavenges for worms to feed to her babies.
- The one-on-one relationship sets up a hierarchy that tends to result in dependency. As the line of authority is emphasized, an unspoken reliance is built that is difficult to overcome. Though the Timothies (people in the receiving position) might be appreciative, they will have difficulty seeing themselves in the giving position.
- One-on-one relationships limit the interchange or dialogue. I liken the one-on-one discourse to a Ping-Pong match. It is back and forth, with the discipler under pressure to keep the ball in play. The conversation must progress to some higher plane.
- One-on-one relationships create a one-model approach. The primary influence on a new disciple becomes a single person. This in itself can be limiting and tends to skew the development of the disciple.
- The one-on-one model typically does not reproduce. If the one-on-one model does reproduce, it is rare. Only self-confident, inwardly motivated persons can break the dependency and become self-initiating and reproducing.
I concluded that we have inadvertently held up a hierarchical model of discipling that is nontransferable.
As a result of my experience I propose a nonhierarchical model that views discipling as a mutual process of peer mentoring. In order to avoid the dependency trap, the relationship needs to be seen as side by side rather than one person having authority over another.
The Alternative Biblical Model – A biblical alternative to the Paul–Timothy model will serve as the basis for a side-by-side relational approach to disciple making.
The point of the shift from Paul–Timothy to Barnabas–Paul as the biblical model for disciple making is the need to change from a hierarchical approach, which creates dependency, to a peer mentoring model, which has much more promise of empowering multiplication.
The qualities in his life, not the credentials he held, made his life worth imitating.
The Alternative Model of Disciple Making – As the alternative to the one-on-one model, I propose triads (3) or quads (4), which I have been calling microgroups, as the ideal size for a disciple-making group.
Here is my best take on why microgroups are energizing, joy-filled and reproductive.
- There is a shift from unnatural pressure to natural participation of the discipler. When a third person is added to a discipling relationship, there is a change from the discipler as focal point to a group process.
- There is a shift from hierarchical to relational. The microgroup naturally creates a come-alongside mutual journey. The focus is not so much on the discipler as it is on Christ as the one all are directing their lives toward.
- There is a shift from dialogue to dynamic interchange. In my initial experiment with triads, I often came away from those times saying to myself, What made that interchange so alive and dynamic? The presence of the Holy Spirit seemed palpable. When we add a third party, the number of possible interplays of communication increases to ten. Each of the three persons has two relationships (2 x 3 = 6); then each person has a relationship with the other two as a pair (1 x 3 = 3), thus making nine possible configurations.
- There is a shift from limited input to wisdom in numbers. The book of Proverbs speaks of the wisdom that comes from many counselors (Proverbs 15:22). To this end I have often found it life-giving to have people at varied maturity levels. Often those who may be perceived as younger or less mature in the faith provide great wisdom or a fresh spark of life.
- There is a shift from addition to multiplication. For the better part of three decades, I have observed a significant reproduction rate (approximately two-thirds) through the triad model of disciple making.
What people are usually alluding to is some form of mentoring. Three types of mentoring relationships are quite common and work best in the one-on-one setting: Spiritual guide or director. “Spiritual director” has become associated with a trained individual who has the skills and spiritual sensitivity to assist a directee to discern what and how the Holy Spirit is working in a person’s life. Coach. The role of the coach is to ask powerful, clarifying questions that force the one being coached to reach deep inside to find empowering answers. Sponsor. A sponsor generally has positional or spiritual authority within an organization who can provide the resources to develop a mentee’s rising influence.
One of the goals of a discipling ministry is to grow an expanding network of people who have adopted a lifelong lifestyle of discipling others. The last of five elements in the Discipleship Essentials covenant, which the participants commits to, is “to continue the discipling chain by committing myself to invest in at least two other people for the year following the completion of Discipleship Essentials.”
the program and then asks, “What’s next?” What’s next for multipliers is to look for others they can walk alongside in order to assist them in becoming links to the next generation.
Starry-eyed dreamer Trevor McKinney takes the assignment seriously. He comes up with the scheme that challenges each person to do something significant for three others who couldn’t do it themselves. In turn, each of the three recipients, instead of trying to pay back the favor, would turn around and find three others and pay it forward instead.
Without question, the setting where I have experienced the most accelerated transformation in the lives of believers has been in small, reproducible discipleship groups I have labeled microgroups. I call them “hothouses of Holy Spirit.” Hothouses are heated enclosures that create the right environmental conditions for living things to grow at a rate greater than under natural circumstances.
