This is part three of implementing a Discipleship Design in your church. I would love to hear some of your thoughts and ideas!
Here are some challenges we face as we seek to grow our discipleship ministry. I faced these as a pastor and believe they are germane to most churches.
Hit or Miss Mentality
Most churches conduct their discipleship process with a “hit or miss” mentality. They do not incorporate a system of tracking people in their discipleship journey therefore they offer a series of discipleship options but none of these connect to a thought through process. Churches offer solid, helpful studies/courses in their programming but most of the time they lack an intentional “disciple making” strategy/process with an end result view. In other words, they have not asked the question, “What do we want our people to “know, experience, become” as a result of the discipleship journey we are taking them on?” We must do more than just the “hit or miss” efforts in our disciple making.
Just because a church is busy with lots of activities does not mean they have an effective discipleship process in place.
Flawed View of Biblical Discipleship
Churches often emphasize, “content material” with a discipleship course/book/DVD itself being what drives the whole process. Unless you have a gifted teacher with a vision for spiritual formation and small group/body life dynamics and who enhances the relationships inside the group, then usually this important component does not happen. What happens is that a course is taught but there’s no personal accountability or mentoring that takes place.
Jesus’ method of disciple making was being with the disciples “on the way.” His disciples saw Him in real life situations interacting with people and that is exactly how they learned to emulate Him. Wow! That is Christian discipleship…emulating the Master in every part of our lives. That also implies that there is a relationship component to New Testament discipleship.
The norm in churches today is that discipleship comes in a box, kit, DVD format, or notebook. As Southern Baptists we have done a great job in producing great material, but we have not done well on developing a strategy/process that takes new Believers and matures them in the faith. Therefore the larger biblical view of “growing in grace” is not realized. This flawed view of discipleship (teaching disconnected content and teaching without building relationships) must be changed if we are going to take disciple making seriously and fulfill the Great Commission. Thus the need for churches to have more accountability and relational components (one on one) to their discipleship process.
Creating a standard (body of study materials/experiences, etc.) is needed to challenge adult Christians in the local church. Develop a track or tracks of specific studies that include a time chart displaying the required time to complete these studies and recognition for a person once they have finished. Keep your church’s mission statement in mind as you develop this process.
Two Year Cycle
Whatever process you choose, think in terms of two year cycles or less in order to disciple people during the window of opportunity that they are available. The high mobility rate while I served First Norfolk was a major factor we considered in our discipleship\design. We knew that we had a narrow window to disciple people before they moved. After this is in place you will want to expand your design to keep people in the process of growing which is life long.
Remember, Remember, Remember
There is a difference in decisions and discipleship. Many people make decisions for Christ but do not fully understand the cost of responsive discipleship. We must do a more effective job preaching/teaching this and giving high visibility for our discipleship design particularly with new members and new Christians.
Discipleship is always voluntary. We cannot force someone to grow in their faith no more than we can force people to become a Christian in the first place. However, we can create an environment, a culture if you will, that encourages and enhances discipleship in the local church.
Again, discipleship is not a series of courses or a book to be read. Discipleship is not instant nor easy. We are not producing look-alike widgets but individuals committed to the Lordship of Christ. It is not a packaged program or simply just quiet time, just prayer, just witnessing, etc.; those are components of discipleship but not the essence of discipleship. It is not so much “covered material” as it is “process”. Again this it involves relationships, modeling, experiential activity, observation, reflection, accountability and remembering.
Re-engineering your discipleship program could very well involve process teams that relate to different stages of growth.
Spiritual maturity is a continuous, ongoing, lifelong process. We must disciple people so they have the mind of Christ in the issues of everyday life.
A Christian disciple is a person who daily acknowledges Jesus as his Lord and who follows him no matter what the cost. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, declares, “the call to follow Christ is a call to die, to die to self, to lose one’s life for Christ and for others.” When a church is serious about discipleship they attempt to move back in time 2,000 years to the original discipleship design modeled by Jesus Himself. Every church regardless of size, location, or culture must be on the quest to design a discipleship strategy that works where they are.
The possibilities are endless!
The potential is staggering!
The result of not “disciple making” each generation is unthinkable.