Discipleship is not “one of the things” the church is supposed to do,
it is “THE” thing the church is commanded to do.
Jesus knew he only had a 3 year window to build into his ragtag team, everything they needed in order to be trusted with the kingdom.
3 years to teach them everything they needed to know,
3 years to give them hands-on training and experience,
3 years to develop spiritual disciplines and
3 years to turn them into LEADERS.
He could not waste his time; he had to maximize every moment. Everything he did with them was purposeful and moved them closer to the leadership goal.
Jesus’ message to the church was to stay focused on the primary task of making disciples who, in turn, would make other disciples. Every church believes that it makes disciples, and it probably does to some degree. The question is, “How effective are we at intentionally and strategically creating leaders who, in turn, create ongoing disciples?” Jesus did it in three years.
Of course, we typically do not take the same 24/7 approach Jesus did, so our discipleship process may take longer. But if a skeptic were to walk into your church tomorrow, what process do you have for him or her that would move them forward in their walk, such that they could be ready to leave your church to help start a new church within a few years?
Jesus never intended that his disciples would stay together as one cozy, close-knit family. He expected that they would embrace a mission that would lead them through the world, spreading the message and making disciples as they went. The goal of discipleship is to equip people so that they can go and reproduce elsewhere. Not that we kick people out of church once they reach a certain stage, but we expect that a good number of the people we train will have a sense of calling to plant churches or take the mission abroad… if we have done discipleship well.
“The mark of a great church is not its seating capacity, but its sending capacity.”
What discipleship is NOT…
– just conveying information
– just a 10 week program that is accomplished and then you’re done.
Many discipleship series are only an introduction to the Christian faith and only last for 10 weeks.
Others have a series of guides covering many topics. You will want evaluate the ultimate goal of the series.
– just for the spiritual elite – EVERYONE needs to be discipled
Many longer term “discipleship” programs are designed for the keener believer.
The average person doesn’t survive for more than a couple of weeks. I regrettably did this to some people in my past.
OUR Approach to Discipleship
A worship service is a wonderful time and there is no question about the power of the spoken word to impact lives. Large group teaching has its definite biblical role to play. Effective discipleship, however, does not happen in a large group setting. There are simply too many people at different stages of life to move them all one step forward. Jesus understood this. He taught large crowds about the kingdom of God, but intentional leadership development he left to a small group approach.
Our small group discipleship strategy maps out a 4 year (approx. 26 weeks of studies/year) process providing teaching appropriate to each stage of development.
Spiritual Gifts and Ministry Placement
You will notice we provide no teaching on spiritual gifts or ministry fit in this curriculum. The reason for this is that we have discovered helping people find their place of ministry impact has to occur much earlier and more frequently than a one time lesson in a four year curriculum permits. We encourage churches to offer this type of training several times a year to get people practically involved in ministry areas where they are effective. There are several ministry tools already on the market that can help with this task.
Priority: Teaching and Shepherding
We have said that discipleship is not just conveying information. However, conveying information is “part” of the discipleship process. We are to TEACH people to obey everything Jesus commanded us. The curriculum provided is the “CONTENT” we believe every disciple needs to understand. The goal of the small group though, is that we do much more than just “teach”. We WALK WITH PEOPLE through life, helping them to become like Christ.
Understanding how to follow Christ involves having a community of people who will model godly behavior, encourage personal outreach, speak wisdom into your life, hold you accountable, encourage you and help bear your burdens. This is so important that we believe it helps to have someone with shepherding gifts to help facilitate this dynamic within the group. Teachers, by nature, want people to understand truths and community building can often get pushed to the side. Shepherds by nature want to build community and will often not get through the content that people need to understand. Having both a Teacher and a Shepherd in each group helps maintain a healthy balance and frees up each leader from having to think in two directions. A healthy tension will always exists as to which emphases gets how much time and it may vary from week to week.
This model requires that we keep creating more people equipped to teach and shepherd. One of the ways we do this is by constantly placing an apprentice teacher and apprentice shepherd along side a more seasoned teacher and shepherd.
The End Goal
If we do our job well, after a few years of discipleship, people should be equipped and motivated to go and impact the world. Instead of building a larger and larger local church, we expect to keep sending some of our most equipped people away to plant churches or to go to the mission field. The challenge is to constantly maintain the big picture of why we are really here.