A microgroup is the optimum setting for the convergence of four environmental conditions that create the hothouse effect: 1.transparent trust 2.the truth of God’s Word in community 3.life-change accountability 4.engaged in our God-given mission
In a narrative form, this reads: When we (1) open our hearts in transparent trust to each other (2) around the truth of God’s Word (3) in the spirit of life-change accountability (4) while engaged in our God-given mission, we are in the Holy Spirit’s hothouse of transformation.
Climatic Condition 1: Transparent Trust – We return to the fundamental truth that has been the subtheme in this book: Intimate, accountable relationships with other believers is the foundation for growing in discipleship.
Why is transparent trust a key ingredient for continual transformation? Here is the guiding principle: The extent we are willing to reveal to others those areas of our life that need God’s transforming touch is the extent to which we are inviting the Holy Spirit to make us new.
Trustworthy. Transparency in our relationships grows in a trustworthy environment.
Trust is not a given but must be earned.
What builds trustworthiness?
- Trust keeps confidences.
- Trust is full of grace.
- Trust listens.
- Trust is rooted in humility.
Levels of communication. Another way to picture the self-disclosure we are seeking is through the levels of communication.
- Cliché conversation. This is superficial chitchat that focuses on safe topics like the weather, sporting events, local happenings, etc.
- Sharing of information and facts. Talk consists of events, ideas and data, but not really anything personal.
- Sharing ideas and opinions. We are finally entering risky territory because our ideas and opinions can be countered.
- Sharing of feelings. When we share joy and sorrow, gratitude and anger, hope or depression, we are making ourselves vulnerable.
- Peak communication. Openness, transparency, self-disclosure. We are known for who we truly are rather than an image we would like to project.
Stages of trust development. What are some stages or layers of trust development that we must go through to get us to relational transparency? We can compare growing a trustworthy environment to wading into deeper waters.
Affirmation through encouragement (sticking our toe in the water). When a microgroup first convenes, we experience anxiety.
As Chris evidenced, in a world that does a much better job of beating us up than building us up, we are starved for honest and meaningful affirmation.
Walking with one another in difficult times (water up to our waist). When we enter a covenantal relationship where we will stay together for a year or longer, we will have the opportunity to address life’s highs and lows.
I have been in the trenches with men struggling through long-term unemployment, shaky marriages, runaway children, immanent home foreclosures, various kinds of addictions or life-threatening illnesses, major changes in vocations and the like. Paul instructs us, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
Being carried by the faith of others is often the way to learn to trust God. I have regularly said to people whose lives have come crashing down, “Let my faith carry you for a while. Some day you will be in a position to return the favor.”
Being reflective listeners (water up to our shoulders). Nothing builds trust like deep listening. Think of those who have a reputation in your life of being good listeners.
Confessing our sins to one another (water over our heads). The deep end of the pool of transparent trust is the water of mutual confession of sin and addiction. To get to the deep end we must go through the shallower waters of encouragement, support through life’s difficulties and prayerful listening. Only then are we likely to confess our besetting sins to one another.
Until we get to the point where we can articulate to another those things that have a hold on us, we will live under the tyranny of our suppressed darkness.
What is the connection between confession and freedom? Bringing the shame of our guilt into the light before trusted members of the body of Christ can have a liberating effect.
Once something is admitted before others, it begins to lose its power to control. Sin flourishes in the darkness, but its power dissipates in the light.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer captures the power of confession in his classic Life Together. In confession the break-through to community takes place. Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation. . . . In confession the light of the Gospel breaks into the darkness and seclusion of the heart. . . . Since the confession of sin is made in the presence of a Christian brother, the last stronghold of self-justification is abandoned.
Climatic Condition 2: The Truth of God’s Word in Community – The second climatic condition necessary to produce the “hothouse of the Holy Spirit” is the application of the truth of God’s Word in a relational environment. You might be wondering why the truth
Yet with all the Bible studies there appears to be limited life transformation. So many Bible studies seem to focus on increased information without life application.
This application of the Word to life is what I call truth in community.
The first characteristic Paul mentions is that Scripture is useful for “teaching.” Some would translate teaching as “doctrine.” I would call it simply reality from God’s perspective. A generation ago two Christian prophets, Elton Trueblood and Francis Schaeffer, predicted that we were one generation away from losing the memory of the Christian faith in our culture. They said that we were a “cut flower” society, meaning that the Judeo-Christian foundation had been severed from its root. It would only take time for the flower to droop. We are that generation.
This woman’s lack of faith integration seems to be the norm, not the exception. Throughout our Christian journey it is as if we have accumulated puzzle pieces that we have thrown into a box. We accrue tidbits of truth through sermons, reading, devotional resources, wisdom from fellow believers and Bible studies. These puzzle pieces are jumbled together, but not assembled into a comprehensive whole.
