“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
The word discipleship has HUGE baggage with it. For some it brings memories of a boring class, or workbook. For others it brings memories of a set of legalistic rules you had to follow for 8 weeks and at the end of that time you were handed a piece of paper that said you were officially a disciple. I remember when I was a teenager and I was signed up for the Tuesday night discipleship program in my youth group. At the end of the night after finishing 1/8 of our discipleship process my girlfriend and I would sneak out behind the church and do things that were not very “disciple like” These programs and people were not wrong in their motive, and at some time or another all of us have tried to use a systematic program to make disciples, but at the end of that road we have dealt with the frustration of our people being smarter but not transformed.
Discipleship is not information download or attendance!
So what is it? How do we make disciples? Well….for me to give a systematic answer would not do you any good since those don’t work. All I can do is speak from my experiences and reading of the gospels.
Discipleship is guiding passionate people through relationship. What I mean by that is we disciple people when we take passionate people and help guide them in a relationship with God through genuine relationships. Churches can do this many different ways: Small Groups, Sunday School, Sunday Mornings, Specialized Ministries just to name a few. The method is not as important as the means. Using my definition this means that our churches must be set up to AT LEAST do 2 things.
1. Identify passion and guide it. I’ve always said (and been taught) Disciples don’t sign up to be discipled on the sign up sheet in the foyer. A lot of frustration comes from trying to guide people who don’t want to have a passionate relationship with God. Don’t get me wrong, we have small group sign ups at my church, but it did not take us long to identify that the groups that were really helping people grow, were the groups that had people who wanted to grow. Like most churches we have lots of people sign up for groups who sign up for everything that we offer. There is no difference between discipleship and pot luck dinners. I believe the bible is very clear that Jesus spent time with those who wanted to seek the Kingdom and those who were in need. He did not spend his time to trying to figure out better ways to make complacent people interested. So as a pastor I try to spend my time seeking out the people who really want to know the truth and the needy. I understand that everyone will not agree with that. “As pastors we are supposed to pastor everyone” I have been told by countless older ministers with much more experience and wisdom than me, but I simply to not find that in the ministry of Jesus. Jesus died for everyone but he did not pastor everyone. He poured into those who wanted to know!
Once we identify the passionate ones (which isn’t always based on charisma) how do we guide them. I don’t have time to list every way that Jesus led his disciples (and I don’t know them all) but a few jump out at me. He called them to take it serious, he let them make many mistakes, he let them practice ministry, he taught them how to pray, he exemplified servanthood, and he always defended them to the religious people who wanted more time with him. These are just a few but when you read the Gospels you see a very organic leadership style from Jesus. He pretty much used every experience as a teaching/guiding moment. Are you willing to be that vulnerable?
2. Guide them through relationship. This is the key to all discipleship in my opinion. You will not guide anyone just by giving information alone. I use a teaching style on Sundays that could be considered very conversational, and I believe that preaching can disciple our people (I think Bobby Scott’s series on the sermon on the mount is a good example of great teaching that disciples our people) but on it’s own it will never work. Jesus was successful because of relationship! It is easy to set up our churches to where genuine relationship never happens. We think because people talk to each other that they are forming relationships but that doesn’t mean anything. Our churches are set up with chairs side by side looking straight at a stage. It is possible to come to church and never have to look someone in the eye.
Does you church have a relational structure? Whether with Sunday School, dinners, small groups, etc. does your church encourage relationship or is just information download.
A few things our church does:
– We try to meet outside of church as much as possible for meetings or get-togethers.
– Home Small Groups
– Encourage people to volunteer on teams. ( no one at our church except our staff is solely responsible for a ministry, it’s all team)
– Our singles and young couples go to the park every other Sunday
– Sport teams that focus on inviting non christian friends to play alongside them
– A blog on our church website
We work very hard to make sure that no one can come to our church (even though some do) and receive information without processing through a group of people. It takes intentional work.
How can our churches get past the hierarchy and structure that block genuine relationships/discipleship?