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Structuring to make dynamic disciples

Cheers was one of the most popular television sitcoms. Its theme song resonates with the gnawing hunger in people's heart for someone to care about them. "Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. And they're always glad you came."

Our world is full of people who feel disconnected, insignificant, and unloved. This includes both the down-and-outers and the up-and-comers.

People are searching for answers, help, support, and spiritual renewal. George Gallup, Jr., in his address to the 13th annual Conference of CREED (the Christian Renewal Effort for Emerging Democracies) at the Princeton Theological Seminary on November 5, 1994, said that Americans are seeking to break their secular chains, that we are "in a period of spiritual renewal."

He goes on to discuss two dominant trends in America. First, we are in "search of spiritual moorings." Surveys indicate that people are searching for meaning in life with a new intensity; they want their religious faith to grow.

Second, we intensely search for deeper, more meaningful relationships--those desp

erately needed in an impersonal, fragmented society. Gallup said, "Individuals are beginning the process of recovery. Americans as a whole are starting to cling to each other for love and support."

A major survey on small groups conducted by Gallup for the Lilly Endowment revealed that each week 40 percent of Americans meet in small care groups, another 7 percent would like to join, and still another 15 percent have been members of such groups in the past ("A Nation in Recovery," in Emerging Trends [December 1994]).

People are increasingly looking for spiritual foundations in the context of small groups. What an opportunity for the church.

Ask yourself some hard, serious questions. Why should people come to your church, Sunday school or Bible studies? What benefits outweigh the cost? If not, why should anyone continue to come?

Everyone who comes into the church will someday leave. They may stay a few weeks or many years; they will either move, transfer, or die. God will eventually ask each church and its leadership, "What did you do to promote spiritual growth in each individual's life while they were in your care?"

Does your church have a strategy to help people become all God intended them to be? The church that has a plan for discipleship will be effective in reaching people.

Five Keys to Discipleship

View discipleship as a process.

Understanding the discipling process and developing a strategy to enhance it will help more people become disciples. The ministries of our churches must serve specific purposes. They must not be an end in themselves but a part of the total discipleship process.

When we view discipleship as a process, we focus on people instead of ministries. The ministries and programs are a means of developing people.

Traditionally, the church has been viewed as a building where a series of unconnected events took place. It was a place where Christians attended because it was good for them. Today the model is changing. The church is seen as a group of people who work together in a process like parts of the body. This process has focus and direction, and like the current of a river, takes us somewhere.

The fundamental question for today's church is "Where will people be in 2 years if they remain in our churches?"

Followers take four risks when they attend your church and follow you as a leader. They risk believing (1) that you know where you are going; (2) that where you're going is where they're supposed to go; (3) that you'll take them with you; and (4) that you won't take advantage of them.

Develop a discipling process

Jesus had a four-step process for making disciples. First, He fed and taught the multitudes. He told them to come and see what was happening. Second, He called some to follow Him. Third, He spent a significant amount of time teaching and mentoring His disciples. He urged them to come and be with Him. Fourth, Jesus released the disciples to go and minister. His plan worked.

Let's look at a four-step process that will help your church develop disciples.

Step 1: Enfold. In this step the church seeks to reach people through its ministries -- outreach activities, small groups, home fellowships, and worship. Here we attempt to develop bonds through ministries and relationships people will see a need for a relationship with Christ and His church. We can attract them through our ministries and programs, but they won't stay unless they also develop meaningful relationships.

The church should help individuals to: (a) Feel welcome, included, and cared for. (b) Develop at least seven friendships. (c) Participate in worship services 2 to 4 times a month. (d) Participate in small groups that meet perceived needs. (e) Explore the Christian faith and grow in understanding and commitment to God and His Word. (f) Make a decision to accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

Step 2: Disciple. This step is designed to instruct people and to help them learn and apply basic principles to their lives. We want every person to accept Christ as Savior and to develop the disciplines of a disciple. This step is the heart of the church. The church can be no stronger than the people it develops. We train people to become growing Christians by establishing them in the Word, prayer, fellowship, witness, love for others, and stewardship. This is best done by helping a person to:

  1. Participate in small groups that develop spiritual maturity and teach how to integrate faith into everyday living.
  2. Identify with the church's mission, vision, values, and goals.
  3. Find an appropriate ministry task or role he find meaningful.
  4. Develop the character of a true disciple and the heart of a servant.
  5. Understand biblical stewardship and begin to tithe regularly.

Step 3: Equip. In this step the church involved individuals in its ministries. It provides the process that helps people understand their place of service. The church should provide a strategy of ministry development like Jesus. He called His disciples apart and demonstrated true ministry. At this step the person is ready to serve with others. He is equipped through teaching, observing, and doing.

The church should help a person to:

  1. Participate in small groups that continually foster spiritual maturity and emphasize the reproduction of disciples.
  2. Understand ministry gifts and how God intends them to be used.
  3. Discover his calling and spiritual gifts for ministry.
  4. Find areas of ministry that match his giftedness.
  5. Develop leadership potential through ongoing training, discipling, and accountability.

Step 4: Unleash. At this step we release people into Kingdom ministry. Jesus said, "Remain in Me, and go and make disciples." This is the goal of the church. We want to see people invest themselves in the Kingdom, reproducing the life and character of Christ in the lives of others. At this step some may pursue other ministries, such as missions, pioneering a church, developing a new ministry, or being more effective at work.

The church should help a person to:

  1. Receive ongoing training that will increase ministry effectiveness.
  2. Participate in small groups that foster spiritual maturity and emphasize reproduction.
  3. Meet the need for ongoing support and encouragement as they are involved in ministry.
  4. Encourage non-Christians to come and see in hopes that they will also want to grow and go.
  5. Demonstrate the qualities, characteristics, and skills of a true servant.

Align church ministries with the discipling process.

Your church probably has many ministries. Some may serve purposes, others may not. Each ministry should contribute to the discipleship process.

Where does each ministry fit? Some are more effective at enfolding; others may be more effective at discipling. Each ministry should enhance a part of the discipling process. When you identify the primary focus of each ministry, each becomes more intentional and effective.

Your Sunday school or Sunday-school-like structure that develops should be the core. This structure coordinates care, assimilation, and visitation strategies. It also provides a structure for training, mobilizing people for ministry, developing leaders, and maintaining proper accountability.

Strengthen weak areas of the discipling process.

As you encounter each step of the discipling process, you may find areas that are weak or even nonexistent. Maybe your church is weak at equipping, and you don't have a plan to help people identify, develop, and use their ministry gifts. As a result you will need to develop a plan to enhance the equipping process. By understanding the process you can better develop strategies for developing disciples.

Communicate the discipling process.

People who know the church can see the process and are more likely to get involved. The level of commitment and excitement will then increase. Draw a chart of the discipling process. Tell people that, as a church, you are serious about Jesus' command to "go and make disciples." Show them the four steps that will help each person to become all God created him to be. Encourage him to make four commitments in his spiritual life: (1) Enfolding--make a commitment to Christ; (2) discipling--make a commitment to spiritual growth; (3) equipping--make a commitment to ministry development and involvement; and (4) unleashing--make a commitment to serve and reproduce by making disciples. Explaining the discipling process to people encourages them to be a part of something that has purpose and makes sense.

Your church can reach people who are searching for spiritual anchors and meaningful relationships, but you must have a plan -- and work it. Think through your discipling process, and then go and make disciples for the glory of God.


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