Climatic Condition 3: Life-Change Accountability – The third environmental element that contributes to creating the right climatic conditions for accelerated growth is life-change accountability. In other words, the relationship between those on the discipleship journey is covenantal.
But here is the rub. Willingly giving others authority to hold us accountable is for most Americans a violation of what we hold most dear—our freedom. This may be the most countercultural commitment people make to be a part of a microgroup.
But there is also a dark side to freedom. Our version of freedom stresses freedom from obligation. It was summed up by Robert Bellah in his book Habits of the Heart with this sentence: “I want to do, what I want to do, when I want to do it and nobody better tell me otherwise.”
Why a covenant?
- First, a covenant, complete with clear standards of mutual submission, empowers the leader of the triad to carry out his or her primary role: to be the keeper of the covenant.
- Second, covenantal standards raise the level of intensity by setting high the bar of discipleship. One of the failings in the church is that we do not ask people to step up to what Jesus asked.
- Third, with a covenantal arrangement we invite our partners to hold us accountable. Positive peer pressure leads us to follow through.
- Fourth, a clear covenant at the outset forces a prospective member of a microgroup to assess whether he or she has what it takes to be in a discipling relationship.
The following illustration of a covenant of mutual accountability is taken from Discipleship Essentials. As I am inviting someone into a discipleship triad I talk through this covenant with him or her.
- Complete all assignments on a weekly basis prior to my discipleship appointment in order to contribute fully.
- Meet weekly with my discipleship partners for approximately one and one-half hours to dialogue over the content of the assignments.
- Offer myself fully to the Lord with the anticipation that I am entering a time of accelerated transformation during this discipleship period.
- Contribute to a climate of honesty, trust and personal vulnerability in a spirit of mutual upbuilding.
- Give serious consideration to continuing the discipling chain by committing myself to invest in at least two other people for the year following the initial completion of Discipleship Essentials.
Climatic Condition 4: Engaged in Our God-Designed Mission – The final condition for transformation is to be engaged in our God-given mission. In other words, microgroups are not holy huddles. Though these groups are designed to be safe environments internally so we can “let it all hang out,” they are meant to be springboards from which we are sent to serve Christ in all dimensions of our lives.
I had assumed that if we focus on the first three conditions, then mission or service will be the natural outgrowth. But this would be like eating a sumptuous meal and then being asked to exercise. Resistance is the natural response. But if we reverse this pattern and exercise first, there is increased appetite and hunger.
So the healthy regimen for growth is this: exercise is mission, healthy diet is the Word and accountability to obey it, and rest is the trust of relational transparency.
The classic cult movie The Blues Brothers is the story of a couple of ex-convicts and wanna-be-musicians who were trying to raise money for an orphanage. Whenever they were asked about their work, they had a standard response: “We’re on a mission from God.”
We are called together to share the good news of Jesus through our relational network:
We are called together to “go make disciples of all nations.” Jesus’ disciples are “world Christians.”
We are called to assist each other in finding the particular God-designed mission each of us is uniquely fitted for. We were all made for a particular purpose.
The Discipleship Difference What sets the microgroup apart from other relationships that contribute to maturity? Why does this context more than others create an accelerated environment for growth? Table 8.1 shows it best.
The hinge that connects the door to the doorframe is a practical strategy. The necessary elements in a church-based strategy to make reproducing disciples are to establish a relational disciple-making process that is rooted in a reproducible model (triads or quads) that brings together the transformative elements of life change.
PRACTICALITIES OF DISCIPLE MAKING – Have you ever had the nagging feeling that there is something in your life you are supposed to do, but you don’t have a model or picture in your mind of what to do? We know that we are to leave a legacy of changed lives. Yet it remains an unattainable ideal because we don’t have a practical strategy to make it a reality.
Our agenda in this chapter is to address the following practical questions: What is a workable disciple-making model? Who should we invite into the discipling process? How do we get started? How can we grow a multigenerational network of disciples? How do we keep up the motivation for multiplication through the generations?
Here is how it works:
- Invest in a relationship with two or three others for a year, give or take. Meet weekly for approximately ninety minutes.
- Then multiply. Each person invites two or three others for the next leg of the journey and does it all again. Same content, different relationships. People have asked me, “Won’t this get boring covering the same content repeatedly?” My standard reply from experience is a resounding no! Why? The relational dynamics are always different, and this difference keeps the process interesting.
Who Is Invited? You are ready to take the plunge and experiment with a discipleship microgroup. But how do you discern whom you should approach? Remember that a distinguishing dynamic of a discipling relationship that varies from other mentoring relationships is that the discipler issues the call.
Jesus did not seem to be in a hurry to name the Twelve. Perhaps six to nine months transpired from the commencement of his public ministry until he publicly identified those who would be his apostles.
