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Category: Discipleship (page 1 of 4)

8 Things I Know For Sure about Making Disciples in Groups

9074800823_0dd89868b7_zThere were several great comments on yesterday’s post about the 5 Things I Wish You Knew as You Build Your Small Group Ministry. All of the comments were focused on #5: “You must focus on making disciples as you connect connect unconnected people.”

Today I want to tease out a few things about a few things I know for sure about making disciples in groups. But first, take a moment to consider this statement:

One advantage of working on the same endeavor for many years is that you sometimes develop a well-reasoned understanding of what works and what doesn’t.

Let me make two important notes about this statement. First, working on an endeavor is different than working in an endeavor. See also, Working On vs Working In…Your Ministry.

Second, I say “sometimes” because it is also true that there are people who work on the same endeavor for many years and never try anything new. They use the same approach again and again even though it doesn’t work. There are three reasons they don’t try a new approach:

  1. Some of them do the same thing again and again and never evaluate their results. Without evaluation they use the same program or strategy year after year and never even think about improving. See also, Four Questions that Evaluate Small Group Model Effectiveness.
  2. Some of them do the same thing again and again and expect different results. Albert Einstein would say that is the definition of insanity.
  3. Some of them do the same thing again and again, knowing it hasn’t worked before, but are unaware of any other way to do what needs to be done. See also, Innovation Step #1: Acknowledge What Isn’t Working and  Innovation Step #2: Become a Student, Not a Critic.

8 things I know for sure about making disciples in groups:

  1. Your definition of a disciple is important. I like Dallas Willard’s definition of a mature disciple: “A mature disciple is one who effortlessly does what Jesus would do if Jesus were him.”
  2. “Come and see” precedes “come and die.” Jesus invited his disciples to come and see and then over an extended period of time (18 months?) He taught them how to “effortlessly do what He would do.” See also, Moving from “Come and See” to “Come and Die.”
  3. The disciple-making efforts of the New Testament happened in groups. The idea of one-to-one discipling method isn’t found in the practice of Jesus or Paul.
  4. Disciples are rarely made in rows. A class to attend or curriculum to complete misses the point. Disciples make disciples.
  5. There is more than one way to make disciples in groups. A number of strategies have been proposed and implemented over many years.
  6. There are no problem-free strategies for making disciples in groups. Every strategy comes with a set of problems. Wise leaders choose the set of problems they’d rather have.
  7. Your disciple-making strategy should be evaluated regularly. Forging ahead without evaluation is not wise. Continuing to do what has been determined to be ineffective will not hear “well done.”
  8. “Whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first.” Therefore, making mature disciples in groups requires an intentional leadership development effort (i.e., what you do TO and FOR the leaders of your groups determines what may happen in the lives of the members of your groups).

What do you think?  Have a question? Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Image by Penn State

 

Foundational Teaching: Next Steps for EVERYONE

next steps

An important aspect of my ministry strategy is that there needs to be next steps for every Ridger and first steps for their friends. This informs an analysis of the menu of available programs, events, classes and studies for every church (noticeable gaps will need to be filled). Another important aspect is my conviction that whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first. See also, Life-Change at the Member Level and How to Design Next Steps and First Steps.

In an effort to cast this vision, I handed out a version of the following at a recent leader development session:

________________________________________________________________

What’s Your Next Step Now?

In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul wrote these words:

“I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Philippians 3:12-14 (NLT)

“Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on.”

Like Paul, we each have some distance ahead in our journey as we press on to reach the end of the race. And as important as it is to know we have not yet arrived and have a journey ahead, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

It’s one thing to take a step. It’s another thing entirely to take the right next step. In order to take the right next step you have to know two important things:

  • Where you are going.
  • Where you are.

Where are you going?

 In order to take the right next step, you need to know where you are going. In his letter to the church at Colossae, Paul expressed his hope for them with a phrase that is unmistakable:

“Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” Colossians 1:28 (ESV)

“Mature in Christ.” Some translations read “fully mature” and others read “perfect” or “complete.” You get the idea. Where we are going is a long way off for most of us.

Mature in Christ. When Dallas Willard described maturity he said, “A mature disciple is one who effortlessly does what Jesus would do if Jesus were him.”

How are you doing? Are you effortlessly doing what Jesus would do if He were you?

