I just got through sharing some emails through FB with one of my favorite people – Chad Moore, who is the teaching pastor at Sun Valley Community Church in Gilbert, AZ and one of the fastest growing churches in the Southwest. We have been sharing some discipleship resources and reminiscing about the days when I was an education minister and he was the youth pastor, and the discipleship process we had in place in our church.
We are discussing how churches can develop people who are following Christ and not just attending church. Here is a quote from one of Chad's emails: "To this day, the Discipleship courses we did at FBC remain as a personal mile marker in my journey. In my life, God has used your training, some special mentors and a lot of pain to help me grow." As Chad and I continue to dialogue about this, I am looking at some principles that might help us lead our people so that they are becoming followers of Jesus Christ.
First, and this is just my opinion, but I believe that we have spent much of the last 20 years developing discipleship groupies rather than followers of Christ. Many people seem to be more excited about the next study by their favorite author than daily Bible reading and personal growth. If you are a discipleship leader in your church, remember – you were called to lead people to conform to the image of Christ, not develop a personal fan-base.
Here are some ideas I have for developing disciples:
1 – It starts with the group leader. Leaders need to know what is expected of them and they need to know how to lead a group. Most leaders teach the way they were taught as teenagers. Is that how you want your discipleship groups led? I was raised in a good church, but the discipleship leaders I had there were not the greatest at leading a group.
2 – Follow with accountability. Expect the best from your people and hold the group leaders accountable for their groups. People generally rise to the expectations their leaders have of them. In my discipleship groups, scripture memory is a requirement. Every week, each person in the group is accountable, not only for that week's memory verse, but all the previous verses as well. I have had dozens of people tell me after a 12 week group concluded that they had almost dropped the group after the first meeting because of this expectation, but had memorized all the verses word perfect by the end of the series.
3 – Have a plan. People are more committed to something that has a plan and design to it. They can see that they are making progress. I personally like the "P3 Discipleship" model I've developed here in Oklahoma. But whether it is T-Net, One-on-One, MasterLife, or whatever it may be; the key is still to have a wholesome plan to develop disciples.
4 – Make it personal. Delegate discipleship to your leaders. The institutional church does not develop disciples,the personal church does. The biggest takeaway I got from Willow Creek's Reveal study was that as long as the "church" is responsible for an individual's spiritual growth, not much happens. But when people are encouraged to take action themselves and expectations of them are high, they will step up.
5 – Focus on disciplines more than curriculum. We need to take a lesson from the underground churches of the world. They have limited time together and virtually no resources. If you are going to grow as a disciple in one of these nations, you have to be a self-starter. Our focus in America on curriculum has produced spoon-fed Christians that depend on the pastor or their teacher to teach them the curriculum. We have conditioned these people have to come back weekly for their spiritual growth. Instead, we need to be teaching our people the disciplines of: Bible study, prayer, fasting, and evangelism so that they can function without constant consultations with their pastor. Our iDisciple series that we are developing is designed to teach people to learn these disciplines themselves.