What were the qualities Jesus looked for in those he called, and how do these qualities serve as a guide for us? I would propose two primary qualities as determinative: loyalty and teachability.
Though we may not be called away from our places of employment and families on an itinerant, apostolic ministry, Jesus still seeks followers who value him above all else.
Teachability. Jesus chose the disciples for who they would become, not for who they were at the time of their call.
Jesus’ thought was Give me teachable, loyal people, and watch me change the world. There is almost the sense that the less a person has invested in the world, the more available he or she would be to Jesus.
By contrast, the most self-assured, outgoing, attractive person may not be willing to pay the price of discipleship. Though it is tempting to place the charismatic personalities front and center and though they may receive the accolades of the crowd, behind the scenes they might not be willing to discipline themselves as leaders.
Teachability is a hunger to learn and the humility to not care who you learn it from.
The first step in creating a reproducible discipleship group is to find the right people. The right people are marked by a willingness to be loyal to Jesus and have a teachable spirit. Simply ask the Lord to lay on your heart those he is already working on.
How to Start – The following step-by-step guide can serve as a blueprint to follow when you are ready to approach people with the invitation to discipleship.
- Make the invitation. State that as a result of prayer you feel drawn to invite the person to join you in a mutual journey of discipleship toward maturity in Christ.
- Review the discipleship curriculum. Walk through the table of contents and the layout of one of the lessons so that the disciple gets a sense for what is involved. I would also stress the fact that discipling is not about completing a lesson in a workbook.
- Review the covenant line by line. Review “A Disciple’s Covenant” from page 14 of Discipleship Essentials (or whatever covenant you may be using as a basis for accountability). It is imperative that the disciple has the opportunity to ponder the extent of commitment involved in the relationship.
- Ask the person to prayerfully consider this relationship over the next week. Do not seek or allow an immediate response to the invitation to join a microgroup.
- Inform the person that a third or fourth person will be joining you in the microgroup. If you have not settled on or do not already have a third or fourth person in mind, enlist this person’s support in helping discern who that person (or persons) should be.
- Set the meeting time of your first gathering. At the first meeting of the discipleship group, ask each person, yourself included, to share the process he or she went through in making the commitment to this group.
- Guide the participants through the sessions. In an hour and a half session I would allow about thirty minutes for personal sharing, follow-up from previous sessions, mutual enjoyment of what is happening in each other’s lives, and prayer.
- The convener of the triad completes all the lessons and models initial leadership. The convener also fully participates in the discussions with his or her insights as one of the participating members of the group. The primary role of the leader is to guide the opening sharing and walk the group through the lesson material that is already laid out.
- The discipler models transparency. The group will probably go as deep personally as, or take risks to the extent that, they see the leader doing.
Almost everything I say in this section will put the brakes on our attempt to speed up the process of replication.
Start with one triad. My advice to those who are just starting to experience the dynamics of this type of discipleship relationship is to take a year and “just do it” (my apologies to Nike).
A multigenerational network of discipleship may seem to have meager beginnings if it starts with one discipleship microgroup. But you have to begin somewhere and get beyond the need to have a big splash that will lead to instantaneous change. Quick fixes have led to the discipleship morass we are in.
A generation ago Leroy Eims asked, “What then is the problem today? Why don’t we see more of this [disciple making] going on? Why are fruitful, dedicated mature disciples so rare? The biggest reason is that all too often we have relied on programs or materials or some other thing to do the job. The ministry is carried on by people, not programs.”
Have a long-term vision. Jesus went about his ministry with a relaxed urgency. He never seemed to be in a hurry but always kept his eye laser focused on the destination.
How long do you have left in your present ministry? Will you be there three years, five years, seven years or longer? What do you want to leave behind?
Start building a network of disciple making. Fight every impulse in your being that says, “We must see results by next month (or even in the next six months).” Intentionally growing people takes time.
Expecting that these women would storm the locker room door in order to take their places on the playing field, I was thoroughly deflated by their response. “Coach,” they said, “we hate to tell you, but before we can play the game, we need to know the fundamentals. We have never experienced the kind of relationship you are describing. How can you expect us to lead people through something that we have never experienced? Why don’t you slow down? Instead, you take two of us through what you have in mind. Lay a solid foundations for their lives and build from there.”
As I said before, it takes less than 20 percent of a congregation to set the pace for the rest.
I can hear it now. “Five years! I don’t have five years!” Are you going to be there five years from now? Then what do you want to leave behind? If you are a pastor reading this book, do you want to measure your ministry by the number of sermons preached, worship services designed, homes visited, hospital calls made, counseling sessions held, or the number of self-initiating, reproducing, fully devoted followers of Jesus? I reiterate, the church is in its present predicament because we do not have enough leaders who have the vision to think small.
