What 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,
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I 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:
- transformed mind
- transformed character
- transformed relationships
- transformed habits
- transformed service
- transformed influence
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Much 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:
- A disciple submits to a teacher who teaches her how to follow Jesus.
- A disciple learns Jesus’ words.
- A disciple learns Jesus’ way of ministry.
- A disciple imitates Jesus’ life and character.
- 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.
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If 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:
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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
- 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.”
- 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.”
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Think 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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If 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.
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Yesterday 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
- 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.).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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You may want to argue with me, but I think there are certain signs that indicate clearly whether you have a bad disciple-making strategy. With me? Isn’t obvious that certain results or a lack of results would indicate a bad disciple-making strategy? Remember, “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.” If you don’t like the results, you must change the design.
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 where I’m going? Can you go there? Here are five signs you may have a bad disciple-making design:
5 Signs You Have a Bad Disciple-Making Design
- You don’t have enough adults being discipled. You pray for it. You talk about it. You promote it. But it just doesn’t happen. Sign-ups for your disciple-making effort fall far short of projections and expectations, and another season comes and goes. Doesn’t the number of people entering the pipeline determine the number coming out? See also, Would You Rather: Connect More People or Make More Disciples?
- You have plenty of adults being discipled…but you are rarely producing disciple makers. Real disciples make disciples. If all you’re making is more knowledgable consumers, you have a bad disciple-making strategy. You can have a steady stream of people completing the curriculum, but if you rarely see disciples become disciple-makers it is time to take a serious look at your results. See also, 4 Leading Indicators of Small Group Ministries that Make Disciples and Lagging Indicators of Small Group Ministries that Make Disciples.
- You have plenty of adults who have been discipled…but you still never have enough people serving. Results are the true test. If your strategy is making disciples you will be producing a steady stream of other-centered men and women. Rather than a shortage of volunteers, you will have a surplus. It will become easier and easier to fill ministry positions with volunteers who are fruitful and fulfilled, obviously in the right seats on the bus.
- You have plenty of adults who have been discipled…but you aren’t developing a culture of generosity. Struggling to grow your annual budget? There may be no clearer indication that you have a bad strategy for making disciples. If your disciple-making design isn’t producing a culture of generosity, shouldn’t very loud alarm bells be going off?
- You have plenty of adults who have been through your discipleship pathway…but what you are producing barely resembles Jesus. If you’re graduating men and women in number from your discipleship pathway, but your graduates aren’t really exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit or ending up fully mature in Christ, isn’t that an indication that your strategy is ineffective? If your pathway graduates are still drinking milk and not ready for meat, isn’t that a signal that you’re producing something less than complete?
See also, 6 Essential Questions about Making Disciples and Small Group Ministry, How to Make Disciples in Small Groups and 5 Essential Ingredients of Groups that Make Disciples.
What do you do if you see these signs? I detail what to do if you discover a bad disciple-making strategy right here.
What do you think? Have a question? Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation.
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I don’t know about you, but I’m determined to build a thriving small group ministry that makes disciples. That is the light at the end of the tunnel for me. It is the end in mind. It’s not just to connect unconnected people. That’s important, but only a beginning. My objective is to make disciples. And I suspect–since you are still along on this journey with me–that is your objective too! See also, How to Build a Thriving Small Group Ministry and 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People.
And if your objective is to make disciples…you must know what it is you are trying to make (i.e., What is a disciple?). Once you know that little detail, you will be able to lay out a path that leads to that preferred future.
And to that end, I love this paragraph from Dallas Willard. In my mind it informs what it is that I need to do in laying out the path.
As a disciple of Jesus I am with him, by choice and by grace, learning from him how to live in the kingdom of God. This is the crucial idea. That means how to live within the range of God’s effective will, his life flowing through mine. Another important way of putting this is to say that I am learning from Jesus to live my life as he would live life if he were I (emphasis mine). I am not necessarily learning to do everything he did, but I am learning how to do everything I do in the manner in which he did all that he did. How to Be a Disciple
Still with me? This sets up a fairly clear understanding of the things that will have to be true about a small group ministry that will make disciples.
- It defines what I must do as I develop coaches. I will need do to and for my coaches the things that will help them learn to live their lives as Jesus would live their lives. See also, The Most Important Contribution of a Small Group Pastor.
- It defines what our coaches must do to and for the leaders they are discipling. See also, Skill Training: Equip Your Coaches to Develop and Disciple Leaders.
- It defines what our small group leaders must do to and for the members they are discipling. See also, 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader.
What do you think? Have a question? Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation.
In the world of economics, “lagging indicators are indicators that usually change after the economy as a whole does.” For example, changes in the unemployment rate are lagging indicators that lag changes in the economy. As the economy improves, more jobs are added and the unemployment rate decreases. The Consumer Confidence Index and the Dow Jones Transportation Average are other examples of lagging indicators. Their movement, up or down, trails changes in the economy.
Lagging indicators are useful for economists because they confirm the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of earlier strategies and actions.
Can you see where this is going? Might there be lagging indicators that validate or invalidate the effectiveness of small group ministry disciple-making strategies and structures? I believe there are a few that we should be tracking.
Lagging Indicators of Effective Disciple-Making Strategies and Structures
This is a very preliminary list, but doesn’t it make sense that the following lagging indicators would be in evidence?
- Growing evidence of a biblical worldview. As more and more disciples are made, wouldn’t biblical principles infiltrate ordinary conversation among small group members?
- A growing culture of generosity. Couldn’t you compare the giving levels of small group members with the giving levels of those not in a group?
- An others first mentality. Doesn’t it make sense that a Philippians 2 attitude would begin to be in evidence? With some work it should be possible to quantify a decrease in taking the best seat and an increase in setting aside what is due?
- An abundance of ministry volunteers. Wouldn’t every ministry have a surplus of committed volunteers? Doesn’t the perennial shortage of ministry volunteers indicate an ineffective disciple-making strategy?
- A pervasive attitude of humility. If there was an effective disciple-making strategy, wouldn’t a growing percentage of small group members acknowledge that they have not yet arrived and readily recognize that they are not yet what they will be?
- A persistent determination to clear up damaged relationships. Don’t you imagine that an effective disciple-making strategy would greatly reduce the presence of petty grievances, malicious gossip, and barely covered ill will?
- An increasing willingness to follow spiritual leadership. Wouldn’t stubborn refusal to submit to spiritual authority steadily diminish when there is an effective disciple-making strategy?
Admittedly, in a growing church spiritual immaturity will always be present. But in a church with an effective disciple-making strategy, there should also be the presence of an encouraging set of lagging indicators.
See also, Four Leading Indicators of Small Group Ministries that Make Disciples and 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader.
What do you think? Have one to add? Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation.