Iwas ready to throw in the towel. After planting two churches in the span of ten years, something was clearly “off” in my approach to ministry. I felt like a circus performer spinning plates for a thrilled audience every Sunday. As the crowds grew larger, the pressure to add more plates grew. I wanted to continue growing and launching new ministries, but in spite of my apostolic drive, the grind had brought me to a halt. It took a three-month sabbatical and a few trusted mentors to help me deconstruct what had happened.
To put it simply, in my zeal to win converts and grow the church, I had lost my focus on discipleship. Do you remember the words of Christ in Matthew 28:19? “Therefore, go and gather as many people together as possible and build the entire ministry around one or two leaders.” Wait! That’s not it. His actual words were: “Therefore, go and make disciples. . .” and it’s a command given to the entire church. Anything less is to live in disobedience. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, author of The Cost of Discipleship, wrote, “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” I couldn’t agree more.
It’s time to rediscover discipleship. A disciple is a follower of Christ, is obedient to Christ, and part of that is allowing ourselves to be used by the Holy Spirit to make other disciples.
I use the word “rediscover” because in our context, genuine discipleship had unintentionally been left in the margins of the church. We had small groups. We had classes. We offered ten-week studies on specific topics or books of the Bible. But these were producing few disciples and quite frankly, our ministries functioned more as a way to assimilate people into the life of the church rather than as a way to release them into ministry.
It’s time to think differently. Discipleship is not just another program of the church. It ought to be a core value and function. If we are not making disciples who are discipling others, then the worship gatherings and ministry programs are all falling short. A rediscovery of discipleship is a necessary step in generating a multiplication movement. We need a revival . . . of discipleship.
A BLUEPRINT FOR MAKING DISCIPLES
While God was dealing with me on the priority of making disciples, he was also speaking to the leadership of Trinity Church in Indianapolis about becoming a multiplying church that would impact more and more of the city with new churches. Mike Colaw is the lead pastor at Trinity. He invited me to join the team and we started the process of re-engineering a 90-year-old church around discipleship as the primary engine for multiplication.
Trinity had experienced rapid growth the previous five years, but addition and multiplication are different. I’ve heard it said, “You can’t get multiplication by hitting the plus (+) sign on a calculator, no matter how fast you push it.” The growth of the congregation at Trinity was positive, but it was addition. We needed a new ministry principle if we wanted to multiply. The outcome of those conversations was a small booklet called A Blueprint for Making Disciples. The goal was to make discipleship accessible to everyone. People are often told to go and make disciples but rarely given instructions on how it can be done.
Here are five things we have prioritized in our blueprint:
- The process is simple. If it’s not, it won’t be reproducible. People read one chapter of the Bible a day, journal how God is speaking, answer accountability questions, and pray for the lost. By doing this daily, and meeting weekly in a small discipleship group, they receive the modeling needed to make disciples of others.
- The curriculum is the Bible. We link discipleship directly to the only book that is fully inspired by God. The curriculum never runs out and never runs dry.
- The teacher is the Holy Spirit. If this process can only be led by professionals, it will never result in a movement. The focus is helping others learn how to hear the voice of God and then trust in the power of the Holy Spirit.
- The priority is obedience. The late Dallas Willard wrote, “We are educated beyond our obedience.” Our discipleship process focuses on application and obedience over just adding more information and expertise.
- The result is multiplication. As people grow in their love for God and his Word, the natural outcome should be a growing love for the lost and a passion to step out in obedience to disciple others.
The primary vehicle we use is the “discipleship group,” a gender-specific group of 2-4 people that is centered on Bible reading, journaling, prayer for the lost, and accountability. By the grace of God, what began with a four-week training of 20 discipleship group leaders soon multiplied to 75 people and now well over 200 that are involved in a weekly discipleship relationship.
STOP RECRUITING AND START FARMING
I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard the question, “Where can we recruit more church planters?” But outside recruitment is not the solution for a multiplication movement. The answer is local church discipleship and leadership development. In the article "Recruiting: The Final Act of a Dying Church," Neil Cole wrote that recruiting new people and leaders is a consumer-oriented idea and is a symptom of one of our most serious afflictions. Recruitment is much like picking out produce at the grocery. Someone else did the work of cultivating the soil, planting seeds, growing and harvesting the fruit, and then others conveniently pick it up and take it home for consumption. When it comes to disciple-making, if we only focus on recruiting and never invest in farming, the pool of disciples and leaders will run dry until we are all left with nothing.
The churches that have taken to a farming mentality don’t lack for spiritual fruit or leaders. They raise up their own. I believe that the future of our churches won’t rest on the discovery of something new, but in the rediscovery of the core DNA of the church. The last words of Christ are clear: “Go and make disciples …”
Allow me to ask: Are you making disciples? What are their names? If you are drawing a blank, it might be time to ask whether you take the commands of Christ seriously. What would happen if we all took discipleship seriously? It could be the beginning of a movement!
Have questions? Looking for resources? E-mail Jon Wiest at email@example.com.