Select carefully and wisely. The key element in growing a multigenerational network of disciple making is to start with the right people.
- I would begin with the most well-grounded and respected followers of Jesus in your community. In addition, they should be stable members of your community. In other words, look for people who have a good chance of staying around for a while.
- Second, their reputations, for all the right reasons, will give credibility to this new discipling adventure.
- Third, you want to ensure, as much as you can, a return on your investment.
The previous paragraph was written primarily for those who are attempting to lead a church through renewal. For those who are in a setting where more people are coming to Christ than you can keep up with, you have another challenge. You cannot wait five years; you will be committing spiritual infanticide if you do.
In five to seven years you will have produced enough disciplers for all the new converts, but in the meantime you must settle for larger nurturing fellowship groups.
Under this heading of selecting carefully and wisely, it is appropriate to identify my failings. The mistakes I have made have usually occurred when others have approached me and asked if I would disciple them or if they could be in one of my microgroups.
Here is the real issue. What is the motive for wanting to be in a discipling relationship? Is it primarily to grow into Christlikeness, or is there a hidden agenda?
Is there any sure way to know the heart of the person you are inviting to join you on this journey? None that I know of. But be appropriately cautious with those who seek to spend time with you. If you are a pastor or a prominent figure in the Christian community, you already know that people might vicariously gain a sense of self-importance through association. This is not the fertile soil out of which a disciple is made.
Keeping the Motivation for Multiplication – Once the discipling network begins to multiply, a concern will naturally arise. How do you keep putting energy into the system once it moves away from the center of vision? To start anything of significance there must be a visionary who is energized to see it become a reality. This is true of discipling.
In other words, how do you pastor a decentralized ministry? One of the temptations to avoid is to solve this problem by turning discipling into a program and thereby killing this self-reproducing organism.
I wanted the hunger and intrigue to build. I avoided making this ministry into a program we had to sustain by building an administrative superstructure. The genius behind microgroups is that we can start them without having to run a gauntlet of committees and thereby having the idea talked to death by people who do not have a heart for what we are trying to accomplish.
Periodically call together the discipling network as a whole for sharing, motivation and instruction. Occasionally we invited all the current participants in the microgroups together to cross-pollinate.
Invite a guest speaker. A variation is to invite a speaker who is committed to disciple making and can speak with passion.
Meet with discipling leaders in groups of three or four. In between the larger group motivational settings, it is fruitful to bring together three or four microgroup conveners to process their experience together.
Meet with those in the last third of their triad.
Discipleship Essentials has a trigger point built into the curriculum where the participants are to begin praying about and selecting those who will join them in the next leg of the journey.
Publish a discipleship newsletter. I would encourage you to create an electronic publication that is sent out on a regular basis to all those in the discipling network.
The American team had arrogantly relied on their inherent speed and failed to sufficiently practice the handoff, which is so crucial for the completion of the race. “Every Christian must look on himself as a link between two generations,” writes William Barclay. We need to practice the handoff.
When all else fails, read the directions. It is not that Jesus’ way has been tried and found wanting; it has been largely talked about but not implemented.
THE ROLE OF PREACHING IN MAKING DISCIPLES – You might be asking yourself, If disciple making is fundamentally a relational process, what is the role of preaching in making reproducing disciples of Jesus? Or, What are the contributions and limitations of preaching in making disciples of Jesus?
Let me start provocatively: if we could make disciples by preaching to people, the job would have been done a long time ago.
Let’s acknowledge the place that preaching generally has in the life of most congregations. The following are signs of the importance we place on preaching.
- When a church is looking for a new pastor, what is the number one item on people’s minds? The quality and power of the pastor’s preaching.
- What is the proposed first solution to address a deficit identified in the church?
The Limitations of Preaching – So from the outset let’s acknowledge the limitations of preaching when it comes to making disciples, or why it takes more than preaching to make disciples.
1. Preaching requires little from the listener. Good preaching requires considerable effort on the part of the preacher but very little from the person in the pew.
2. Preaching is often unprocessed. Preaching often does not come with a context to engage what has been heard. In what setting does the listener wrestle with the preached word so that it personally is applied as God’s Word for their life?
Rarely do we have the opportunity to hear how others are taking in the truth and applying it to their lives.
Here was my bottom-line observation: Unprocessed preaching can be toxic to one’s spirit, or at the very least it can create a resistance or hardening. Unless we have a way to stay with and absorb the preached word, we can too easily close our hearts to its impact.
3. Preaching can be information download. In the evangelical world the Word is central. Some church traditions believe that expositional preaching through books of the Bible is all that is needed for transformation. In other words, we tend to equate information with transformation.
