Our primary calling as ministry leaders is to make disciples. It’s right there in the great commission. Yet, for many of us making authentic disciples feels like a pipe dream. We know we need to do it, but feel ill-equipped to make true disciples. With an abundance of resources available, it can be difficult to know where to start.
This post has been adapted from episode 2 of our podcast. You can listen to the full podcast here, watch the video below, or keep reading.
Before we attempt to define a process for discipleship, we have to start with a solid definition of what an authentic disciple is. At the most basic level, I define a true disciple as someone who is striving to become more like Christ daily. While, we don’t want to boil down discipleship to a list of do’s and don’ts, we have to recognize that there are some universal aspects of a disciple.
At Disciple Labs, we break down spiritual health into 8 categories: bible application, character, evangelism, fellowship, giving, prayer, serving, and worship. While, we never ask for perfection, we do look for continual growth in these areas. Everyone of these areas can be encapsulated into the greatest commandments of “love God and love people.”
As we all know, some people will use this as an excuse for their lack of fruit. There have been many times that I’ve heard, “I love God and treat others well so who are you to say I need to change,” as a justification for a lack of growth. There’s a fundamental flaw in that logic, however.
If the posture of our heart isn’t submitted to God’s will while working towards doing the things that we’re supposed to do as Christians, then we’re not really loving God or loving people.
An authentic disciple is humble and meek. Their willingness to admit wrongdoing and look towards Christ are at the core of who they are.
Where are the disciple makers?
Would it surprise you to find out that according to a recent study by Barna, that only 17% of churchgoers were able to immediately tell researchers what the Great Commision says? I came across this research last week and felt uneasy after reading it. The researchers found that 51% of those surveyed had no clue what the great commission said. Even when presented with a few options, only one-third of people could correctly identify the Great Commission.
So, what’s the big deal? Why does it matter that churchgoers can’t identify what the Great Commission is? I’m glad you asked.
The reason that this research is unsettling is that it means that we’re not placing an emphasis on discipleship in our churches. True discipleship cannot happen in the pews on Sunday mornings. It goes much deeper than that. It requires relationship with other believers in community through small groups and one-on-one’s.
It is our responsibility to pour into those in our churches and equip them to live out their faith on a day-to-day basis. Without an emphasis on discipleship, that is impossible. A Christian who simply comes to our church on Sunday without building relationships and connecting with a discipleship opportunity will never become a true disciple.
The core premise in the Great Commission is to make disciples. Discipleship by nature is multiplicative. It’s what we see throughout the New Testament. If we’re simply making converts, we’re not doing our jobs as ministry leaders. Instead, we must make discipleship a priority in our churches. Whatever gets measured is what truly matters. If we’re simply counting attendance, that’s what matters most to us. We must break the mold and start measuring discipleship.
How do we get there?
If we are to embrace authentic discipleship, we must be purposeful in all that we do. There is no quick fix. It’s going to require us to take an uncomfortable look at ourselves, some strategic planning, and a routine look at what progress is being made. While, I don’t know what the exact process looks like for your church, I do believe there is a framework that will help you to develop that process.
- Evaluate Where You’re At
This is the uncomfortable part. In order to change, we must first take a hard look at what we’re currently doing. I know for me personally, this can be difficult to do. It is uncomfortable and can be discouraging to take a hard look at how your church is doing. But, if we want to change, we must commit to taking a comprehensive evaluation of church.This is the reason that we created Disciple Labs. You can easily gauge the spiritual health of your church and ministry areas with our simply tool. This steps gives you a great starting point to ask questions from your staff and lay leaders.
- Build Up Yourself
If we want our people to grow as disciples, we have to make sure that we our modeling what it means to be a disciple. We can’t take people to a place that we’ve never been. Our people need a guide who can lead the way. Before we start making a plan, we have to make sure that we’re modeling the life that we’re asking our people to live. We have a responsibility as leaders to live a life above reproach.
- Make A Plan
Once we’ve evaluated where we are at as a church and we know that we’re modeling what it means to be a disciple, then we can begin to plan. With any discipleship plan, there are two parts, the macro and the micro. The macro side of our plan is going to be church-wide initiatives like sermon series, giving campaigns, 40 days of prayer, or rolling out a set curriculum for all small groups.The macro helps to set the stage for the micro. Our micro-initiatives include things like one-on-one’s, where we encourage our leaders to meet with the people in their groups and ministries. They also include our normal everyday conversations and interactions. Instead of just talking about work or sports, we begin to talk about what we’re learning and how we’re growing. These steps naturally lead to others wanting to grow themselves.
- Check Progress
It would be easy to do an evaluation, work on ourselves, create a plan, and call it a day. But, the hard work starts after those three steps. Implemented a discipleship program is not a quick fix, it requires a culture shift that is going to take time. Once we’ve rolled out a program, we have to check our progress often. With a tool like Disciple Labs, you can automatically see how people are growing over time to help you to measure this progress. If you don’t measure it, you won’t be able to see if you’re being effective.
- Rinse and Repeat
The final step is crucial. As you evaluated how things are going, you’re going to notice areas that need more work or parts of your program that need to change. You’re not going to get it right the first time. Instead, by being willing to admit something isn’t working and making changes when that happens, you’ll then be able to shift your culture.
Creating a culture of authentic discipleship takes time. There are going to be moments of frustration where you want to give up, but the results are worth the effort. A shift in thinking today can mean hundreds of thousands of changed lives. Disciples by nature create more disciples.