Jesus selected an odd cast of characters to be His disciples. If you were asked to pick a team of 12 people to change the course of history, I’m guessing you wouldn’t head straight to the local marina or IRS office looking for candidates. Yet that’s exactly what Jesus did. In fact, the Old Testament, New Testament and the annals of church history are riddled with stories of “ordinary people doing extraordinary things”. God gets all the glory when those least capable achieve the seemingly impossible. Maybe those who truly understand they are powerless without the Holy Spirit are most qualified to receive the Holy Spirit’s power. Maybe those who’ve heard “no” most often are those most willing to say “yes” to whatever God asks of them.
Yes, disciples are those who are transformed from ordinary to extraordinary – and leave an indelible mark on the world around them. Life transformation through discipleship is so powerful and important that Jesus invested heavily in a small band of average Joe’s – knowing a few fully committed followers is all it would take to spark a wildfire that would circle the globe. So when only 1% of church leaders today say American churches are discipling well, is it any wonder why the Church is declining in growth, impact, influence and perception? As we discussed last week, when asked about discipleship, most pastors are quick to cite “Small Groups” – yet a church where Small Groups are the primary discipleship vehicle isn’t very serious about discipleship.
Maximizing Kingdom, Community and Church Impact in America hinges largely on resuming intensive, personal discipleship within and outside of our nation’s churches…
Discipleship Expands the Kingdom…
…As You Follow God’s Growth Plan
Only disciples can make disciples. It “takes one to make one”. Disciples look like Jesus. They act like Jesus. Jesus was loving, selfless and compassionate. As a result, He attracted a large following. So did His disciples. Nothing has changed. Disciples are still the key to expanding the Lord’s Kingdom. God’s math remains the same – a few followers on fire for Him have an exponential impact as they disciple a few others, who in turn each disciple a few others, and so on.
…As You Invest in Disciple-Building, Not Institution-Building
If disciples are the means by which Jesus intends for people to come to Him, then the most critical function of the church should be to make disciples. Seek to grow disciples and you’ll build a church; seek to grow a church and you’ll build an institution. Our contention in this blog series that churchgoers are too often treated like “customers” doesn’t mean churches should pay less attention to them. In fact it’s the opposite. Churches should focus even more on members and attenders but spend that time quite differently, shifting from attracting and retaining to discipling and deploying. Rather than measuring “nickels and noses”, pastors should measure life change and the resulting ripple effect on those around them.
….As You Turn Your Church Inside Out
Those in the pews are the definition and embodiment of “church”. They are the conduit through which the Church accomplishes its objective in the world – the Great Commission. Therefore, they are “insiders” who should be trained much like a company trains its employees. The company’s revenues decline if the customer service and sales staff isn’t adequately prepared to “care” and “share”. Likewise, churches aren’t maximizing returns for the Kingdom if they’re not effectively training disciples to be Jesus’ workforce – His hands and feet.
Discipleship Changes Your Community…
…As You Confess
Are our hearts broken for the helpless and hopeless around us? A pastor once told me, “I’d love to have a church full of Nehemiahs who weep for the lost and poor in our community.” That should be our response too, but is it? As we become more like Jesus, our hearts meld with His and compassion begins to outweigh comfort. Churchgoers will lack the impetus to radically shift their priorities if leaders are reluctant to challenge and train them to truly become disciples of Jesus Christ.
…As You Commit
There’s a clear, compelling linkage between discipleship and local community missions. Why would a church teach people how to share their faith if it doesn’t send them out to do so? Conversely, if a church is going to put people in position to “share”, it needs to prepare them to be effective evangelists. As you’d expect, churches that pull away from discipleship typically pull away from local missions as well. If churches aren’t highly focused on the one, they won’t be focused on the other. Churches who don’t feel at liberty to impose the commitment and costs of discipleship on the congregation are likely equally hesitant to request they step out of their comfort zones to follow Jesus’ model of evangelism – opening the door to sharing the gospel through loving acts of service.
…As You Coalesce
Signing up for an occasional service event or mailing out a check is not the full extent of a disciple’s responsibility to impact the world around them. Discipleship provides the inspiration and motivation to do more, but uniting around a common cause can provide the direction. There are pressing social issues all around us. How can your church respond? In the absence of an outside cause around which to unite, many churches make themselves the “cause”. How frequently do you hear requests from the pulpit for volunteers to serve inside the church versus to volunteer for community activities to reach those outside the “4 walls”?
Discipleship Grows Your Church…
…As You Abandon Conventional Wisdom
Bucking current trends entails convincing Christians that church is not a place, it’s them. As the Church, reaching the lost and poor with the Gospel is in their job descriptions, not just the pastor’s. The starting point for revival in America and at your church will be when churchgoers undergo a discipleship-driven transformation in their thinking about their role and responsibilities between Sundays. Expectations must flip from evaluating what they’re getting out of church to what they’re putting into becoming church personified. As members “grow” then “go” through discipleship, your church releases more powerful advocates for Christ into their circles of influence, vastly increasing your church’s leverage.