To the extent that this ends with privatized application, we have eliminated the “iron sharpens iron” relational component, which is essential for discipleship.
4. Preaching was not Jesus’ primary means of making disciples. Not even Jesus believed he could make disciples by teaching them in groups.
Obviously, throughout this book I have emphasized the need to shift to a relational setting as the formative context to make disciples. However, preaching contributes significantly to the disciple-making environment in the life of a church.
Preaching Declares the Good News of the Gospel – The gospel rightly proclaimed should yield disciples. And yet there appears to be some defect in our message, because there is considerable confusion as to what we mean by disciple. A false distinction, often unspoken, has arisen in our time: that a person can be a Christian without being a disciple.
A woman said to her pastor following worship one Sunday, apparently in response to his challenge to be a disciple, “I just want to be a Christian, I don’t want to be a disciple. I like my life the way it is. I believe that Jesus died for my sins, and I will be with him when I die. Why do I have to be a disciple?” One of the major tasks of preaching is to answer this woman’s question. Several assumptions need to be corrected if we are going to make disciples.
- First, she evidently believes that being a Christian and being a disciple are two different things. She could be one without the other.
- Second, she has reduced the gospel to two things: (1) Jesus had dealt with her sin through his sacrificial death, and (2) this provided life forever with him. In her mind the gospel has no integral connection with being a disciple. It was all about the benefits she had freely received, which came with no obligation.
- Third, being a disciple, whatever that meant to her, would disturb her current satisfying way of life.
- Fourth, her question, “Why do I have to be a disciple?” seems to convey almost dismissively that she has not and does not need to explore the answer to her own question.
To paraphrase Dallas Willard, she concluded this not in spite of what we have been preaching but precisely because of what we have been preaching.
A nondiscipleship gospel. The popular version of our contemporary gospel is designed to produce Christians, as commonly understood, not disciples.
Presently, the good news is largely framed in terms of receiving the benefits that Christ has purchased on the cross. Scot McKnight has demonstrated conclusively in his book The King Jesus Gospel that we have come to equate the gospel with the “plan of salvation.” It is usually summarized in four points: God loves you. You messed up. Jesus died for you. Accept Jesus into your heart.
This is the sum total of being a Christian for many people, which is distinguished from being a disciple. Christians are those who have had their sins forgiven because they have put their trust in Christ’s substitutionary work on the cross, which then opens the door to an eternal future with Jesus. This directly leads to the woman’s question: Why do I have to be a disciple? Nothing in this benefits package even hints at discipleship as either a natural consequence or a necessity.
A discipleship gospel. The role of preaching in disciple making is to proclaim a gospel that actually leads to discipleship.
Mark boils down almost in bullet form the four tenets (ironically) that were at the heart of Jesus’ gospel: The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God is near. Repent. Believe the good news.
The time is fulfilled or has come. In the Message Eugene Peterson captures the moment simply, “Time’s up!”
The Greek word Jesus chooses for time is kairos as opposed to chronos. When we ask, “What time is it?” we are speaking of chronos. This is ticktock time. One moment is the same as the next. In contrast, kairos is opportunity time, a defining moment whose importance is not to be missed.
The kingdom of God is near. What is so earth-shattering, Jesus?
In other words, the setting for Jesus’ gospel is the kingdom of God. Notice how different this is from the transactional gospel!
The Jewish people actually believed history was going somewhere; it had a destination, as opposed to meaningless repetitious cycles (summer, fall, winter, spring; birth, life, death, rebirth) of pagan cultures. The people of Israel believed in a sovereign God who divided time into two major eras: this age followed by the age to come.
Even saying “the kingdom of God is at hand” was deliciously ambiguous about the nature of this kingdom. For at hand can simultaneously mean “has arrived” or “is near,” or “has come” or “is still to come.” Which is it? Both. This is why theologians have spoken of the kingdom of God as “already, but not yet.”
In other words, the kingdom of God is a secret government that transcends geographic and political boundaries. It is truly a kingdom without borders.
Repent. What is the entryway into the kingdom of God? Jesus says, “Here comes the kingdom of God, repent and believe the good news.” King Jesus stands in our path and says, “You have a choice to make. I am creating a crisis for you, the crisis of opportunity, because ultimately it is good news.”
Repentance is Jesus’ exclamation point. “Time’s up! Wake up!” It is as if Jesus is saying, “Quit sleepwalking through life!” It is a jarring word and is meant to be so.
Believe the good news. Jesus concludes his presentation of the gospel with “believe the good news.” The good news is that we have wondrous new standing with God through Christ.
