We’re working on a revitalization playbook, a compendium of initiatives which church leaders can choose from, under the Holy Spirit’s guidance, in their efforts to see their congregations returned to vibrant, Great-Commission health.
My final suggestion for you – and by no means am I saying that I’ve given you these in the order of their importance or in the “proper” chronological order – is to seek to return your congregation to the practice of real discipleship.
Let’s define that term quickly: By real discipleship I mean the Christian life as described by Jesus in the Gospels, and, in the rest of the New Testament, by His apostles. A great definition says that a disciple learns from, follows, obeys and serves his master in order to become like his master. See Matthew 10:24,25 for an illustration of the process.
Real disciples are actively learning how to obey everything Jesus commanded, as in Matthew 28:18-20. That means that they are trying to make more disciples, because that is something that Jesus clearly commanded. So it’s fair to say that real disciples are disciple-makers.
I’ve been thinking lately about the post-discipleship church: the church that used to have disciples but is now populated by mere church members. In the post-discipleship church:
- We are – as the saying goes – “sitting on the premises instead of standing on the promises.”
- We are over-separated, over-fellowshipped, over-programmed and over-busy.
- We choose leaders for their “faithfulness” not for their fruitfulness. The Biblical definition of faithfulnessincludes being the best possible stewards of all that God has given us, for His glory (Matthew 25:14-30); the post-discipleship church’s definition of faithfulness is showing up and sitting in the same spot several times per week for several years.
- Our prayers lack any sense of desperation; they are preliminaries and afterthoughts. It is not just the denominational church down the street that has rote, thoughtless prayers.
- We are as pastor-dependent as the pastor will allow us to be.
- We have gone from being the program – each member as a disciple-making missionary – to staffing the programs.
(1) As I shared last week, begin with a “designer disciple,” your congregation’s word picture of what a mature disciple of Jesus looks like. You will need to share with your people what you mean by real discipleship and you will need to be specific.
(2) Create a process for turning non-followers of Jesus Christ into the kind of disciples you’ve defined and described. Make this process as simple as possible.
(3) Reject cognition-only teaching (the teaching of facts) in favor of the “teaching to obey” which Jesus actually commanded in Matthew 28:20.
(4) Don’t make enrollment into your process a terrifying, all-or-nothing proposition. The most effective churches today are giving people simple, incremental, not-so-threatening steps (Acts 15:19). Don’t ask people to sign up for a two-year intensive discipleship training program. Let them take “baby steps” of obedience.
(5) Don’t try to force every member to join a small group to be considered a real disciple, and don’t assume that every small group member is practicing real discipleship. No, I’m not a heretic: some people just can’t handle small groups. Others who can’t handle mixed-gender small groups can do just fine in all male or all female small groups. Some folks who will never become a part of a group of ten will flourish in a group of twenty or thirty.
(6) Teach it and preach it, backwards and forwards. Don’t let your emphasis on real discipleship be one more fad that the pastor will “get over” if you give him some time to go to the next conference and come home with a new program.
(7) Model it, so they know what you’re talking about (I Timothy 4:12). Pastors who want their people to practice evangelism must find some venue for practicing it themselves. If you have summarized the Christian life in terms of something like the *Navigator’s famous wheel, make sure everyone knows that the pastor is practicing what he’s preaching.
(8) Use the concept of membership – as in last week’s post – to help your attendees understand what discipleship looks like.
(9) Use membership classes and membership covenants – again, as in last week’s post – to teach what real discipleship looks like.
(10) Don’t let your church become over-programed. If your members are so busy doing “church stuff” that they have no margin for disciple-making (evangelism) in their lives, they’re too busy. Stop turning people into the priest and Levite of Luke 10:25-37, who were (probably) too absorbed in “serving God” to even notice the victim on the side of the road.
(11) Put real disciples of Jesus into leadership positions, not “faithful” members as described above.
(12) While honoring church members who manage the nursery and lead the Sunday School, don’t forget to honor the disciples who make disciples.
(13) Consider the largely-forgotten practice of one-on-one discipling for those who cannot attend a larger group, have special needs or show unusual promise. I know that the one-on-one method is not for everyone and is very time-consuming, but it has been incredibly effective in the lives of many of us.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSION:
- Looking at the bullet-point description above, is your church a “post-discipleship” church?
- What is meant by the word “discipleship” when it’s used in your congregation? Do you think there’s any consensus opinion on what it means?
- Has your church ever worked on a “designer disciple,” a word picture of the kind of disciples of Christ which your church is trying to make?
- Is this a “play” that God wants you to “run”?
- If so, which of the suggestions can you put into practice, and when can you implement them?
*The Navigator’s wheel diagram depicts the Christian life as follows: The believer lives with Christ as the center of his or her life, practices obedience to Christ on a daily basis, takes in the Word of God regularly, practices daily prayer, is devoted to Christian fellowship and consistently testifies about Jesus Christ.