…As You Pursue Church Health, not Size
The healthy way to go wider (i.e. grow) is to go deeper. Unhealthy churches go wider by allowing members to wade in the shallow end. The waters are calm and no dangers lurk beneath the surface. Churchgoers dip their toes in the water, knowing they’ll never drown or become “lunch”. They’ll never be compelled to head into the deeper waters of real life change and discipleship. Yet that’s where Jesus demands we swim. Healthy churches are ones that pursue “organic”, not “acquisitive”, growth. “Acquisitive” attracts Christians from other churches – offering facilities, sermons, music and programs that others can’t match. Acquisitive growth without discipleship leads to internal turmoil you’d expect of churchgoers who aren’t fully committed disciples – squabbles, splits and consumerism. However, “Organic” growth actually increases the size of the “pie” by making disciples who lead others to Christ – adding a face who didn’t simply come from another church.
….As You Take Big Risks
The Organic model involves great risk in today’s acquisitive world, but has a much higher upside. Yet disciple-building has always been a high-risk venture. At the height of His popularity, Jesus did the unthinkable. He preached His most controversial, challenging sermon. In fact, He knew few would be left standing beside Him after telling the crowd of followers to drink His blood and eat His flesh. Imagine the pastor of a large church in the midst of rapid growth preaching the most demanding, difficult message members had ever heard, knowing with near certainty that few of them would come back the next Sunday. Imagine that same pastor pulling all the members aside and laying out the full picture of discipleship costs and expectations, knowing it was a pill few of them could swallow? That’s exactly what Jesus did. He preached it down to a select few. But through those remaining, sold-out disciples the early church grew at an astronomical clip.
It’s Your Turn…
People retain 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, 50% of what they see and hear, 70% of what they discuss with others, 80% of what they personally experience and 95% of what they teach others. In other words, the best way to fully absorb what it means to be a disciple is to live it out.
Meet The Need is about mobilizing disciples at your church into action…year-round!:
- Software – Go to www.meettheneed.org to get your church started using all of our FREE tools
- Coaching – Visit our website and blog for posts and eBooks with tips and best practices
- Campaigns – Learn more about how to encourage others to live prayer, care, share lifestyles at #MeetAnEternalNeed
Jim – I would very much like to post this on Discipleship.Network. Can you give me permission or direction?
Phil – Absolutely, feel free to post anywhere you’d like. Appreciate your partnership on our shared mission.
Great article! The reason the church in the US is faltering is because somewhere along the way over the past several decades, we surrendered our “shields of gold” for “shields of brass” just as the Israelites gave the original gold shields in the Temple to a conquering king and replaced them with cheaper brass ones. What we traded was ministry and sacrifice for programming and church culture. After years of full time ministry, my new role is to equip churches to actually help the poor in their community get off the government support trap through rediscovery of the complete design of the “Body of Christ”. It is both complicated and simple at the same time! We (New LifeScape Ministries) are looking forward to working with Meet the Need in the near future, so this article verifies our decision.
Rick – Sounds like the Lord has us working down a very similar path. Looking forward to learning more about your ministry and collaborating.
Excellent post, I have to agree that discipleship is the key tool God uses to change the hearts of His people. I would also emphasis that the key tool that God gives His disciples to make other disciples is the Word. I will have to contend that in order to make Disciples of Christ, teachers will need to equip them properly with every jot and tittle of the Word.
Here a couple verses to consider in this discussion.
Eph 4:11-16 (ESV)…”11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
Pastors should be ready to teach the Word of God in season and out of season:
2 Tim 4:2-5 (ESV)… “2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
Teacher/Pastors need to work through even the controversial parts of scripture in order that disciples may interpret and discern it correctly. I believe this is something else that has been lost in the modern church culture. From my experience there is too much time spent on light topical sermons that allow picking and choosing portions of the Bible to make the pastors topical point instead of teaching through scripture verse by verse in order to make Gods point. The latter method of teaching Gods Word is not the popular trend, but helps to minimize misinterpretation and misapplication as well as flush out those that are not interested in what Christ really has to say about the cost of discipleship.
From my understanding of the Bible, the church will not revive unless the Holy Spirit moves through and begins changing the hearts of men. It’s worth noting the equivalence that Bible makes between the Holy Spirit and Gods Word. The two are inseparable, and work in conjunction with each other. The caution is interpreting the Word correctly. We should keep in mind James 3:1 and following, “not many should become teachers…will be judged with a greater strictness.” It’s not a career path, but a calling.
Here is is a good blog on this inseparability of the two from Randy Alcorn: http://www.epm.org/resources/2010/Feb/25/relationship-between-holy-spirit-and-word-god/
Thanks for enduring my long post. I am passionate about discipleship, and its proper application in the church.