Where are you now?

Knowing where you are going is important. Knowing where you are is also very important. Taking time on a regular basis to reflect on your spiritual development is an essential habit.

Where are you now? Or put another way, what would need to change for you to effortlessly do what Jesus would do if He were you?

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What do you think?  Have a question?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Image by Tim Green

Quotebook: Receiving Feedback and Effective Discipleship

feedbackYou may have never thought of discipleship quite this way, but effective discipleship really has to do with the disciple’s ability to receive feedback. This important idea switched on for me at the Global Leadership Summit listening to Sheila Heen talk about feedback (you can read my key takeaways from her talk right here).

As Dallas Willard pointed out, “a mature disciple is one who effortlessly does what Jesus would do if Jesus were him.” And how will a mature disciple learn to do what Jesus would do if Jesus were him? Isn’t the answer “feedback”?

“It doesn’t matter how much authority or power a feedback giver has; the receivers are in control of what they do and don’t let in, how they make sense of what they’re hearing, and whether they choose to change.” Thanks for the Feedback, p. 5

Image by Ken Bosma

Quotebook: The Essence of Discipleship

starting lineWhat is a disciple and how is a disciple made? When does it begin? What does it look like to begin? All good questions and should be driving our thinking as we set out to build a thriving small group ministry. After all, if you don’t know what you’re trying to make, how will you know if you’ve arrived at your preferred future? See also, How to Build a Thriving Small Group Ministry and Start with the End in Mind.

I’m finding Bill Hull’s, The Complete Book of Discipleship: On Being and Making Followers of Christ to be a rich resource and very thought-provoking. I came across this line in chapter 7:

“We don’t try to become like Jesus; instead we make a commitment to train to become the kind of person who naturally does what Jesus would do.”

You can hear the words of Dallas Willard in the line, but I love the clarity here. “We make a commitment to train to become the kind of person who naturally does what Jesus would do.”

In the preceding paragraph Hull points out that this “marks the starting line and represents the essence of discipleship. We make following Jesus our life’s goal and intention.”

Are your small groups designed to help members make a commitment to train to become the kind of people who naturally do what Jesus would do?

Could it be that if the commitment to train is implied in joining a group, today’s question might be,

Image by tableatny

See also:

Quotebook: How to Become Like Jesus

transformationI am discovering so much from Bill Hull’s, The Complete Book of Discipleship: On Being and Making Followers of Christ. When you’re determining what you need to make when you’re making disciples, the first task is to figure out what the preferred future actually looks like.

Can you see how this concept might figure in to your scheme?

“Based on the life of Jesus, I believe becoming like him includes six issues of transformation. Living this way leads to being formed then conformed, and that leads to transformation:

  1. transformed mind
  2. transformed character
  3. transformed relationships
  4. transformed habits
  5. transformed service
  6. transformed influence

Image by Johan J. Ingles-Le Nobel

See also:

Defining a Disciple

disciple makingMuch of my work is about helping churches accurately diagnose where they are and then skillfully determine and describe where they’d like to go. If you want to get to the preferred future, you must know where you are right now. See also, Start with the End in Mind.

This same line of thinking comes into play when diagnosing a discipleship pathway. You must accurately diagnose where you are and then skillfully determine and describe where you’d like participants to end up.

Clearly, accurately diagnosing where you are is no easy task. An accurate diagnosis requires a willingness to understand on the part of senior leadership along with brutal honesty about reality, and that is a difficult tension to manage. It is one of the reasons I’ve joined the the team at Intentional Churches and am beginning to facilitate a more robust growth planning process.

Which brings me to the challenging process of designing an effective discipleship pathway. There are a number of pieces, but just like every other diagnosis, you must figure out both where you are and where you’d like to go.

When it comes to where you’d like to go (i.e., what you’d like to produce or what you will call a mature disciple), I have long preferred something Dallas Willard wrote when describing a follower or disciple of Jesus::

Disciples of Jesus are those who are with him, learning to be like him. That is, they are learning to lead their life, their actual existence, as he would lead their life if he were they.” (Renovation of the Heart, 241)

Willard went on to write:

A mature disciple is one who effortlessly does what Jesus would do if Jesus were him.”