Yet in our simplistic understanding of salvation we have tended to trivialize the gospel into easy believism. John Ortberg says that in the tradition in which he grew up, people often asked each other, “Have you trusted Christ?” This was code language for “Have you prayed the prayer? Do you believe in an arrangement that has been made for you to get you into heaven when you die?”
We need to live the good news, which is the kingdom of God. Put your trust in, lean into, place your weight on King Jesus. James Dunn sums it up, “So when Jesus called for belief we can be confident that he had in mind not simply assent in the form of words, or passive expression of trust, but a reliance on God which would become the basis and motivating center for all conduct and relationship.”
Conclusion. Can someone be a Christian without being a disciple? Or can we just use Jesus to get into heaven when we die but not live for him during our earthly days? That whole concept is foreign to the New Testament. For Jesus, Paul and Peter there was not a sliver of daylight between being a Christian and a disciple.
Core commitments of disciples. So what are we preachers calling people to be and do in response to the good news? What do the beginning stages of discipleship look like for those who are entering the kingdom of God?
Disciples join Jesus’ life. A Christian is “in Christ” and has “Christ in” him or her. Jesus says that we are like branches attached to the vine life flows from (John 15:1-8).
Disciples join Jesus’ community. Being engrafted means in part to become an integral part of the body of Christ. The New Testament knows nothing about individual or solo salvation.
Disciples join Jesus’ mission. Simply put, Jesus’ mission is to make disciples. This means that we have to see our identity—in all we are and do—through the lens of being a disciple of Jesus. In other words, our vocation or calling, which undergirds every role we have in life, is to see ourselves as a Jesus follower.
Preach the Terms of Discipleship – This leads us back to the woman’s question: “Why do I have to be a disciple?”
In other words we have to name the elephant in the room. First, we will note that there are only three times that the word Christian appears in the New Testament.
We read in Acts 11:26, “It was in Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians.’”
The second use of Christian appears in Acts 26:28 in response to the apostle Paul’s defense of his faith before King Agrippa II, “Do you think in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” (NIV).
The final use of Christian is in the context of being a part of a persecuted minority. “If any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name” (1 Peter 4:16).
From this brief survey we can see that biblically there is no difference between Christian and disciple. It is a distinction we have created to accommodate a cheap-grace theology.
The New Testament is a book about discipleship and spiritual formation. In the first five books of the New Testament there are 268 references to disciple(s).
Our call as preachers is to lay out the cost and the contrast of discipleship. In The Cost of Discipleship Dietrich Bonhoeffer said we have succumbed to cheap grace, which I have associated with the term Christian, as it is commonly used. Costly grace, because of the price Jesus paid, is biblical discipleship. Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a person, he bids him come and die.”
Preach Discipleship to Preach for Decisions – Repent is a crisis word. It requires a transformation of our thinking. People are called to take the journey of discipleship by getting out of the anonymity of the crowd.
The Christian faith is not a spectator sport.
Preachers in disciple-making churches need to see themselves as more than careful expositors of God’s Word, as important as that is. They are the vision casters for disciple making, which is backed up with their life investments as personal disciple makers.
Preaching sets the tone for discipleship. Pastors have both the high calling and distinct privilege of wrestling with the ultimate loyalties of God’s people. Preaching is not for the faint of heart, because we will be unmasking idols, messing with people’s priorities, and calling parents to be model disciplers of their children, even while we are on the journey with them.
If the mission of the church is to make disciples who reproduce, then the congregation should sense that this conviction oozes from every pore of the preacher. If you believe it, so will God’s people. The faithful preacher puts before the people the terms of Jesus’ call as Jesus stated it. It becomes clear that you can’t be a Christian without being a disciple.
Should the genders be kept separate or mixed in a discipleship relationship? Some people might argue that true relational maturity ultimately is the ability of the sexes to understand their differences, but I would argue that in the intimacy of a microgroup it is best to have same-sex groups.
Why is a triad or quad the right size for a discipleship group? Why is a group of ten not as effective? I identified four ingredients that converge to make for the transformational environment: relational transparency, the truth of God’s Word, life-change accountability, and engaged in our God-given mission. The small group maximizes the interactive nature of these three ingredients. More people water down the impact of these four elements.
What does the leader do if a participant is not following through on the covenant? One of the reasons for and necessities of a covenant is to empower the leader. Without an explicit covenant the leader has no means for accountability.
In Discipleship Essentials there are two built-in opportunities to review and renew the covenant. This process is laid out so that the participants self-assess.
How can we encourage those who are lagging in some aspect of preparation? This is where the leader can be a model and a coach. For example, I often hear complaints about how difficult it is to memorize Scripture.
Is it necessary that church leaders be on board for a discipleship network to be successful? If the long-term desire is to have a culture-shaping effect on the life of a church or ministry, the leaders must share the philosophy and lifestyle approach to discipling.
