“You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food.” Hebrews 5:12
Based on the teachings of disciple-making leaders like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Robert Coleman, Leroy Eims, and Bill Hull using examples from the Christian Church in Europe (where less than 1% of people were attending church but some leaders were having success with discipleship). Reflecting on my own walk with Christ, 13 years of building ministries and walking with Christians and what the average American church member needs to grow in our faith. Ultimately, this all led back to Christ and the model he used with his own Disciples.
13 years ago, God called me into ministry (sort of) but I didn’t come quietly, I gave God every excuse why I’m not qualified, not the guy, and not spiritually mature enough for the calling. 10 years later I would still say that I’m not qualified, not the guy and not spiritually mature enough but God continues to shape and use me as He sees fit.
Over the past 13 years, one thing that I’ve come to realize is that I love Jesus but the more I get involved in ministry, the more frustrated I become. I love my pastors and ministry leaders but I’m often the guy in the room saying “Why are we making this so complicated?” or “That works great with people who are already saved but that would just scare away people who are unsaved.” I’ve been in a handful of meetings where a highly educated ministry leader with all the right pedigree can’t seem to lead a ministry or muster a following but a recovering drug addict with no training who can’t even pronounce exegesis can pack a room full of eager believers and lost alike.
One of the issues is that many ministry leaders are trained and educated to manage the daily functions of a church, teach and preach God’s word and offer words of encouragement but very few are trained on how to make authentic disciples of Christ. Furthermore, a leaders personal context often shapes how they are perceived and their ability to reach people. If a leader has always been a Christian or has never struggled with faith, it’s often hard for them to relate or reach those who are not Christians or those who have left their faith in frustration. Ministry leaders also often default to associating and socializing with those we feel comfortable with rather than those we need to reach.
This may sound outrageous but please consider this – if your goal is to make authentic disciples, you always get a church but if your goal is to make a church, this does not guarantee you will make disciples. Most ministry leaders are trained and great at making churches and managing day-to-day ministry tasks, but leading people to have hearts and lives that are more Christ-like is another issue altogether.
Ask yourself this honest question: Does my life and lives of the people at my church resemble those in the New Testament? How does my walk with Christ compare to Paul or Timothy?
Sadly, our modern churches today tend to produce “Christian Consumers” – members who rely on the church and leaders to spiritually feed them each week. Members who attend a church because the music, preaching style or the type of environment is what they “like” or “prefer” rather than attending church to glorify and worship God or to be challenged to grow in their faith. Often, we treat church like a restaurant or movie, if we are not entertained or we don’t like the service – we go somewhere else.
The truth is that there is no Plan B. We are God’s plan to make disciples of all nations. However, we must remember that Christ stated that He will build his church (Matthew 16:18) but we are called to make disciples. (Matthew 28:19)
How many pastors or ministry leaders are caught up in building His church instead of making disciples?
In the typical American church, 10-15% of the staff and laypeople are often doing a majority of the work because leaders are often scared to empower others to be disciples or they micromanage the disciples they do have stifling people’s ability to grow and lead. Leaders are often praying and waiting for that “perfect person” to come along and champion a ministry or project rather than developing and growing the people God has given them already.
5 years ago, God called me to lead an important ministry with the focus of making disciples in a large, thriving church. I am still amazed by the leadership, grace and faith of that senior pastor who allowed me to undertake this important role knowing that I had no formal ministry training and had never undertaken this kind of ministry before. Honestly, this probably helped me more than anything because I had no theories or templates to fall back on so I had to trust God and spend time researching what was currently working and then put these principles into practice.
God first led me to the teachings of disciple-making leaders like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Robert Coleman, Leroy Eims, and Bill Hull. He then led me to look at the Christian Church in Europe (where less than 1% of people were attending church but some leaders were having success with discipleship) and finally I reflected on my own walk with Christ and the average American church member and what would get me to grow in my faith. Ultimately, this all led back to Christ and the model he used with his own Disciples.
When I examined Jesus’ model, I observed that he used a Challenge, an Invitation but ultimately Grace with all His disciples and followers. Sadly, many church leaders today are scared to challenge people out of fear that they may leave. They would rather use empty words of praise and encouragement than call people to greater community with Christ. Yet Jesus repeatedly challenged people directly and did not worry if they left or did not accept His challenge.
Jesus also told stories and used language that related to and often shocked His audience of both religious and non-religious listeners and He often admonished the religious leaders of His day stating that they too were focusing on things that didn’t matter. Where did Jesus send most of his time during His public ministry? With non-religious people: prostitutes, beggars, the sick, sinners and tax collectors. He didn’t expect these people to come to his sermon on Sunday; he spent time with them and brought His message to their doorsteps and places of business.
Throughout the rest of this series, I will give you eight ways to understand ourselves, one another, and our relationships with Christ through the lens of Jesus discipleship model. I will give you Jesus’ methods for focusing on multiplication and replication. I will share with you Jesus’ tactics of challenging people, inviting people but also extending grace while people grew in faith and putting them into leadership roles within a short amount of time. This was the strategy I used to build a highly successful discipleship ministry and one you can use to make disciples in your church or ministry who then become disciple-makers themselves.