 This begins to give me a helpful way of understanding where I need to go, what I need to figure out how to produce. I know (and you should too) that you must know where you are going. It is not optional. As the Cheshire Cat said to Alice, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”

Which leads me to a recent rediscovery from Bill Hull’s, The Complete Book of Discipleship: On Being and Making Followers of Christ. When describing what a disciple should be, Hull notes the following essential elements:

  1. A disciple submits to a teacher who teaches her how to follow Jesus.
  2. A disciple learns Jesus’ words.
  3. A disciple learns Jesus’ way of ministry.
  4. A disciple imitates Jesus’ life and character.
  5. A disciple finds and teaches other disciples who also follow Jesus.

Ready for a little brutal honesty? Is that what your discipleship pathway is making? To what extent? Are you making the number and the quality of disciples you’d like to make? Or are you settling? See also, 6 Essential Questions about Making Disciples and Small Group Ministry.

Image by K.H. Reichert

See also:

6 Reasons Our Discipleship Strategies Miss the Mark

bullseyeIf your church is like mine, your mission or vision or purpose probably includes some aspect of the Great Commission. Many of us have even gone a step further and proclaimed that we are in the business of making disciples and we’ll know we are succeeding when we make some amount of more and better disciples.

So…if we’re all trying to hit the same target, why are so many of our discipleship strategies missing the mark?

Any theories? I have a few and before you think I believe I have it all together, I’m actually guilty of a few of these myself!

Here are 6 reasons our discipleship strategies miss the mark:

  1. We don’t actually have a strategy. We really have more of a theology of wishful thinking. We spend time planning everything from our weekend services and special events to staff retreats and the updated vacation policy, but we don’t get around to developing a discipleship strategy. In the place of a strategy we are hopeful. I love this line from Winston Churchill. “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”  If you don’t like your results, change the strategy.  See also, 5 Signs You May Have a Bad Disciple-Making Strategy.
  2. We don’t have a viable strategy. We don’t acknowledge the connection between results and design. We are the definition of insane and often do the same things over and over again, expecting a different result. We’ve never stopped to ask, “What would have to be true for that approach to work?” See also, 5 Signs Your Ministry Design is Inadequate and Great Question: What Would Have to Be True?
  3. We have an outdated strategy. We do have a strategy but it’s designed for an entirely different era. Although virtually everything is different (pace of life, attention spans, biblical literacy, etc.), we are using a strategy that was tailor made for inhabitants of the 20th Century (or earlier). Ed Stetzer has pointed this out saying, “If the 1950s came back, many churches are ready.” See also, 3 Steps to Take When the Flux Capacitor Fails.
  4. We don’t actually know what we will call success. We can’t describe what a disciple will look like or how we’ll know when we’ve produced one. I am amazed at the simplicity of Dallas Willard’s words: “A mature disciple is one who effortlessly does what Jesus would do if Jesus were him.” See also, How to Make Disciples in Small Groups and 6 Essential Questions about Making Disciples and Small Group Ministry
  5. We position discipleship as an extra credit endeavor. Bill Hull points out in his excellent book, The Complete Book of Discipleship: On Being and Making Followers of Christ: “We evangelicals accept and even encourage a two-level Christian experience in which only serious Christians pursue and practice discipleship while grace and forgiveness is enough for everyone else.”
  6. We believe discipleship is a curriculum to be completed. We think discipleship happens in rows and is largely learning information and skills, while discipleship is “fundamentally about the choice to follow Jesus.” We think discipleship happens in 12 weeks or 36 weeks or 2 years, when as Bill Hull points out, “Discipleship isn’t for beginners alone; it’s for all believers for every day of their life.”

Image by nicole cho

See also:

Dallas Willard on the Greatest Issue Facing the World

earchThink about the implications of this sentence from Dallas Willard’s The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings on Discipleship:

“The greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heartbreaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as ‘Christians’ will become disciples – students, apprentices, practitioners – of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence.”

How might we embed this understanding in our leadership development experiences? What would have to be true about our small group systems if we want every member of our groups to become this kind of disciple?

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Quotebook: Dallas Willard on How to Become Like Christ

follow pathwayIf it is true that “whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first” there can be no question about what must happen to the leaders in your small group ministry.  And by extension, there can be little debate about the role of a coach.