What if church leaders have a different approach or structure in place? Some ministry approaches are antithetical to each other and therefore cannot coexist. This leads us back to the underlying values and philosophy of ministry. Fundamentally, microgroups are based on a belief that there are three necessary ingredients that make for transformation. Microgroups are a means to this deeper end.
How do microgroups fit into the broader structure of small group ministry? Perhaps the best way to address this question is to consider the various kinds of spaces needed for gathering in a church.
Joseph Myers shares a helpful scheme as a prism through which to look at the points of connection. He says that it is helpful for a church to have the following spaces: public, social, personal and intimate.
In other words, different size groups serve different purposes. It is important to be clear about what purpose a group serves and where it fits into our attempts to shape people’s lives.
What is the relationship between intentional disciple making and a perceived leadership deficit? The lack of prepared leaders is experienced in most congregational settings. I rarely hear that a church has an overabundance of leaders. Yet, I like to say, “We don’t have a leadership deficit, we have a disciple-making deficit.” I believe that our leadership problem would take care of itself if disciple making became our priority. Just as we say, “Disciples are made, not born,” so it is with leaders.
My suggestion is to emphasize a growing network of disciple making. Over time this becomes the farm system from which to recruit and groom future leaders.
Discipleship Must Be a Commitment – Shared by All Core Leadership If a church is going to become a disciple-making congregation and build a culture of discipleship, it must be the lifestyle of the core leadership, starting with the senior or lead pastor. When making disciples is the mission of a church, we must ask, How are we doing this at XYZ church?
To define a church culture—the way you live together—requires a shared approach, which is a clear trumpet call. If you permit multiple ways of making disciples or allow each staff person or other key leaders to adopt their own approach, there is little chance that the mission of disciple making will become a reality.
Making Disciples Is a Prerequisite for Key Leadership Roles – If disciple making is the mission of your church, it follows that the leaders will be products of and investors in the disciple-making process. A natural byproduct of a growing disciple-making network is that you are creating your farm system for future leaders.
Not all disciples are leaders, but all leaders had better be disciples and disciple makers.
Emphasize Repeatedly the Value of Reproduction – Perhaps the hardest value to keep in the forefront is that everyone in a microgroup is being groomed to disciple others. Rick Warren has warned us that we need to restate a vision every twenty-six days.1 We have vision leak.
As long as people hold on to the consumer identity, they have not adopted the mission of Jesus. So the value of reproduction must be reinforced every time we “review and renew” the covenant. The goal is that people will not just complete the program by leading one more group but will adopt a lifetime lifestyle of making disciples.
Pray Regularly About Your Next Group Members – Keep the value of multiplication before your group by periodically asking the members who the Lord might want them to invite to join them when they are in the lead position.
Share Testimonies in Public Worship – Stories of transformation are powerful. People identify with the life-change stories of how God is working in microgroups. It’s easy to video these stories, edit them and mix them into the flow of worship.
Create a Sense That Your Microgroup Is Part of a Bigger Movement – Since the microgroups are small, it is easy to feel that any particular group is isolated and alone. It is important that each group feels a part of the vanguard—something big that God is doing within your community of faith.
Have a Long-Term Vision – I can’t stress strongly enough that you need to be in it for the long haul. We need to fight against every impulse within ourselves toward the quick-fix mentality. We need to take a five-year perspective in order to lay in place the values and practices for becoming a disciple-making church.
If You Don’t Have a Curriculum, You Don’t Have a Plan – A curriculum’s primary purpose is to chart the territory of discipleship we need to cover in order to build a basic foundation for Christian living. Most believers have a hodgepodge of disconnected beliefs and practices about the Christian life.
If You Don’t Have a Curriculum, You Won’t Be Intentional – I have defined discipling as “an intentional relationship in which we walk alongside other disciples in order to encourage, equip and challenge one another in love to grow toward maturity in Christ. This includes equipping the disciple to teach others as well.”1 Other words for intentional are purposeful, deliberate and covenantal.
Instead of intentional, we tend toward haphazard, random or occasional disciple making.
If You Don’t Have a Curriculum, You Don’t Have a Transferable Tool – A critical but often missing element in empowering people to disciple others is a teaching tool that creates the disciple-making vision, the territory to cover and how to cover it.
If You Don’t Have a Curriculum, You Won’t Have a Sense of Progress – One of the reasons for writing a sequential curriculum was that I had no idea if we were making progress.
If You Don’t Have a Curriculum, You Don’t Have a Structure to Define Your Time Together – When people gather for encouragement or as accountability partners, their time together easily degenerates into everyday chitchat. In a discipleship group, personal sharing is balanced with application of biblical content via the curriculum.