And if the role of the coach is to do to and for (and with) the leader whatever you want the leader to do to and for (and with) their members, the question must be asked…what is it that we want to happen in the lives of the members of our groups?  My argument?  We want the members of our groups to become like Christ.  How?  By following Jesus in the overall style of life He chose for Himself.

I love the clarifying simplicity of this line from Dallas Willard’s, The Spirit of the Disciplines:

“My central claim is that we can become like Christ by doing one thing — by following him in the overall style of life he chose for himself.” (The Spirit of the Disciplines, ix)

Father in Heaven…let us all seek to follow Jesus in the overall style of life He chose for Himself.

Image by Dustin

What to Do If You Discover You Have a Bad Disciple-Making Strategy

StrategyYesterday I posted 5 Signs You May Have a Bad Disciple-Making Strategy.  And of course, I immediately had questions about what to do if you discover that you have a bad disciple-making strategy.  Maybe you wondered the same thing!

Here’s my recommendation:

Rethink your design

If you discover that you have a bad disciple-making design (based on your results), then it’s time to rethink the way you are making disciples.

3 foundational assumptions

  1. It is what it is.  In the words of Andy Stanley, “Your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.”  Your results are not a fluke.  They are directly related to the design.  Don’t like your results?  Change the design and remember that design incorporates just about everything (i.e., the way you recruit and train leaders, the way it’s promoted, the way you actually make disciples, any and all structure that plays a part, etc.).
  2. What got you here won’t get you there.  Albert Einstein noted that “the significant problems that we face will not be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”  Translation?  Your current strategy or design might very well have been effective at an earlier date.  Times change. Organizations become more complex over time. What works in one season won’t necessarily always work.  Getting to there will almost always require more than a tweak.
  3. There is no problem-free.  Every system, solution or strategy comes with a set of problems and there are no exceptions.  There is no problem-free.  Wise leaders simply make a list of the problems that come with each strategy and choose the set of problems they would rather have.

10 principles that will guide the work that is ahead.

  1. Begin with the end in mind.  Describing in vivid detail a picture of the preferred future is essential.  Make no compromise and take no shortcut.  As the Cheshire Cat said to Alice, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”
  2. Diagnose the present with uncompromising honesty.  If you begin with the end in mind, brutal honesty about the here and now is another essential.  See also, Brutal Honesty about Your Present.
  3. Clarify what you will call a win.  According to Peter Drucker, very few things are as important as determining what you will call success.  See also, Clarifying the Win in Your Small Group Ministry.
  4. Think steps, not programs.  Design easy, obvious and strategic steps that lead to the preferred future and only to the preferred future.  See also, Think Steps, Not Programs.
  5. Narrow the focus (to eliminate all but the best steps).  There is no room for turning a blind eye to the inadequacies of yesterday’s solutions.  See also, Small Group Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu.
  6. Allocate resources to the critical growth path.  Choosing a preferred future is one thing.  Allocating finite resources to get to the preferred future is what demonstrates conviction.  Budget, key staff and volunteers, space, promotional bandwidth, and senior pastor attention are just a few of the most important resources.  See also, Budgeting for the Preferred Future.
  7. Commit to the long haul.  The journey to build a thriving small group ministry is not a short sprint.  It is a marathon.  If you want to arrive at the finish line, you must commit to the long haul.  See also, Wash, Rinse, Repeat and the Long Run.
  8. Keep one eye on the preferred future.  Maintaining focus on the end in mind, using preferred future language to cast vision for the promised land is a non-negotiable.  It will be tempting along the way to settle for something less than a thriving small group ministry.  Only by rehearsing again and again what it will be like will the steadfast pursuit continue.
  9. Keep the other eye on the very next milestone.  Milestones that are clearly visible in the near future enable your team to stay focused and encouraged.  Milestones could be quantitative (a number of groups or a percentage connected statistic).  Milestones can also be qualitative with a little effort (capturing life-change stories or monitoring feedback cards).  The objectives that must be accomplished to reach the next milestone are the kind of things that keep teams focused.  See also, Are We There Yet? Milestones that Lead to the Preferred Future.
  10. Celebration is expected.  A culture of celebration is a must have.  Celebrate milestones reached and wins experienced.

Have a question?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Image by Keith Williams

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